A very experienced local councillor in Croydon has a brilliant analogy about the benefits of grassroots campaigning.
He says that winning elections is like making a cake. The national party determines the thickness of the sponge, and the local operation determines the thickness of the icing. That the national mood determines the bulk of the constituency election result is unarguable, but in a marginal seat like Croydon Central, we really do need to bring our A-game to make sure we add as much ‘icing’ to the end result as possible.
Being a local councillor helps immeasurably with that. I was first elected in 2014 to the Croydon Council ward of Coulsdon West, then re-elected to Coulsdon Town in 2018. Within a few years I was made Chief Whip for our Group and I now serve as the Shadow Cabinet spokesman for communities, safety, and justice.
These roles have given me an incredible insight into how local government works. How are the decisions made that impact your day-to-day life? How is the future of our local community shaped by local decision-makers? How are resources moved around to benefit different local priorities? All of these questions and more are vital in understanding many of the bread and butter issues that face people right across Croydon – and that knowledge is incredibly useful to have as an Member of Parliament.
In my regular surgeries, and in my postbag, there are hundreds of issues to deal with. Everything from planning applications and housing queries, to road repairs and social care problems. As a local councillor you do your best to deal with them all, and you never know what each day will bring. That slowly earned experience boosts empathy, knowledge, and an appreciation for the rich diversity of a community. Not everyone thinks like me, has a background like me, or has the same problems as me. Listening to other experiences of the same public services that I use, whether good or bad, helps me to understand how we can work to make those systems better for people not engaged in local politics.
Oftentimes, the intended insult of ‘professional politician’ gets bandied around. I say intended for a very simple reason: you wouldn’t get on a plane without a pilot with experience. You wouldn’t go under anaesthetic if the surgeon were doing it as a hobby. There is a reason why a substantial number of Members of Parliament start life as councillors. It gives you an insight few other roles can into the lives of your community, and the bureaucracy they must navigate when there are issues. If you can survive happily as a councillor, then at least the casework side of being an MP is easily anticipated and you can hit the ground running if elected.
Local campaigns will always echo national priorities and the concerns of the country, but in those marginal constituencies where undecided people determine the outcome, the added knowledge of the local community that being a councillor brings may just tip the balance.
At the moment, the Labour-run Council in Croydon is running a consultation on concreting over some precious local greenbelt. The fields on Gravel Hill and behind Lodge Lane could see some 4,500 housing units being developed. That would hugely increase the strain on road, tram, and public services infrastructure. The www.keepcroydongreen.com campaign is a powerful demonstration of the grassroots anger in the community. That sort of local issue truly matters to the quality of life of so many in Croydon, and my ability to get involved is immeasurably boosted by my knowledge of local council processes.
I’m proud to be working hard to help make my hometown be the best it can be – being a local councillor helps me to campaign smarter for my community, and that will hopefully make me a better MP if elected on 12th December.