Cllr Gary Sambrook represents Kingstanding Ward on Birmingham City Council. He is the Conservative candidate for Birmingham Northfield.
This election is my first as a Parliamentary candidate, and I find myself right in the centre of our latest political whirlwind in a marginal seat in the West Midlands. Lots of volunteers say “how are you coping?”. Or ‘how do you manage to fit everything in?”. And the simple answer is: “I’m a councillor, it’s never any different”.
Those lucky enough to serve as a councillor know the difficulties of managing several spinning plates. Local government is one of the best apprenticeships you can have if you are standing in a General Election.
For nearly six years I have been a Birmingham City Councillor, having been elected after an unexpected by-election in the middle of winter. Knocking doors in the freezing cold, delivering leaflets in torrential rain, and finding addresses for targeted mailshots in the dark (sound familiar?). These past six years have taught me a lot of things about campaigning, being a representative, and how to build upon incumbency.
In Birmingham, the City’s Labour administration is adamant about introducing its hated Congestion Charge in the City Centre which will mainly affect some of the poorest in the city. This issue has been on the lips of voters for some time and so the experience I have gained in the Council Chamber has allowed me to be able to step into public Q&A’s and have conversations on the doorstep with voters in a way I couldn’t have, if I hadn’t been a councillor.
Being an MP is also a very different role now than it was 30 years ago. MP’s need to be seen more in their community, they need to take a greater interest in local issues, and they most definitely need to have a full contact book of local groups, associations, and stakeholders. All of these things are what councillors have and do everyday.
The biggest benefit of being a councillor who is standing in a parliamentary election, however, can be seen when canvassing. The first question you ask is about local issues and the vast number of these will be about Council services. As a Councillor I’m immediately able to talk with confidence about these issues, how to navigate the maze of Council departments, statutory bodies and agencies to find a solution, and if not that at least an answer of some sort.
Being a councillor is a wonderful experience. The skills, knowledge and hands-on experience that six years has given me has allowed me to step into this new role with an advantage.
The other important advantage of being a councillor is the help and support of your colleagues. The Birmingham Conservative Group, led by Cllr Robert Alden, has been of great support to me. Being someone they know and have worked with for many years has meant that they instantly stepped up to the challenge of helping a candidate in a marginal seat.
For anyone thinking of standing for Parliament, being a councillor is an excellent way to cut your teeth, gain some experience, develop contacts, and ultimately learn the ropes.