22 Sep 2010

Councillor versus Parliamentary Candidate

An interesting dilemma was presented to me this week at the Liberal Democrat Conference. That if you become a councillor in your local area you will find it near on impossible to be elected to as a Parliamentary candidate because of social perceptions of councillors versus MPs.

In addition to this, if you are an elected councillor, you will find it hard to be selected for another seat in a different area because you have commitments to a separate constituency.

Why do social perceptions differ?

People associate different things were different people. Perceptions can be based on the de individualisation of uniforms, the spoken word, the received business card or the way in which they consume their meals.

Most people work out by the time they are in their mid-20s that multicoloured hair and facial piercings are not generally acceptable if you want to be a member of public office or in a professional career. But that these perceptions go deeper and have an effect on the capability of you to represent your public.

If you're campaigning over a long period for a local seat, you will ensure that you know your public highway law well, the contracting businesses of the borough council, local issues and the relevant local interest clubs.

If you're campaigning for a Parliamentary seat, you may be more inclined to pay attention to national issues and interrelate them to local issues. Identify global warming is a huge issue and refer it to the wind turbine building proposals in the relevant borough of your constituency.

People are perhaps not so inclined to hear national arguments from local politicians and or intricate local oddments from national politicians. This is predominately why people will vote a political colour rather than for a specific person in General Elections.

This probably has a significant effect on Liberal Democrats, who are exceptionally good at grass-roots campaigning, knocking on doors and making things happen locally but fail to command the same level of respect on a national level.

I genuinely believe after the expensive scandals, that more people felt more comfortable voting for the Liberal Democrats because of that element of “realism”. Because they met the candidate on the local high street, knocking at the door or at local events. This means that there is an element of personalisation In the candidate they had met, whom they can then decide or allocate a relevant level of the integrity until proven otherwise.

I'd be interested to see statistical representation of those who have been campaigning as councillors or council candidates and then switched to Parliamentary candidate campaigning to see if the argument holds much weight.

The role of the MP should be bought at local level and this is something that will be greatly facilitated by the boundary changes in the AV referendum in May. Our current constituency is one of the largest in the country which makes it very very difficult for a Parliamentary candidate to meet everyone.

Everyone should be entitled to meet and talk with their MP: that this is the essence of democracy. They should not be limited to glimpses of that person on the television or in the local paper or behind electric gates or paparazzi lenses.

The ultimate discussion is the; which one do you focus on?

It does, I suppose, depend on your interest in representing the public. A councillor is able to address on the ground issues, from assisting to resolve antisocial behaviour through to organising regular bin collections. In a two tier local government, a county council will provide you with the opportunity to help resolve traffic issues and contribute to local education authorities.

But as an MP you can address national issues as well as local issues, championing causes on a much larger scale and provide a voice to the people in an entirely different form.

It really depends on where you want to make society better and how you want to represent your people. I would suggest it is much harder for an MP to represent the views of 100,000 people accurately than for a council ward of 1000 to be represented.

With the looming elections and looming selections, this is a decision I will have to make.

I would be interested in other people's opinions


  1. PS I have made some phonetic errors, if I have not corrected them, please point them out!

  2. It depends on where your ultimate ambitions lie. Council group leaders (and councillors in general) will probably have more passionate supporters i.e. your ward deliverers can offer tremendous assistance in a national/MP campaign. On the flip side, as a councillor you'll often make decisions that a not in the national sphere and such ammunition can be used against you. Ultimately, a good councillor can make a good PPC but more often than not the time to do both is limited

  3. I think the reason can be summed up in this way - I am 10 years too old to become a target PPC and at least 10 years too young to be a councillor!

  4. Hi Anonymous,
    I tend to bring the entire chamber average age down by 20 years when I am in there, and feel we ought to have a range of ages to represent democracy!
    How are you too old to be a target PPC? That's discrimination!

  5. Hi Chris,
    Yes I had a feeling you would say that!


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