This week across the country there will be hundreds and probably thousands of former councillors coming to terms with having lost their seats in the local elections.
There will also be a further cadre of ex-councillors who will have freely decided not to seek re-election. And there will be some who, for whatever reason, have been dropped by their local parties.
For all these groups, there will inevitably be a grieving process (perhaps a sense of loss and purpose – even anger), but also, for some, a sense of relief and release from the responsibilities and workload associated with being a councillor.
For those who have been rejected from office by the electorate, there will understandably be lots of questions such as ‘Was it me or the local/national party swing?’ or ‘Could I have canvassed even just a few more voters?’ – this particularly being the case if the margin of loss was relatively small; and there may be many other questions. My advice is to try not to dwell for too long on such issues. You cannot magic a recount or more votes – so best to move on and don’t indulge too much time in looking back.
For some councillors who have either planned or expected to be in this position, there are some similarities to planning for retirement. It is always good to know what you wish to do and how you might go about this.
For those without a plan, however, what now?
My advice is to take time to recover and reflect. And don’t rush into decisions or new arrangements unless they appear too desirable an opportunity to let go.
During this period of recovery and reflection, I particularly advise former councillors to ask themselves the following questions:
? Do I want to stand again and remain active politically in the local party and/or ward?
? Do I wish to consider how I might be able to use my experience and apply it through voluntary action in the local community?
? Could I both use my experience to support the local community and prepare to re-enter the electoral process at a future date?
Voluntary activity in the local community can be very rewarding. There can be many similarities to being a councillor, especially if the volunteering involves providing advice and information, as well as advocacy for communities and individuals. A point of caution, however. To be effective and accepted in these roles, it will be important for a former councillor to leave their ‘ego’ behind along with their partisan rosettes. Also, it will be essential to not misuse or abuse privileged information gained when a councillor, or seek ‘improper’ access to current senior councillors and officers. That said, there is no doubt that a former councillor’s experience, knowledge, networks and political antennae can be hugely beneficial to many voluntary and community groups – and on NHS boards and school governing bodies.
Social activism may be another way to harness past experience as a councillor, and there are still other ways in which ex-councillors may serve the community and politics.
They can make excellent advisors to other local authorities and particularly to their members. They can bring political nous in ways that many professional advisors seemingly cannot. They can mentor councillors and (if they have held leadership roles) leaders and cabinet members.
Of course, some former councillors may take on senior roles in their local political parties, but they need to be careful if they have only recently left the council, and not to try and play the role of surrogate councillor. I suggest that a period of ‘quarantine’ can be sensible.
Some will seek selection as parliamentary candidates and other political roles.
Finally, some former councillors may wish (or for financial reasons, require) to develop a wholly non-political career. In some cases, a few may be attractive to companies and even national charities, who trade with or have other critical relations/partnerships with local government. Again, however, in such circumstances, the individual will have to tread a delicate path about not abusing or misusing privileged information and contacts, and being overtly partisan.
In applying for a variety of such roles, former councillors should never underplay the skills in people management, persuasion, negotiation, diplomacy and communication that being a good effective councillor commonly gives you. Losing your seat in an election can be painful and hurtful. However, there are many other rewarding ways of contributing to society and developing yourself following such a loss.
And there is always the chance of being re-elected in the future – but why not maximise your contribution in the meantime?
John Tizard is a strategic adviser, former council leader and former director of Capita