Before we begin, let me tell you about myself.
My name is Tom. I am 20 years old. I used to work as a charity fundraiser, and recruiter. Now I work as an Auxiliary Nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and I care about people.
We all care about people. People are like that. We want to live in a world in which most of us are happy, and as few people as possible are miserable. This is why local politics matter.
For the sake of openness I should make it no secret that in the world of mainstream politics, it is Labour with whom I most strongly identify. This being Birmingham, I suspect most of you do too. Those of you who do not, please don’t disregard my words. This article has to do with the power of local government, and whilst my examples are Labour Councillors, anyone of any party could be this difference given the opportunity, and the inclination.
The first is Jess Phillips. A Councillor for Longbridge, I cannot begin to express the gratitude towards, and respect I have for this lady. Recently my family has been through a rough time. Forgive me for the lack of details, but suffice to say that Jess helped a vulnerable woman, and her children through a very rough, dangerous, and frightening period with effectiveness, and an undeniable grace. She helped a group of strangers move beyond a time of violence, threat and abuse, to the time we have now. A home full of happiness, and comfort. The sort of home all children deserve.
Jess’s actions were so impressive to me, that I decided to do something I had not done for some time. I decided to canvass for her. Anyone who would do so much, in return for so little, deserves all the time I can give them, as far as I’m concerned. So I returned after a long absence to canvassing for Labour Councillors in Birmingham; and it was there I found my second example, entirely by accident.
Brett O’Reiley, Councillor for Northfield was present when I arrived, and it was Brett I would be canvassing for on behalf of Jess’s fine work.
Canvassing usually follows a certain formula. Knock on doors, nobody answers, now the next, chat for a bit about something that person doesn’t care about, knock another, hear about how the bins aren’t great, make some notes, knock another door, and so on. It’s more fulfilling than it sounds, but then I did knock 150 doors a day hoping for 2-4 successes each time in my old job. Perhaps I’m not your typical bloke.
Towards the end of this, I met a man who owed his home, and his lifestyle to Brett. A man who’d been in nursing care when they first contacted each other. A man who now has his own place to live. A man with neighbours he calls friends. A man with a home he calls home, and not one which is merely a place to live.
That man spoke to me for a few moments. He spoke with me until I mentioned that Brett was next door, and asked to speak with him. He spoke with me until Brett came, and the first words out of his mouth were “Thank you.”
These people. These wonderful people who have made a real difference in the lives of myself and the people I love, and in the life of a man I didn’t know existed. These people matter.
These people are the reason local politics is important.
Local politics is not the same as the grandstanding, and the jeering, and the deplorable half-truths of the Commons. Local politics is the politics of people. The politics of making lives better. The politics of hope.
When people tell me they don’t vote at the General election I sigh to myself a little bit and get on with my life. When people tell me they don’t vote locally, I really am disappointed. Local elections choose the best of a bunch who care. How can it be that the people who vote for them don’t?
I have been short on the details because the the stories behind my experience are not my own, and I shouldn’t reveal what other people may not want known. What I know is that these two people have made the lives of people around them better. They wouldn’t have been able to if people didn’t vote.