The dilemmas of a would-be councillor

It’s official then. Less than six months after the hurly-burly of the May local elections, the Labour councillor for my home ward of Kentish Town has resigned leaving two Lib Dems and a vacancy, so we will be having a by-election in December for which I have been selected as the candidate.

It couldn’t have come in a better area for us in Camden. Kentish Town was our second best ward in May (after Highgate where we had two councillors elected) and I was only 157 votes behind the Labour councillor who won, so we’ll be fighting hard to take this seat and think we have a good chance.

The council changed hands in May, with the Labour administration replaced by a Tory/LibDem coalition, so this election won’t be about tactical voting but simply about who people want to represent them. And the people in Kentish Town are lovely, with a strong social conscience and very green (with a small g at least). They may very well want their third councillor to be an independent voice that keeps the coalition on their toes.

Winning will take a lot of hard work though. Outwitting the freakishly organised LibDem election machine will involve speaking to as many voters as possible on the doorstep, and competing with the implausible number of leaflets they will put out during the campaign. I dread to think of the amount of paper that will pass through my flat (our HQ) during the next six weeks. It’s all recycled, and is even printed with vegetable inks these days, but it still feels a bit weird as a Green to be creating this much recycling.

Local election campaigns throw up a few dilemmas like this. But there isn’t any effective way to reach the electorate other than to put leaflets through their doors, and it’s clear from speaking to people that our credibility depends on dropping enough of our messages through their letterboxes.

The other quandary that rears its head at these times is what to do about those ‘no junk mail’ notices. There were some fascinating discussions on the Green email lists in the run-up to May on this subject. Some of us argue simply that election leaflets are not junk mail at all but essential to the democratic process.

Fair enough, but then you can lose your nerve when you get an email from a voter who is terribly annoyed at being leafleted ‘by the Green Party of all people’ when their ‘no junk mail’ sticker has been put up for virtuous ecological reasons. There has been a new rash of these stickers going up lately, provided by the Recycle Now campaign, and this makes things particularly tricky for us. Surely people who respond to a recycling drive are more likely to be Green voters? Ignoring these letterboxes feels like a real waste.

Oh dear, what to do? Perhaps we should just rely on our local paper, the Camden New Journal, which covers council business with as much fascination as the nationals cover the shenanigans at Westminster. When delivering in my street the other day, I discovered my favourite hand-made notice on one of the doors: ‘No junk mail,’ it said, followed by, ‘NB the Camden New Journal is NOT junk mail!’ Well said. Now I just have to persuade them to add to it, ‘and Green Party newsletters’.