Cllr Alexander Stafford is an Ealing councillor representing Ealing Broadway Ward
In May this year I was elected to Ealing Council for the first time. This was my first serious experience running for council and I didn’t know what to expect (I had stood as a paper candidate whilst at university, a couple of days before my Finals, much to the chagrin of my Senior Tutor).
As many found this May, especially in London, the campaign trail was long and hard and whilst I was fortunate enough to be elected, many of my worthy Conservative colleagues were not. Ealing, like several areas in London, took a hit, with our Group reduced by half to 12 Councillors – compared to almost 40 we had in 2010.
This cull was quite unexpected and meant that there was a lot more pressure on the whole Group. None of my colleagues – even those who had been members since the 1970s – had worked with a Group so small, which presented a myriad of challenges. Being outnumbered five to one is never an ideal situation to be in and as a newcomer in the political arena this can be quite unedifying. It seemed that my position would be impossible, like King Canute trying in vain to hold back the red tide.
Yet despite these unexpected challenges I soon found my voice, energised by the dramatic changes which are being forced upon Ealing.
Despite my political innocence, or perhaps because of this, I was taken aback by the priorities of the Labour Group. Many of their current initiatives were not in their surprisingly detailed manifesto and some of these they had previously and vociferously denied that they would implement. This was my first taste of political half-truths and deceptions, but like manna from heaven it energised me.
The very first action Labour implemented when they renewed office, and during the usual non-partisan ceremonial meeting of Mayor Making, was to vote to not only increase the amount of allowances they received, but to also increase the number of their group getting extra money in the form of Special Responsibility Allowances.
As a political fledgling who wanted to become Councillor for the Borough where I have lived the vast majority of my life, I find this concerning, especially as the Council makes savage cuts across the Borough. I feel this is deeply, deeply unfair to the people of Ealing, whose services are going to take a huge hit, whilst the councillors increase their own pay – caring less of the cost of living and more about feathering their own nests.
Again and again the Council is making savage cut after savage cut, from cutting help for people with mental illnesses, to switching to fortnightly bin collections, everyone in the Borough is being affected.
None of these plans were in their manifesto. Manifestos are a critical part of democracy at all levels, offering the only way for voters to make an informed choice. To renege on these promises so early on, or to conceal them, is unfair and unprogressive.
So what can one new, fresh-faced Councillor do against this overwhelming Labour horde?
Actually, a lot.
If anything, being surrounded on all sides by this red sea has galvanised me into further action. It has shown me that it is essential for my voice, and the voices of those who voted for me, to be heard and not subsumed by the easy option, the lazy option, the Labour option. I know that myself and my colleagues in Ealing and those across the country who are severely outnumbered will continue to do good work, holding opposing parties to account and continuing to serve those that we represent in the truest possible manner.