You need two qualities above others to be a city councillor in Canterbury

A planning committee meeting taking place in the Guildhall

It is less than nine months until the next round of elections to Canterbury City Council.

Earlier this week, the authority invited those who sit at their keyboards ruminating on council goings on, or poring over the minutiae of its work or just slagging it off to put their money where their mouth is and run for one of its 39 seats.

Some of those might do so, but most will not. They are far more content with looking on from the sidelines.

And perhaps not without good reason: running for council and – if you win – actually being a councillor is hard work. It’s hard work that some people either believe they can’t do or don’t have the time to.

But as Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding writes in the Canterbury Journal, you’re best placed to affect change by being inside the council than outside it.

Don’t like new housing or sports pitches for youngsters? Get yourself elected to do something about it. Don’t think the council does enough about pollution? Ditto.

Then again, some people with plenty to say are averse to trying to get themselves elected. That’s because in my two decades of watching and writing about local politics, I believe you need two qualities above others to be a councillor.

You need to have guts and you need to have thick skin. You need to have guts to take decisions that some portions of the community aren’t going to like and you need to have thick skin to weather the barrage of criticism you’ll receive for doing so. Some people simply don’t have the former and aren’t prepared to expose themselves to the latter.

Canterbury also suffers from a strange paradox in the sense that many of most interested in the council’s work have absolutely no intention of ever trying to get themselves elected even though they are content to attend numerous meetings and indeed have their say at these meetings.

That being the case, why not try at least to occupy one of those 39 seats available? It’s not a question I’ve ever heard an adequate answer to.

As Dave Wilson rightly argued in the Journal at the end of July, the best councils are those capable of listening to people. We understand this is democratic.

But the reality is that only a minuscule percentage of the population take a regular and active interest in the goings on at the Guildhall.

How democratic is it then for those who do not wish to get elected to tell those who put themselves up for election and win a mandate how to do things?

Overall, if you really care about the district believe you can change it for the better, it’s time to start thinking of running for council.

Whether you choose to do so or not, of course, is an entirely different thing…


  1. I applaud Ben Fitter-Harding’s plea for more citizens in Canterbury to consider standing for election as a councillor. Ben himself is incredibly hard working and attentive to requests and arguments, even if they do not match his own priorities and views. He and I are able to work together on the Sustainable Transport Forum (STF) in spite of our differing political points of view.
    Indeed the STF is a good example of the sort of body, which permits councillors and council officers to obtain the view of representatives of residents and businesses and of relevant experts, irrespective of party affiliation. More generally there are many proposals and processes on which the council needs to consult the public, either for statutory or practical reasons. Herein lies the objection to Alex Claridge’s suggestion that individuals unwilling to stand for election should not be allowed to intervene and have a say. All citizens must retain a right to lobby their councillors and to obtain relevant information from council officers.

  2. The STF is an imaginative and exciting concept..

    If it is given the freedom and support to be creative in its thinking it has the potential to achieve much that will improve our environment and the life quality of local residents who have real concerns about air pollution in and around the City

    I very much hope that it succeeds and will prove to be as good an example of Council / community engagement as the Higher/Further Education Review.


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