By Duncan Flynn
It’s often remarked around the Westminster Village that there’s nothing as ex as an ex MP. When the fickle finger of electoral fate or a desire to simply terminate a chapter of one’s life dictates that a political career is over, many Parliamentarians who have become accustomed to the spotlight struggle to adapt, while others feel positively liberated. But what about those of us at the less glamourous end of democratic life? How do those hundreds of councillors who vacate their office each year cope? How do these individuals feel about no longer having their comfortable office at the Civic Centre? Do they miss their full calendar of evening commitments which not only include Council meetings but also discussions with residents associations and their ward residents?
The answers to these questions will be different for every single ex-councillor. In my own case, I stepped down of my own volition as a Conservative councillor in the London Borough of Hillingdon after eight years in office which culminated as Chief Whip. Without wishing to sound like I am taking my former electorate for granted, in all probability I could have served for several more terms. I was only 40 when I vacated my position and the ward remained securely Conservative even in a challenging political environment this May. Why then was a relatively youthful councillor who had a rewarding position stepping away from a hard-earned role?
It’s probably easiest to start my answer to that question by explaining what weren’t factors for my decision. It wasn’t anything to do with my council colleagues (on both sides of the aisle) who were unfailingly pleasant and supportive. It wasn’t that I was dissatisfied with the performance of the Council I served on. I was very proud to serve in an administration which had adeptly handled the enormous challenge of providing first-rate public services on an ever diminishing budget. It wasn’t even much to do with the considerable recent changes in the Party I have been a member of for 22 years. As a seasoned Party stalwart I appreciate that personalities come and go in national politics. It wasn’t even the requirement to attend residents association meetings which routinely lasted until the witching hour. In short, the reason I decided to become an ex-councillor was that I needed a break and a reset. It was time to do something else for a bit.
Like many other councillors across the political spectrum, in my view if you are entrusted to serve your electorate you need to be able to give it your absolute 100 per cent. I did this for eight years but combining local government with a full-time job and a young family can be exhausting. I wasn’t willing to perform at half-speed. I greatly miss getting results for my ward residents but I am confident that my successor is able to do the same. I hope to return to local government in some shape or form in the distant future but for the moment I am pleased to have some of my evenings back even if it does mean reacquainting myself with TV soap operas.
For those who have left being a councillor not of their own volition but through the verdict of the electorate, the transition away from elected politics may not be so straightforward. For many their political career will have been cruelly interrupted due to external matters entirely outside of their control. Many Conservatives who lost their seats in May will doubtlessly claim with some justification that it was Partygate that did for them. Many will need support to deal with the rejection. Some may wish to return to elected office as soon as possible but my advice for people in that position is to savour their time out, replenish their reserves and, if they are minded to return, do so at the time of their choosing.
Being a councillor at any level of local government is a huge privilege. I would encourage anyone who is interested in serving their local community to put themselves forward and if they are lucky enough to be elected to serve, then do so to the best of their ability. Most importantly, if you need to take a few years out to focus on other matters to expand your own hinterland then do so. It’s never too late to return to local government, older and potentially wiser.
Duncan is the Cratus Planning Director in the Northern Home Counties. If you would like to get in, touch feel free to send him a message