Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour's Leader in the House of Lords
Last week, newly elected Labour councillors from all over the country came together to meet with Ed Miliband and Hilary Benn. It was also an opportunity soon after the local elections, to meet experienced councillors like Dave Sparks, Steve Reed and Satvir Kaur to ask questions and share good practice.
The new councillors, who gave huge amounts of time and commitment to get elected, are now flag flyers for Labour in power. They are the most visible face of our Party in their communities and their actions will have an impact on the lives of those they serve. Through their work at local level, more and more people will understand that Labour can provide fairness in tough times by taking decisions rooted in our values. Decisions like the one taken by Birmingham City Council to pay a living wage, or Lambeth’s young and safe programme, or the young mayors elected in Stevenage and many other Labour-run areas that ensure young people have a voice in local decision-making.
Some of the new intake I met at the event with Ed and Hilary were elected by big majorities, others by single figures (such as the councillor from Hastings who won by 2 votes after 7 recounts); some are within Labour councils, some from large Labour Groups in opposition, and the one in Huntingdon is the sole member of the Group. But what they share is that all of these councillors will try to have an impact on their local authority area. Each and every one is absolutely determined to be, and to remain, rooted locally, bringing different parts of the community together, keeping election promises and doing all they can to mitigate hardships imposed by the Coalition government.
Up and down the country, Labour councillors are doing fantastic work, developing innovative polices and new ways of delivering services so they can make a real difference in difficult times. And it is they who can best find and provide solutions to problems created by this out of touch, incompetent and unfair government. Through innovations like co-operative councils, partnerships with the increasingly burdened voluntary sector and principled policies like the regulation of private landlords will enable them to make a positive impact on people’s lives and help restore trust in Labour in particular, and politics in general. The ideas they pursue will be discussed not only within local government but within our party so that in time, once tested and evaluated, they can be rolled out under a Labour government.
Whilst delighted to be elected, our new councillors were acutely aware that in most areas on one third of electors thought it worth bothering to vote in the May elections. Too many people feel it doesn’t make a difference who they vote for, that they have been failed by politicians who have not kept their promises and ceased to listen to and communicate with those they represent. The Coalition has done a huge disservice to faith in our democratic system with broken promise after broken promise.
So, Labour councillors will work to restore trust, by keeping their promises, by listening to and acting on people’s concerns, and by delivering fair policies and demonstrating they are agents for change. They will want to ensure that by the end of their first term in office, their electors can see how they have used the power they have been given to the benefit of their communities.
These are enormous tasks but from the conversations I had last week it is clear that our new councillors have energy, enthusiasm and determination, and the Labour values which will underpin their decisions and actions. I wish them all well for the months and years ahead.