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 Islington council's Lead member for Equalities, and Executive member for Community Development Cllr Kaya Comer-Scwhartz what it takes to be a councillor.
When did you first become interested in politics – do you remember how old you were?
I come from a very politically active family. My father is Zimbabwean and my mother is Jewish and has always been a Labour activist. So I was always taught to fight against injustice. My first political memory was us all excitedly gathered around TV to watch Nelson Mandela being released from prison in 1990 when I was 4. He made the impossible happen and that has always been inspiring to me.
Why did you decide to become a councillor?
I studied Politics and International Relations at university. After I graduated I thought I wanted to work abroad for an NGO (non-profit organisation). I was volunteering with my local Labour party and was involved in the free school meals campaign. Talking to parents about what a difference it would make to them showed me the extent of poverty and need within my community. There is great unfairness in Islington and as a councillor I try to make a difference so that everyone in my borough can prosper.
When did you first get elected?
I was elected in a by-election in 2013. It was an amazing experience. So many people came to help. I remember exhaustedly knocking on doors at 9.30pm on the day of the election with Kate Osamor (now an MP). Her good sense of humour kept me going.
What most surprised you about being a councillor?
How difficult it is to tackle entrenched social issues - I get a lot of casework and hear harrowing cases. I am also always surprised by how willing people are to help each other in Islington. Whether it’s informally as neighbours or as through local charities. There’s a lot of community spirit to be proud of.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Fair but firm, I am a values-driven person and I am clear on what I want to achieve and why. Before I make decisions I like to scrutinise and ask difficult questions. I like to see myself as a pragmatist.
How do you juggle being a leader and other commitments?
I have learnt to focus on a few things and do them well. I have a young child which has taught me a lot about perspective and the need to be well organised. I am really lucky to have a supportive family who know how important both my work and my child are to me; together we make it work.
What advice would you offer someone thinking of becoming a councillor?
I would encourage them to really ask themselves why they want to be councillor and what they want to achieve. It is a big time commitment and you have to make a lot of tough decisions. Having a clear motivation really helps me keep going.