Local government need different kinds of people willing to stand for election so that parties get a choice of quality candidates: councillors who are capable, vibrant, energetic and engaged, with a commitment to local people and a passion for change. We asked Haringey Council leader and chair of London Councils, Cllr Claire Kober OBE some questions about her career and what it takes to be a councillor.
When did you first become interested in politics – do you remember how old you were?
I first became interested as a teenager. I was very involved in student politics, I was a school governor, and I was involved in my community. When I was younger I did a lot of work with charities and in campaigning roles. I stood as a paper candidate a couple of times, in unwinnable seats. Then in 2006 the Labour Party rules changed and you had to have a woman stand. I was asked to stand in Seven Sisters and I got in.
Why did you decide to become a councillor?
I think I’ve always been political. I was motivated by a sense of injustice and believing that the way you create a fairer society is through politics. I was always motivated by thinking ‘why are some people’s experiences of life better than others?’
What most surprised you about being a councillor?
How much local government matters. If you believe in effecting change, it’s through local communities that really happens. I’ve come to see that local government has a bigger impact than national on people’s everyday lives.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I think being inclusive is really important. But also being ambitious and believing in our collective potential and ensuring the team has the confidence that we can do what we want to. We’re only limited by our own barriers.
Who is your political hero?
Barbara Castle. She battled hard to introduce equal pay and even after she left politics she never let it go. When I became leader in 2008, I felt at regional level there were too few women in prominent positions. Barbara Castle will always be remembered for being a pioneer in a man’s world
How do you juggle being a leader and other commitments?
In a way, doesn’t everyone juggle commitments? I think obviously being organised is important, and having lots of support around you – I’m very lucky with that. It’s also about accepting we’re only human, there are only so many hours, so if you take on more responsibilities it has to become more strategic. You figure out where you’re most likely to make a difference and have an impact and you focus on that.
What advice would you offer someone thinking of becoming a councillor?
Go for it. Everyone has a reason why now is the wrong time, or someone else is more experienced, but local councils thrive on a diverse range of people with a range of experiences coming together to lead a place. If you have an interest in your local community, in people, and the future of a place, then go for it.