Michelle Dorrell on Councillor Diversity
This year’s flock of newly-elected Labour Councillors shows change has already begun with our representatives on both Folkestone and Hythe District Council and Folkestone Town Council.
However, this is only a small step and further needs to be done in order to encourage, support and inspire more diverse candidates to come forward in the future. Parish, Town and District Councils across our constituency need to be able to represent the communities in which we all live, work and play.
This year’s local elections saw the first black Councillor elected to Folkestone Town Council. Abena Akuffo-Kelly who represents Folkestone Central Ward, Not only is she a mother, teacher and ardent feminist, but is an activist and supporter of the climate, women, minorities and other marginalised groups.
Another teacher alongside Abena, is Connor McConville. Originally from Australia, settled in the U.K. over 10yrs ago. He has been a chef in some of Folkestone’s restaurants, and has now included working as a lecturer at Folkestone College, teaching the next generation of chefs some of the skills he’s learned over the years.
We have one of Folkestone and Hythe Labour Party’s Co-Youth Officer, Johnathan Graham elected into Town council representing Cheriton East Ward. Bringing with him a fresher and newer voice to politics, opening up the discussion and insight into the needs of our younger residents.
Alongside us all we have the experience and wisdom of returning Cllr Paul Bingham for Cheriton West Ward. First elected in 1997, alongside the largest number of elected Labour Councillors for over 20 years, Paul brings not only his experience as a representative but also as a life long Folkestonian, which gives us a font of knowledge and important link with our constituency’s past history.
We’ve also a large range of Cllrs from employment backgrounds which only goes to further prove the width of new talents, experience and empathy from our candidates elected into Council.
With Belinda Walker and David Horton representing Folkestone Central Ward, we have two fantastic voices able to bring new understanding into the needs of our more vulnerable residents. As both work alongside these communities in their professional capacities. Belinda works with recovering stroke patients in the NHS; her father was in the British army and mother was a immigrant from Germany. David is a proud working class and state educated support worker, working with local Autistic Adults with learning disabilities.
Another Cllr with experience and the understanding of challenges facing local people with caring responsibilities, is the newly elected Folkestone Town Mayor Jacqui Meade. She is full time carer for her husband, self employed local trader and in her second term representing the community in local Government.
Nicola Keen and Ray Field representing Folkestone Harbour Ward and Laura Davison of Folkestone Central, have extensive experience upholding the rights of workers as union reps and officials.
Already we have councillors able to bring new vision and understanding into many areas of our local council chamber. Yet, must go further and this doesn’t just mean more candidates from our ethnic minority community, we also need to be representative of our diverse social economic backgrounds.
I, plus one other councillor elected to Folkestone and Hythe District Council this year are the only two out of 30 who live in social housing. This doesn’t seem like a very representative balance for the entire District.
Personally this I hope will help to remind us all that politics is within reach for anyone. No matter what their start in life, background or financial status.
With the rise of child poverty in my own ward and neighbourhood hitting nearly 48% after housing costs, the explosion of minimum wage and zero hour contracts leaving many reliant on in work benefits rather than being able to earn a decent living wage – only exacerbating the challenges families face daily – we urgently need more voices who have lived and understand these conditions, so the rising inequality we can all see can be addressed.
Hopefully the recent elections will go some way to inspire others to become active in their local politics. The recent achievements of this years intake, will go some way too show that things can change, plus confirm that anything is possible when you prove the courage of your convictions and put your mind to it.