Six new Chiswick councillors are starting work this week: Joanna Biddolph, Ron Mushiso and Ranjit Gill in Turnham Green ward, Gabriella Giles and Michael Denniss in Chiswick Riverside and Patrick Barr in Chiswick Homefields.
It’s all very well talking the talk in an election campaign, but can they walk the walk? Looking back over all those promises it must be a little daunting thinking about how they might actually fulfil them. Joanna Biddolph has written a guest blog for The Chiswick Calendar on what it’s like to be starting out as a councillor.
All a bit of a haze
Guest blog by Cllr Joanna Biddolph
I’d been to several counts before but there is something more intense about it being your own.
Standing in front of trays marked with coloured sheets of paper – blue, red, yellow and white (for mixed votes) – you aren’t watching your own Party’s pile; you are checking the other parties’ heaps for misplaced votes. I spotted one for us in the red tray – that could the one that saves us, I thought. A minute later, the Labour counting agent spotted one of theirs in our blue tray. Doomed, said my head. It was nail-biting, surprisingly given the results, but while it was clear from the yellow tray that the Lib Dems were trailing, the heaps in the red and blue trays weren’t different enough because the heap in the white tray was so high – they could swing it either way, we thought. If there’s a tie the decision is made by the toss of a coin. Please not that for any of us, I pleaded silently.
What happened next is in a haze. First came the announcement that the Turnham Green agents were needed as there was an indicative result. In a ballot of nine candidates from three parties with fewer, less complicated votes to count, we were unsurprisingly first. I wasn’t ready. A few minutes later, candidates and agents for Turnham Green were called to the declarations room. We three had no idea of the result – we’d tried to keep track of the mixed votes tallies but the counting sheets were whisked away before we’d added them up.
I felt hugely self-conscious in a surprisingly full room. We’d been told no speeches (thankfully) so I hadn’t expected such a sense of occasion. A rather shy shuffle onto the stage, some words muddled into themselves (why do returning officers say “I the undersigned” instead of using their names?) then Ranjit and Ron were raising their arms high in a gesture of success. I think I smiled.
A second after stepping off-stage, a large brown envelope was pressed into my hands and I’m listening intently to an official telling me it’s my induction pack. I blathered something about being impressed by the efficiency. Two seconds later, Ruth Cadbury MP says congratulations and that she’s available to help, reminding me of joint campaigns with John Todd and collaborating on issues such as Heathrow. I think I smiled.
We’d started canvassing in September. As all three of us were new, with no name recognition to help us, we wanted to be seen by as many residents as possible – and take up cases, through our councillors, to show how active we would be. It is astonishing how often Chiswick residents are out – and without knowing we would be dropping by. We tried to visit every road at different times of day, on weekdays and at weekends (breaking the unwritten rule not to canvass on Sundays – we avoided mornings and ended earlier in the evening). We had helpers but mostly we were all three together. It was onerous and exhausting.
And now, as said in almost every congratulatory email, text and Tweet, the real work begins. The induction programme continues until our second full council meeting on 24th July. We have group meetings, ward meetings, team meetings. We will set up a ward website with useful information for residents – never forgetting that not everyone has access to computers.
As for my own life, I still haven’t got one. Domestic duties disappeared during the campaign; I’ve spent the sunny bank holiday cleaning. My first stroll through Chiswick was surreal; it seemed a different place, with an added dimension of responsibility, a new alertness driven not by being bothered by a dodgy pavement but by having to get it fixed. I was thrilled to stock up on fresh fruit and veg from the stalls and to feel I might have time to cook again – my freezer is empty having provided soup and weird leftovers to fill the gap between decaff and cake in cafes.
Our first case arrived, via Twitter, on Saturday – a planning issue. A second arrived on Bank Holiday Monday by email – a planning issue. Planning issues require special training and it’s not part of the induction programme until 24th May. For the moment, we will refer to experienced councillors for guidance. But we are up and running. Thank you to everyone who for voted for us.