So, you wanted to be a local councillor ...

Related Topics
I suspect that few of the thousand or so newly elected councillors will wake up this morning really knowing quite what they have taken on. When I became a councillor in the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets two years ago, it was days before the sheer relief of defeating the British National Party began to wear off. All week letters and cards arrived, many of them from places I'd never visited. The Liberal mayor of one spa town sent me a card saying simply: "Greetings from one Town Hall to another."

But don't expect your euphoria to last for long. You might find a nasty surprise waiting for you. One day after the election, we found out that the previous administration had already sold off our borough's historic town hall.

No matter how much former councillors have tried to dissuade you from standing for the council, nothing can prepare you for the scale of the task you have taken upon yourself. When I was told it would mean going to meetings every night of the week, I thought this was an exaggeration. Little did I know that I would find myself trying to go to two, three or more meetings a night and still end up feeling guilty about the one I'd missed.

By becoming a public figure whose address and phone numbers are openly available for inspection, you find your home life subjected to some unbelievable intrusions. Although I've discovered how to deal with the odd telephone call from drunk British National Party members, it is harder to know what to say to some lonely old lady whose entire social life appears to consist of ringing up councillors at two o'clock in the morning. If the Town Hall offers to lend you an answering machine, you'd be wise to accept.

People imagine that councillors get paid for all this, and it is true we all get attendance allowances for committee and council meetings. Yet receiving pounds 22.50 for a day off work or an evening's work is hardly adequate remuneration for the toll that council duties can impose on your professional and domestic life.

The rewards of being a councillor are to be found elsewhere. When you are stopped on your way round the supermarket and thanked for helping a family to rearrange their debts before a loan shark called round or the bailiffs turned up, you know why you carry on. Opening a new children's playground or a primary school in your ward can be equally rewarding as you see dry committee minutes translated into facilities that are managed and used by the local community.

If I could send one message to everyone who was elected last night, it would be to enjoy your hard-won victory and the service you give to your borough, but try to set aside one night of the week for those near to you. Remember also that most hard-working councillors are quickly forgotten when they come off the council, even if their council's achievements and failures remain visible for decades. While it lasts, however, local politics can be fun, frustrating and bloody hard work. Good luck with the task that you have let yourself in for - there are plenty of surprises and another round of elections awaiting you in four years' time.

The writer is a Labour councillor for the Millwall ward of Tower Hamlets, in east London.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Photo match: Nicola Sturgeon on the balance beam on 27 April. Just like that other overnight sensation, Russian Olympian Olga Korbut, in 1972  

Election catch-up: SNP surge, Ed Balls’s giraffe noises, and Cameron’s gaffe

John Rentoul
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk