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Politics

Jackie Weaver’s authoritative guide to the importance of local elections

The Big Issue has given viral star Jackie Weaver the authority to tell you all about England’s local elections and why you should vote

The volatile Handforth Parish Council meeting that went viral in February thrust the often-overlooked world of local democracy into the spotlight and created a star in Jackie Weaver.

With the local elections coming up on May 6, the chief officer for the Cheshire Association of Local Councils tells The Big Issue about the last few whirlwind months and why casting your vote is so important.

Why I got involved in local politics

People get involved in local politics because they feel that sense of injustice about something. They want to change something. For me it was no different.

I got elected to the parish council because I thought that’s how you changed things. I enjoyed my term of office but during that time I went to parish group meetings and I was introduced to the Cheshire Association of Local Councils – an umbrella group where I still work now. We do advice, mediation, all sorts, for parish councils. My mediation skills have been proven now! It was the right place for me.

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Surprisingly, Covid-19 has revitalised local politics

We have seen a huge increase in the number of people having a look. I would say there is a role to play for everyone in local democracy. That’s not to say we all have to be councillors or officers but it does make a difference when councillors are held to account by people watching them – not that it made much of a difference in Handforth for that one meeting!

I can’t assure you that you will never come across another meeting like the Handforth one. That level of hostility was unusual but people do have heated discussions at these meetings because they are talking about things that are hugely important to them, they feel passionate about them. Voices will be raised!

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We’re pushing for virtual meetings to be maintained beyond the pandemic so you can vet a parish council before you join it – have a look and see what you think of the people you would be joining.

If you don’t vote, you can’t complain

If you ever want to bitch or complain or say you’re not happy about something, don’t even utter those words in my earshot unless you have voted.

People say, “I don’t do politics.” Neither do I. People say, “It doesn’t matter whether I vote.” Yes it will, because if all the other people like you got involved then it would make a change. That’s your responsibility to participate. It’s a duty and a privilege to vote.

Why I’m glad the Handforth Parish Council video brought me fame

The last few months have been hectic, incredibly busy and surreal. People still seem to be interested! I’ve been involved in local councils for 25 years and I know they have value that is often unnoticed. The fact that people are now talking about parish councils is a gift.

Ever since Handforth, we have seen more interest in Cheshire – and I think nationally too – with more people arriving virtually at council meetings. There are more enquiries about elections, there are more hits on parish websites. People are at least asking the question: “What are these things about?” That’s great.

Does local democracy need young blood?

I’ve never been one for tokenism. There are many parish councils that need to improve their diversity. It’s about making sure they represent the communities they are part of. We have still got a way to go.

And people ask me, how do you make meeting more exciting? You don’t! Anyone who watched the rest of the Handforth meeting after the first three minutes will have seen an extremely dull meeting but it was talking about issues that are extremely important to the people of Handforth.

What to do ahead of the election and how you can get involved

If you have registered to vote then you need to be looking at what is going on locally. Look at the candidates you are voting for and take an interest. Please don’t just vote because you like the colour of their shirts! There is a place for that nationally, but not locally. You should be voting for the person who understands you and your area and has a commitment to improving it for everyone’s benefit.

If you want to know how to get involved, it’s too late to be a candidate this time but there are often opportunities locally – there is currently a casual vacancy in Handforth – so have a look at the National Association of Local Councils’ website.

Local elections are held across England on May 6

Jackie Weaver was speaking to Liam Geraghty

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