For many of our communities, today is an important day, as they get to decide the kind of person that represents them locally. The kind of person who is an integral part of the delegated decision-making process in this country, from parking to pavements, bins to borough plans, licensing to localism, whatever way you look at it, these elections matter. It’s only right then that we should not only engage with democracy but expect a great deal from those who choose to admirably put their head above the parapet. Thinking about it the other day on my walk with the dog, I estimated that I have managed the campaigns of around 500 candidates over the years at this first tier of government. The first such instance, I was faced with 42 candidates, each with their quirks, demands and needs. But I loved it, and soon became good at it too, winning (sometimes losing) at every level, from local to general to European elections. And then of course the odd by-election would occur to really keep me on my toes.
One constant issue was finding talent in the communities where I was living and working. It was not always easy, and I often struggled to find suitable people. Honestly, sometimes, those standing were the same old faces and quite frankly, not good enough for the role. In fact, research by the Local Government Association (LGA) who I shall reference in this blog a lot and highlighted by the BBC in a report, points to the average age of a councillor being 59! You more likely being called ‘David or John’ than being called ‘Sue’ highlighting the disparity with women too, with less than a third of all councillors being female (don’t get me started on the 26% Parliament stat). So how do we find talent and diversify the offer of arguably one of the most important democratic levels of government, the bit that we are all closest to? It will be no surprise to you if I suggest that we need look no further than the 15,000 who leave the Armed Forces every year, though I’m not suggesting here that they do not face own challenges around gender recruitment. But given that some of this cohort joined in their teens/20s and for those who have had a full military career, they could be leaving at a senior level in their late 30’s early 40s with bags of potential, experience and values. Not only this, but if communities invest in veterans this way, then the veteran will invest in the community too. It’s a vital part of the resettlement ecosystem and a quid pro quo.
A veteran is a good fit right? Yes, there are veterans already standing, and I will never forget my first election with ‘Mike’ a Royal Signals veteran who defeated an incumbent councillor against all the odds. Over the last few weeks during this campaign, I have managed to champion some veterans, and wish Lucy, Stephen, Guy, George, Richard and Terry the very best for today (note- no Davids or Johns). Now this is the other thing, no one has a clue, unlike the LGA with their data on Daves, on how many of the 20,000+ local representatives are veterans! There simply isn’t the information available, and although the LGA commendably in their regular census of councillors capture things like age, gender and diversity, the veteran question is omitted for some reason I am yet to find out. Doing a little sum on the back of a ‘fag packet’ I’ve worked out that veterans make up around 4% of the UK population and if we are to be truly representative (let’s park the reasons why veterans make epic councillors here for a second- ‘getting sh*t done’ being a common trait) that means at least 800 would be a sensible figure to aim for as a population of councillors. I know from my time at MOD, veterans are knocking it out of the park in industry, and fast becoming a highly represented and valued member of the workforce. So why not in democracy too?
Efforts have been made by government to enshrine veterans within communities with all local authorities up and down the lengths of this land signing the Armed Forces Covenant. As service leavers and their families return to our communities, it’s only right that this should be considered. Indeed, government, in response to a report commissioned by the LGA and the excellent Forces In Mind Trust (FiMT) titled “Our Community – Our Covenant Report” helped them produce a handy guide for local authorities where they state, ‘Your local Armed Forces Community is part of your local community’.
So it may shock you, that in both the guide, and the report, not one mention is made about promoting democracy within the Armed Forces Community, nor did they, when they put out a request to local authorities, ask the question about veteran councillors: i.e. how many if at all, do you have? That is why CampaignForce, following this election, sets out to be the first organisation in the UK to not only map the veteran population in local government, but also to invite partners like the FiMT, LGA and Government to help us do better, as I suspect, that veterans are underrepresented in local government.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the LGA Community Wellbeing Board and Leader of Warwickshire County Council stated in the foreword of the joint FiMT/LGA report that:
‘There are areas to work on. Our survey of Council Chief Executives shows that councils consider that they have a good understanding of the Covenant, with 48 per cent reporting that they have a good understanding and 39 per cent a moderate understanding. According to our survey of the Armed Forces Community, awareness is also high among members of that Community, with 81 per cent of respondents saying that they were aware of the Covenant.’
I would suggest that this Chief Exec ‘community’ referred to collectively have zero understanding of how many veterans currently serve. This is the very least that we can ask from them, given the considerable efforts made by these stakeholders on other statistics and their commitment to the Covenant. Afterall, this has a ‘why’ attached to it and a punchline, and that surrounds influencing the diversity, skills, talents and values that are needed from those who represent us. It is the very least that we can ask for and expect and I invite local authorities to participate in this vital data gathering exercise, and then we at CampaignForce, can inspire, train and coach veterans to stand up and serve again for the greater good of our local communities. Now get out and vote…
Like this article? Then please share!