Talis Kimberley-Fairbourn: Representation
What a lot gets tucked into the phrase ‘elected representative’. It’s a responsibility, isn’t it, when other people say to you ‘I trust you to make good decisions on my behalf’? That’s the case even if we’re talking about holding a proxy vote for a friend who can’t attend the local club’s AGM.
In the political sphere of course it doesn’t just mean MPs, or MEPs. I was co-opted onto my local Parish Council not terribly long after moving to the area, and I had certainly never considered doing such a thing before. Parish Councils, by the way, don’t have to be in rural or recently-rural areas – there are systems to set new ones up in urban areas as well, and many people are finding this a rewarding and very energising thing for local democracy.
It’s funny the responses I get when I suggest that other people might like to consider standing for the Parish Council. Folk my age and younger tell me that they might ‘when the children are a bit older’. Folk a little older than I speak of the responsibilities they have to their parents, and why that means that they can’t help at the moment, sorry. And older folk again will say that they have health issues which mean that they couldn’t commit to all the meetings, and perhaps I ought to ask someone younger, sorry.
It’s true that there isn’t much – if any – status in being a Parish Councillor. For the party politically-minded, beware: some such councils run on a non-party basis, i.e., all members stand as independent Councillors, irrespective of their personal politics. That was my experience locally, and I have seen it work very well.
But it makes me sad to see people rule themselves out even at this level. Many of them probably think that there are ‘better people’ to do the job… but some Parish Councils have spaces because they can’t find enough souls to stand. Now think of your next level up of Government – where I live that’s a Borough Council, but depending on the geography and history where you live, you may have Town, District, or County Council, or a Unitary Authority. At every level, people are elected to represent you. Do you know who they are? Do you know much about the decisions they make? Have you ever been along to a meeting? Have you spoken at a meeting on a matter that fires you?
I want all our levels of Government, from Brussels and Westminster down to every Parish Council, to be filled with folk who care more about the people they represent than about the status they acquire by being elected. That’s how we’ll have a true and democratic representation, when those making the decisions come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and know that they have every right to be there and to bring their life experience to bear on their decision-making.
I have met a number of my fellow Green Party candidates, at assorted levels, and found among them a wonderful diversity of background. Of course, in the Green Party we have no ‘safe seats’ to hand out to career politicians, so we tend towards being ordinary people who have rolled their sleeves up, as the saying goes, to ‘be the change they want to see’. I’ve been proud and delighted to meet them. At the same time, they’re all quite extraordinary people too; they are prepared to challenge themselves to do extraordinary things in order to bring about the change our society needs to start fixing what’s broken.
I want that quiet revolution that Natalie Bennett has spoken of – that puts in place ordinary, extraordinary people, taking position as elected representatives because they can’t sit on the sidelines any longer.