Cllr Mimi Harker is a councillor on Chiltern District Council.
Before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, political parties had a well-defined structure, which was, in essence, hierarchical. As an example, the Conservative Party Board is the top of the pyramid, followed by local associations, MPs, and finally, the local members – the party’s foot soldiers. Instruction came from the top and with little filtering by the associations was presented as fact to the members, who in turn had the job of selling it to the constituents. This worked well for 200 years until social media. This changed the game and despite onerous behaviour by certain Facebook executives, the genie will not be put back into the bottle.
One reason the 2017 general election became a disaster was an inability, on the doorstep, to answer for example, the question: “Why are you bringing in a dementia tax?”. Number 10 decided that members, and in fact MPs, didn’t need to know about it and how it worked, but the public, through social media platforms, had been made aware of it by Vince Cable, his finest hour. Any MP who didn’t have a decent answer to the question was left embarrassed and looking incompetent.
My passion has always been to serve my community. I mean that in the true sense of the word. I serve. I see the fact that I have been elected by people who had faith in me and voted for me, as the beginning, the middle, and the end, of what I do and how I do it. I have spent 25 years as a community champion and 21 years as an elected member championing my community. I believe passionately in people and in being the voice for the people I represent. I believe in listening and understanding, in reacting when I need to, and in being proactive when I see the need. I love campaigning to fulfil local needs and expectations. I work hard to do my job to the best of my ability to get the best results possible for my community. I work 24/7/52 for my community. This is my work. To paraphrase William Hague, this is my day job and my night job. My politics is there but in the background. However, this ethos seems to be causing a few problems within the political framework, mainly because there seems to be a lack of understanding of the difference between what political parties deliver and what good elected local members deliver.
Political parties need to realise that politics has changed, people have changed, expectations have changed, because of the huge number of news outlets and social media platforms, all of which I use to get my messages out, and we need to adapt to that. As local councillors, we are good at adapting to the needs of the communities we serve because they are real and tangible and we work with them everyday. At a national level, I feel they see the people as an amorphous mass somewhere out there in the ether, that they neither come into contact with, nor have to be accountable to on a day to day basis. But the sin the national level commits is to ask us at local level to reflect this attitude. That just won’t wash any more, if political parties are to succeed. The Twittersphere has burst the once untouchable bubble and the hierarchy needs to get this. If Trump has taught us nothing else it is the power of Twitter and how it circumvents the mainstream media.
The expectation of the public of what we do, and how we behave, has grown and it is down to us as elected members to deliver to that expectation. The community respects the councillor who listens to their views, who understands their needs, and who responds to them. A good local councillor builds community networks, is part of the community, and respects that community. We are elected to represent everyone, those who voted for us – and those who didn’t.
As a local councillor, I see my role as a leader in the community I serve. Our public-facing responsibility is to the community that has elected us to be their voice and to represent them. Political parties need to get a grip on this whatever their hue, and allow local councillors to serve their communities. The day of politics first has gone. Welcome to 21st-century leadership, where communities and people come first.