Introduction: The next series of posts that will be published over the coming weeks were originally planned to be shared immediately after the May election when I stepped down as a Councillor. However, as we all know it has been an extraordinary few months and it felt appropriate to hold them back until after the outcome of the June General Election was known.
I did hesitate about publishing them even now, but in some small way, I believe that they may show the importance of seeking the common good.
So, if you wish, I will take you on a journey from political novice, trembling behind his rosette to battle weary Councillor and everything in between…..
‘Hi Edward can I have a chat with you at the end of the meeting please’. Oh cripes what have I done ? I thought all the way through the Residents Association committee meeting. So far I thought they were quite pleased with my efforts. Having first come to an AGM after returning from a sabbatical in the US. I had made a few comments about councils and transport, got a round of applause and somehow by the end of the evening I was on the committee.
So when the chair of the group some two years later said “Have you ever thought about being a councillor?” I had a whole mix of feelings. Firstly relief that I wasn’t in trouble, secondly confusion as I thought I knew where I was going now: establishing my own consultancy and thirdly, middle class awkwardness of not knowing what the correct response was.
Truth be told, I had actually considered the possibility. Indeed when I was an officer at the same council I was on more than one occasion told that I’d make an excellent councillor – always difficult to know how to take that…
A few weeks later I’d been approved as the candidate and was out on the door steps in all weathers talking with residents.
One of the things that struck me about canvassing was that you never knew what you would find when the door opened. Like the time, on a very wintery morning when a 5-year-old girl opened the door and from within the cosiness of the house there was a ‘WHO IS IT?’ The girl took one look at me and without pausing exclaimed ‘YELLA’. Presumably referring to the colour of my rosette which was just visible through the sleet. From deep within the house the response ‘NAH’ and the diminutive bouncer slammed the door. I think that is what is known in the trade as a baptism of fire although in this case a somewhat colder reception.
Of course there are other times where you are privileged to hear everything from the pain and suffering of people’s lives to the inconvenience of a misplaced wheelie bin and have some small opportunity to be involved and to help.
Over the coming months I walked through a pair of shoes; ate my bodyweight in double deckers; became acquainted with half the door furniture in Cambridge (one day someone will explain to me the logic of having a letterbox 2cm above the ground); and made friends or otherwise with most of the four-legged inhabitants within the City Centre. (I have been very impressed with how some owners have trained their dogs to immediately recycle all political literature as soon as it comes through the letterbox). Amongst all that endeavour and challenge I also made new friends.
Having not been directly involved in politics before it was a steep learning curve. Not only was there pounding of the streets on a nightly basis, but there were campaigns,; weekly campaign meetings; many many photo shoots; interviews; writing; lobbying; expectations from voters;, demands from lobbying groups; the minefield of social media to navigate; engaging with residents associations; speaking at public meetings; challenges from other parties and very little social life outside of the campaign trail. (I remember once elected the same friends would complain that they did not see me very much and in the very next breath tell me to keep up the good work, not recognising that those two things were related).
After months of campaign,I was standing in the darkness and barely able to see the numbers on the door, I was about to knock on, when my phone buzzed and it was my colleague ‘where are you?’ she said. I immediately felt guilty, should I be doing more, can I do more? ‘I am just finishing my last route’, I replied anxiously. ‘Ed it’s 9.45pm, you can stop now, come and join us in the pub’. The relief of hearing those words, on a day that had started at 5am, that it was all finally over and I could join my colleagues and now friends for a well-earned glass of something comforting.
The next day I awoke exhausted and disoriented, my first thought was I had better get up and go canvassing, and then I realised that the election was yesterday and just as my eyes slightly closed in relief, I sat bolt upright in bed realising what day it actually was…..the count.
Whilst perhaps not as completely terrifying as an ancient transylvanian aristocrat, the prospect of the day of reckoning was nevertheless intimidating, not least as the physical toll of the relentless last few weeks was showing.
It meant a great deal to me that my father was willing to be with me to offer practical & emotional help and support. After many hours of observing, drinking coffee and waiting, I heard a whisper in my ear, ‘we think you have done it’.
Then came the official declaration and by the narrowest of victories, I was ‘duly elected’ as the County Councillor for Market Ward”. I was emotional, elated and proud. I was greeted by a County Council officer who handed over an induction envelope ‘congratulations Councillor’ she said, gosh , that sounded strange.
The next thing I knew I was being ushered up to the balcony of the Guildhall for my first ever political interview. I was deeply touched that unbeknown to me my Dad captured the moment.