Hitchin Walsworth Labour councillor Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg reflects on the 2021 local elections

  Posted: 11.05.21 at 12:19 by Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg

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This election, 12 months behind schedule, was a terrifying and weird experience set against the backdrop of what’s been a terrifying and weird period for us all.

Normally candidates would be out doorknocking, speaking to residents, delivering leaflets and raising our profiles and those of our respective parties.

This year, we had to wait for confirmation the election was happening, then wait for it to be ok to start leafletting, and finally with barely a month to go it was confirmed we could canvass, with precautions of course.

Did social media determine some results? It’s always difficult to say with any certainty, especially at local government level where it’s tricky to identify and engage with your small target audience.

What is clear is that different candidates were received differently by the electorate and we’ve all certainly learned some tactics to avoid in future.

The saddest moment of the election for me came when Martin Stears-Handscomb, Leader of the Council, lost his fight against Conservative group leader David Levett for Letchworth South East.

After narrowly holding my own seat, to lose our leader on a weekend many of us were watching friends and colleagues across the country also lose was a bitter pill to swallow and certainly took some of the shine off a hard-won victory.

Looking beyond our borders, amongst the disappointment I found one small moment of personal pride back home in Doncaster.

You could say politics runs in the Dennis family.

I prefer to say public service runs in the family. My father was a senior officer at Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council. After retiring, he was parish clerk for three parish councils simultaneously – he’s just retired from the final one.

My youngest brother, Robert, studied politics and was chair of his local parish council. This year Robert ran for his first council seat.

At 23 he was one of the youngest candidates standing in the area. Doncaster saw a number of Generation Z candidates this year, injecting a fresh energy into local politics.

Irrespective of the party they represented each candidate wanted to serve their community and make things better.

Robert got out in the community, supporting residents with issues from potholes to contentious planning matters.

And of course litter picking regularly around the villages and along the roads where safe to do so. Rubbish it seems is also a family affair.

He didn’t win. The ward has traditionally been a solid Conservative area and remains so. But what he did was inspirational.

I was 25 when I got the courage to stand for election the first time, and it was intimidating. Nobody teaches you how to campaign, or how to be a political candidate.

We all figure it out from bits and pieces, trial and error. It’s one of the most difficult job interviews imaginable.

And somehow, in a year that’s thrown so much chaos our way he got out there, campaigned, and made an active difference to the community while campaigning – he didn’t just leaflet, he acted, supported, and made things better.

And he’s just one example of what a new generation of local government candidates from all parties have the potential to achieve.

Politics needs diversity. Councils should and must be representative of the communities we serve. We can only do this if we encourage and support people of all ages from all backgrounds to get involved in local democracy.

So, as the dust settles and I look back on campaigns and results, I’m happy to see bright futures emerging.

And urge anyone who has ever wanted to make a difference, but not known how, to talk to your local councillor or representative of choice.

Taking that first step is scary, but it will be one of the most rewarding things you can do.


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