The Life of a Labour Councillor

It’s been just over 6 weeks since I was elected as a Labour Councillor for Katesgrove Ward in Reading.

Now the excitement has died down, I’m finally developing some perspective on what life is going to be like. I can tell you three things – I get to meet some incredible people and hear some heartbreaking stories, I balance a full time commuter job with a representative post which is a challenge and I feel genuinely interested in and responsible for what happens in my local community.

The last week has been long and rewarding. Monday evening was our Labour Group, where councillors talk about upcoming issues and plan for meetings, Tuesday was full Council, Wednesday I was supporting the Southcote By-election and Thursday canvassing in my own ward. On Friday, I went to a charity event against Female Genital Mutation and a friend’s birthday party before canvassing again on Saturday.

It’s non-stop, a learning curve and there’s always more to do but I’m convinced that we can achieve so much in Reading together. I’m passionate about my neighbours, bothered by anti-social behaviour and genuinely concerned about the decisions we will have to make this year, as a Labour council under a ConDem government. That said, politics is a battleground and we will keep fighting in Reading for the best possible for local people. 

That’s all for now.

Sophia

 


Thank You.

On the 23rd May 2014, I was successfully elected as a Local Councillor for Katesgrove Ward.

After selection almost a year ago, the current Labour Councillors Rose and Matt, party faithfuls like Tony Short, Emmett Mckenna, Arjun Mittra and Guy Gillbe and members in the ward and in Reading as a whole have been supportive of me from the start. Young Labour and Labour Students at the University have canvassed and delivered. Dave, Debs and Trish did a phenomenal job running my committee room and I have even had support from non-party members. All of these people have dedicated their personal time (and money!) week in/week out to helping me get elected.

In the last days before the election, local shops and takeaways came out to support me in force, displaying posters and passing on the message. Of course, I have to thank the electorate for choosing me with 49% of the vote in a ward where 5 candidates including myself were standing.

Katesgrove has also made history by electing the first ever black (African/Caribbean) woman in Reading. I am incredibly proud and I know you are too.

Labour has strengthened council leadership, after gaining 5 new seats in the latest elections. Congratulations to all my fellow Labour colleagues and commiserations to those who did not get elected, you fought a great fight.

It wouldn’t be right for me to end this blog without mentioning Pete Ruhemann. After almost 30 years on the council, Pete died this week. My thoughts are with Jo Lovelock, his wife and our council leader, his family and friends.

I look forward to working with all of you in the future and doing my absolute best to serve this community. It’s been a fantastic rollercoaster so far and we’re just at the beginning of what we can achieve together.

Thank you.

Councillor Sophia James

 

Our newly (re-) elected Labour Councillors

Our newly (re-) elected Labour Councillors


PMQs, Politicos and something about pots…

So today is Wednesday – for some people this is simply ‘Hump Day’ when you’ve passed the midweek hump and think you might actually survive the rest of the working week. However for the politically engaged Wednesday has a second meaning. It is the one day of the week when all the politicos tune in religiously to BBC at midday in a desperate attempt to get the most retweets about PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions).

If you’ve never seen this theatrical embarrassment before, you’re in for a treat of a largely white, upper class, 80% male audience roaring over speeches and pointing stubby fingers whilst John Bercow, the Speaker of the House tries to maintain some kind of “ORDER”.

At the weekend one of my dedicated canvassers had the misfortune of knocking on the door of a man who proclaimed that politicians all “piss in the same pot”. This man had apparently not realised that said candidate was just upstairs and when I responded, that actually “I prefer to piss in a toilet” – the shock on this individual’s face was striking.

It wasn’t my choice of language, it was shock that I actually responded like a real person. When I went to university, I immediately joined the hockey club. As a school leaver, I was keen to meet new people and keep up a sport I was passionate about. I neither joined the Labour Club, nor attended student council meetings or even voted.  The change happened when I got into an argument with someone in second year, who challenged me to do it better if I thought I could. The result was that I ran for a position on my student union council, ran a number of campaigns and progressed to a full time representative at my Students’ Union. This was the beginning of my journey which developed into Reclaiming the Night in Leeds with over 300 other women, leading anti-fascist demonstrations, celebrating Pride and starting up a Disabled Students’ Society. My approach to politics has always been one of action. To see something wrong with the world and try in any small way to put that right.

I think people are looking for a special something, a special quality which makes you able to ‘do politics’ but it’s not like that. It always starts with an issue, something you truly care about and will fight for and the opportunity to have your voice heard.

I’m not trying to defend all politicians, I am not even completely comfortable referring to myself as one but I do know a lot of decent candidates, who simply work hard and want the best for the people around them. To navigate the political class is more difficult for some than others but I do think it is too easy to write off anyone involved with politics and in some cases, to use that as an excuse for flirting with the right. Clearly, the political leaders of this country need to better reflect the people in it. This is not something we should ever compromise on and in actual fact will lead to better decisions and improved living standards for working people.

