As today (Thursday) sees local elections take place, I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to those who are standing from all parties. Being a councillor is a tough but very important role at any time, and in the current fevered and angry political climate it is particularly good of people to put themselves forward.
Of course MPs are in the front line of any political flak, but councillors experience it as well. One of the main problems is that few people know exactly which council is responsible for which service.
I don’t blame anyone for this. It is confusing that, for example, Ashford Borough Council is measured for its recycling rates, which used to be terrible and are now very good, but overall waste collection is the responsibility of Kent County Council.
Faced with this kind of confusion, I know from experience that many people complain straight to their MP. A few years ago my office did an analysis of the individual issues raised with me over a month, and more than two thirds of them were matters under the responsibility of either the Borough or County Council.
So my message is to give your councillor sympathy and understanding. They are overwhelmingly doing the job because they care about their local community and want to help the people living there. Many of the problems they will be asked to solve on a day-to day basis are really important to the people facing them, and often pretty intractable.
For democracy to survive it needs people to participate. As the old saying has it, if you don’t vote you can’t complain afterwards. So please make the effort to go to the polls today, to make sure that Ashford Borough Council is as representative as possible.