Two weeks ago someone rang up early in the morning saying,
“Could I speak to Councillor Jackson?”
“Who?” I said. There was an uncertain pause.” Oh, you mean me!”
We started campaigning last November, me and Sam who was standing to be re-elected as a county councillor – one of the only two in Lancashire. At the time I was going to contest an unwinnable county seat in order to raise the profile of the Green Party in an area which had potential for more Green votes. Twice a week for a couple of hours at a time “on the knocker” as they put it, talking to local people not about elections but about local matters: greenfield and brownfield land development, traffic and parking issues, introduction of 20 mph zones, care for the elderly, oh and dog muck of course.
Twice a week became three times a week then four as we moved from a cold winter to a colder spring. Others joined us as my unwinnable seat became a by election opportunity in a ward which was all Green councillors. Proper election campaigning began.
“Not so much cold calling as frozen calling, “ my now fellow councillor, Andy, would quip as he peered through the hail at some poor resident his cheerful knock had called to the door.
You get brownie points for canvassing out in the snow and ice and as we got into April and Sam energetically called in some generous canvassers from Preston, Manchester and Liverpool, the weather didn’t improve. When, I wailed internally, am I ever going to get a proper tea again? We were out for six each night, back at eight by which time all appetite had gone. And so the election got closer and door knocking ramped up to twice a day as we surveyed the streets in the ward and the campaign manager, Tim, anxiously scanned the canvassing returns and worked out who had been visited and how many times we had gone back to the “outs”. The opposition appeared on the same streets too and we contested for which party could get most posters out, which election leaflet was best received.
The last few days were a blur of organisation for election day and a knot of apprehension in my stomach. My best friend died on the Tuesday after a long, long illness – a day off to be there and back on the doors the next afternoon, out till dark in the evening, Then election day itself, sharing a stint on the polling station with a fellow candidate and being loudly harangued about the way the Greens had prevented all business development in the town for the last 10 years. All good, clean fun. A lovely local mum told me how she had minded the baby for some neighbours so they could get down to vote. At 9.45pm a couple of the people I had talked to the night before appeared to cast their ballot and give the thumbs up as they left..
The count was bitter sweet. Sam lost her county seat by 100 votes after all her fantastic work as a councillor but we retained the other county seat. And did those few votes matter to me? Well , if you win by 16 votes after 3 recounts suddenly it all seems like serendipity!
So was it worth it and what has it got to do with Transition? I look at the emails about committee work and the internal wrangling between councillors and wonder. So far I have attended the ceremony of mayor making which was a bit like Burns Night with a woman in robes deputising for the haggis and first full council which revealed more effort being put into grabbing power and being unpleasant to each other than respect for the work in hand. We’ll see. There are many opportunities to work with residents; councillors have chances to bring the Green agenda into the thinking of council officers – a long job but the Green councillors who have been there a long time report some success; just to be one of the group of eight Greens is important in itself.
Just at the moment, like many an initiative, I am mulling. What could the role of councillor do to advance the concerns and activities of Transition in my ward and in our whole area? Should I do anything at all - after all Transition is not political? Ideas please, experience, please – I’m all ears.
Photographs: County Cllr Sam Riches and Prof John Whitelegg (Green World) election ballot (LEP)Mayor of Lancaster Catherine Ashton (Lancaster City council)