So this is my plea to you… politics has, is and will change your life. From the potholes which damage your car and the expansion of your local school, to the child support you get paid and whether you ever get to buy a house. The people who represent you have a lot of power to influence your lives. The next time we rock up to the door, remember that we made the effort when others might not but more importantly, challenge us. Make us work for your vote. Those career politicians and privileged politicos do exist but unless you get involved and alter the balance, they will continue to dictate your life and it’s about time you had it your way…


Charities, Cuts and the Big Society

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog but this particular issue has been niggling away at me.

I’m not much of a runner, any twitter followers will know that I play for Sonning Hockey Club and the most weekends hit the badminton court with some older comrades from the Labour Party. Next month I’m running the 5k Pretty Muddy Race for Life, at which point (all being well) I will join a long line of distance running Labour Councillors such as John Ennis and Matt Rodda. Besides being a generally good thing to do, my interest in charity fundraising has been encouraged by the increasingly brutal cuts forced on to the third sector by this government.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations reported earlier this month that charities had lost over 1.3 billion pounds in the most recent spending cuts. At a local level charities will lose a significant 43% of their funding as a result of budget restrictions passed on by local councils. I am pleased to say however that in Reading at least, the Labour led council decided to protect the third sector budget.

Charities have a long history of supporting our public services and in many cases providing them. Direct cuts to the public and third sector are giving the green light to outsourcing and privatisation.

Over the holidays, Cameron claimed that Jesus invented big society and that he and his party were continuing that good work. Personally, I fail to see how cuts which disproportionately affect impoverished communities, disabled people and other vulnerable groups could possibly be a realisation of this.

The problem is that whether the cuts hit mental health, homeless provision or women’s charities, the end result is always the same. These cuts cost lives.

And naturally, here comes the fundraising plug:

http://www.justgiving.com/sophiajames

Stephen Sutton who raised £3 million for cancer research.

Stephen Sutton, a terminally ill young adult who raised £3 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust

 


It’s not about IQ Boris… but let’s talk about your spiritual worth

This week Boris Johnson decided to show his true Conservative colours in a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies. Apparently greed is good and low IQs are bad.

Having viewed his speech, which you can see here. Boris makes it clear that those lacking in ‘raw ability’ may actually also be less valuable in terms of ‘spiritual worth’. He argues that we should do more in society to support those with high IQs and disregards other factors which hinder progress up the capitalist ladder. We live in a society where women earn on average 15% less than men due to the gender pay gap, a figure that increases to over 19% in the private sector and 21% for women of colour. Where disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty and individuals with foreign sounding names are less likely to find employment. We also live in a country where 50% of young Black men are out of work and ‘gay’ is the number one playground insult.

If that wasn’t enough to hamper success for all but the pale, stale males, class can limit your access to educational opportunities, your exposure to the types of language, behaviour and culture highly valued by the elite (obviously not a problem if you went to Eton). Boris notes that “16% of our ‘species’ have an IQ below 85, 2% have an IQ above 130″. Before I could even contemplate his ignorance of disability, the subjectivity of IQ tests and disturbing dehumanisation of many hard working people in low paid work, I simply had to question Boris’ IQ as he progressed this obscure argument into a metaphor about cornflakes.

Perhaps Labour MP Nia Griffith said it best when she exclaimed that ‘”the buffoon’s mask comes off”. What lies beneath the surface of Boris’ comical exterior is a deep seated desire to segregate and demean poorly paid and less educated members of our society. Whilst the Mayor of London praises those scampering away with money at the top, families will be rehoused over Christmas, elderly members of the population will be unable to afford heating bills and food banks will be stretched to the limit. It’s a strange thing to suggest greed is preferable in a country where 3.5 million children (that’s over a quarter of children in the UK) are living below the poverty line. One has to question the spiritual worth of a man who would support that.

If this is the potential future leadership of the Conservative Party, then it is even more imperative that we step up to the plate and return a Labour government in 2015.

Sources: Guardian, Scope, TUC, Stonewall, Office for National Statistics.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson


Young People and Politics

On Tuesday, I was asked to speak to Labour Students at the University of Reading.

Being 25, a (fairly) recent graduate living in a house share and someone still paying off their student loan, I can identify with the issues that students and young people are facing.

I talked about my journey through politics which started at Leeds University Union after a challenge from a friend spurred me to stand for Union Council. This was the time that I first got involved with the Labour Party and after that I progressed to a full time officer, the National Executive Council of NUS and Young Members’ Officer of my local UNISON branch. I was fortunate that my introduction to politics came early on and that I had a supportive, engaging environment to learn in but so many miss that chance. The Labour Party has a key role to play in giving people, particularly young people, that voice and I’m keen to be a part of that in Reading.

What followed was an engaging debate about barriers, from student debt to unemployment, an unaffordable housing market and this government’s attack on education maintenance allowance and youth support. There are many reasons why young people disengage.

I’m looking forward to working with the Reading Labour Students in the coming weeks and months. Last month, I also went to Reclaim the Night London with London Young Labour.

The truth is that young people are the future of our movement and it is our responsibility to develop and encourage them. I’m going to do everything possible to get more young people involved in the Reading Labour Party.

NUS talk at Keele

NUS talk at Keele


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