Humbled and frustrated. Reflections on 2014 from a rookie Shropshire Councillor

I was elected as a Shropshire councillor on 13 March 2014. As the vote was counted, I was at the point of exhaustion. I needed sleep. I also needed to write a comment to be published in the Shropshire Star the next morning.

It had been a very long election campaign. We started in January 2013 when I stood against Rosanna Taylor-Smith, losing in May by 85 votes. At that same election, Martin Taylor-Smith lost his seat after a barnstorming victory by Viv Parry.

Two days later, we grouped around a kitchen table and began planning for what we thought would be an inevitable byelection in Ludlow North. When Rosanna Taylor-Smith announced her resignation in December, we were ready to go.

We knocked on the doors of Ludlow from December until nearly 10pm on 13 March 2014. Then it was off to the count at St Peters Parish Hall. I was so hyped up I could barely breathe as the votes were counted. Once we saw that my pile of votes was building too high for me to be defeated, we chilled out. When the returning officer announced that I had a 197 vote majority, the only words I could utter in my relief and tiredness was “Thank you”.

Looking back, I can’t believe the huge effort that I, and a huge Lib Dem team, put into getting me elected. I spent seven months over two years non-stop campaigning. But it was worth it.

I am not getting everything right. I am frustrated by politics, bureaucracy – and at times ineptitude – to the point of fury. Yet it is really worthwhile being a councillor, especially for the way I can help individual people and community campaigns.

Our local Lib Dem team works incredibly well. It doesn’t really matter day to day that we are Lib Dem. It matters that we work together and stand up for the people in Ludlow and Clee.

Back on election night in March, I found myself unable to sleep despite a couple of celebratory drinks in the Church Inn. Around 2am I invited my neighbours around for a celebration beer. I chucked them out at four in the morning because I knew I had to write something for the press. I was still stumped on how to phrase the comment. Instinctively, I did not wish to glorify my victory.

A couple of weeks later my ‘thank you’ flyer to residents said: “I have a lot to learn”. That was an understatement. I am used to starting a new career but this has proved one of steepest learning curves of my life.

Since being elected, there has been a lot of committee work. I turn out to innumerable meetings on planning, young people, health, heritage and town and county matters. To my regret very few of these meetings are forward looking. Most only deal with immediate concerns. We are too often fire fighting and not planning for the future.

My greatest disappointment is with the meetings of full council in Shirehall. There are 74 Shropshire councillors but so few of them speak at council. Us Lib Dems, me included, pop up and down like meerkats asking questions, proposing motions and making points of order. But most of the Conservative majority are silent unless they have a prearranged slot in the agenda. Sometimes I question why they turn up, though I know the answer to that. They need to be there to vote en bloc for the Tory leadership.

In my view, democracy means speaking out and speaking out often, regardless of political colours. It means voting for what you believe in and for the interests of your constituents.

There is another point of democracy that is important to me. Communication.

Am I the only councillor in Shropshire to write a regular blog and send a regular email newsletter? I think every councillor should do that in this internet age. We still need leaflets pushed through doors to reach people not online but I am astounded by how few Shropshire councillors use social media to talk to their constituents. I think we are behind in using social media for democracy in this county.

We need to be accountable as well as elected. I believe it should be compulsory for unitary councillors to publish an annual report on their activities. You’ll be able to read my annual report on 13 March 2015. Don’t expect it to say that I have done everything well. I haven’t.

We had some tough news in Ludlow in 2014.

Our council offices at Stone House have been closed. We lost the Coder Road recycling centre and tip. Council staff moved into the Library, closing our exhibition centre. Half the Youth Centre has been taken over by council staff and other organisations. Just before Christmas, Shropshire Council told staff at the Museum and Resource centre at the Library that they will lose their jobs. Town buses have improved but the timetable and routing is still not right. We have lost buses to Hereford and Bridgnorth and, sorry, we still have no buses to Cliff Park.

We have long had rough sleepers in Ludlow. The arrival of Nicky who walked here from Oxford in the spring has made the issue more public. We have a place for him when he is ready. Decent homes and homelessness are at the top of my agenda.

We have made almost zero progress on repairing the town walls. I will meet council leader Keith Barrow at the end of the month to demand action not continued bureaucratic confuscation.

Ludlow will thrive if we accept we have to do more for ourselves. We must rely less on the unreliable administration in Shirehall. That means raising our own project funds and running our own schemes. We do a lot of this already. But we need to step up a gear.

At four in the morning on 14 March, I was wondering what to send to the Shropshire Star announcing my election. After 15 months trying to get elected as a Lib Dem, I really wanted to say: “Yey! We stuffed the Tories!” But I didn’t do that. It wasn’t right to do that.

People voted for me because I am passionate about Ludlow and I want it to thrive. We all are. That’s nothing to do with party politics.

So I told the Shropshire Star at around 4.30am in the morning that I was “humbled” by my big majority.

That’s still what I feel. Humbled. Also a little bit scared by all the responsibilities. But I am looking forward to what we might achieve in Ludlow despite all the setbacks of 2014.

For the New Year, I promise to be more organised, get my hair cut more often and adopt a cat or two. I may of course keep only one of these resolutions.

Have a good New Year.