In this series, we’ll be chatting to some young Labour councillors around the UK. Local councillor applications have opened in Havering, and as Labour members you should have received emails about applying to be a councillor. If you would like to find out about what campaigning to be a Labour party councillor is like or what it’s like sitting on a local council, follow our series for interviews with young people already in the job!
Hi Ellen! Thanks for offering to chat to us, tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m Ellen-Matin Charlesworth, 20, Student (History of Art). Brought up just outside of Chesterfield, I travel between London and Eckington on a regular basis. Being an ex-mining area you can probably guess that it’s a Labour area but I didn’t get involved with the party directly until just before the last general election.
When and why did you decide you wanted to be a councillor? When and where did you stand to be a councillor?
Where I live, I’m the youngest active member of our Labour branch by thirty years, and the councils have a similar make-up. Each place is different but as someone who was young and enthusiastic I think they were a little taken by surprise, so I didn’t decide so much as was asked. As it was, they were short of candidates for Eckington Parish council so I was co-opted just after the last general election. In our area, Parish & Town, District, and Parliamentary were all set for the same day and it was during the campaign that I met the other councillors. They suggested I start with the Parish and if I took a liking to it, work up through local government. It’s been incredibly helpful as our council has five district councillors and a county councillor sitting on it, and they often send us for training with Derbyshire Association of Local Councils. So, it’s well connected and it has given me a much better picture of the workings of local government. Hopefully this all means that while I didn’t run for election, I might be able to help you out with some advice.
Did you address specific issues when campaigning in the ward?
While I didn’t stand, I can mention things having helped in everyone else’s campaign. Specific issues can accidentally tie councillors in knots. There are so many levels of local government and plenty of red tape that meant a lot of new candidates from other parties promised things they just couldn’t deliver. The councillors I was working with were experienced enough to be able to show them as false claims, but I just wanted to warn you about understanding the limits of the role you’re standing for. The mechanisms of local government move painfully slowly.
I can honestly say that 90% of campaigning was based on being a ‘known face’. Going to TARA meetings, local fairs, and school events were all key. Most of the councillors have been in their roles for over a decade and everyone knew them through various means already. But, even as a young person I think that if you play an active role in your community and are seen around it’s possible to contest established candidates.
How much time did you have to set aside for campaigning? What did you enjoy the most on the campaign trail?
Pretty much everyone spent the most time canvassing and going door to door. It was an exceptional year as there were so many elections at once, but it was the last three weeks in which the most time was spent on the street. Every morning and evening everyone would canvas, post leaflets and drop by local group meetings. Hustings took place for the District councillors and Parliamentary candidates. I think the best bit of campaigning was the day-time canvassing, the long chats and cups of tea are always appreciated. Though, once you know where the letter-boxes are, leafleting can be therapeutic. The walking gets you fit, and when you stick on a good podcast the time just flies by.
When elected, how many labour councillors do you work with in your labour group on the council?
It is a majority Labour council; I think there are 13 Labour members and 4 independents. It has been a Labour council for a very long time and I don’t believe there has been a conservative councillor at any point in the last thirty years, possibly longer.
Do you sit on any committees within the council?
Yes, I sit on the Community Halls and Residences Committee, the Communications Working Group and occasionally help with the Open Spaces Committee. They’re key, honestly it is where the most work gets done. Though they can’t make decisions, they bring suggestions to the council to vote on.
How often do you attend council meetings?
Once a month. More for committees and when there are emergencies i.e. Fracking comes to the area.
What is your favourite thing about being a councillor?
Honestly, when people turn up to meetings I love it. Even though most of the time they will be there to yell at you for something you have no power to change, I just can’t help but marvel over the dedication it takes to give up your evening to come and talk to us about something. That people are willing to get involved and hold their local government accountable is a great thing.
Thanks for your time Ellen!