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.
Councillor Sophia James
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:
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.