What makes people go into local politics?

A personal view:

With changes in the local elections and ongoing shenanigans ever since in the Bude area, I wondered what motivates people to enter local politics. It can certainly get very heated. Maybe that is because people care.

Last year, academic James Weinberg wrote a book on the psychology of entering politics, and why people do it. Of course, we look at national or global politicians and wonder that very question on a daily basis, with some responses more cynical than others.

At a national level, ex-Speaker Bercow suggested that politicians are motivated by their notion of the national interest. Of course, someone like Jacob Rees-Mogg will have very different ideas of what that is to, say, me.

So, at a local level, the same probably applies; people are motivated by their notion of the local interest (and any interests impacting their work in local council will, of course, have been declared) which may not be the same as what I find important.

Those who suggest politicians (local and national) are solely self-interested may be wide of the mark, though we all know the old adage about power corrupting (even the best of intentions).

One interesting comment is, that while many of us are quick to assume others act in their own self-interest, if this was truly the case then all of us would enter politics at the first opportunity, but actually, few ‘ordinary’ people do.

The government tells us there are 20,000 councillors in England. They say:

Each councillor has their own reasons for running but the role offers the chance to make a huge difference to the quality of life for people in your local area. Being an effective councillor requires both commitment and hard work. Councillors have to balance the needs and interests of residents, the political party they represent (if any) and the council.

However, we see that self-interest is not listed as one of them. Given the commitment and hard work required for the task, it seems to require high levels of altruism.

Here’s a video of why some people decide to become councillors. There have to be some rewards, and the video suggests this, that people feel good resolving problems, and sorting out issues, and probably being known (and often respected) in their local community.


Let’s not forget that being a councillor is public service. Maybe I am an optimist, but I like to think that, although everyone has their own agenda about what they find important, they see the bigger picture and respond to the needs of residents who may think other things are important.

I recently asked 2 questions on Facebook:

  1. What sort of issues do you want the new Bude-Stratton councillors to tackle?
  2. Is there anything good that the previous councillors did for the area?

So far as I am aware, no responses were forthcoming in answer to either question. So, such apathy reinforces the idea that some people want to ‘do’ things, change things, even ‘save the world’ (and why not?) and have ideas – which is why they become political.

Things may change along the way (e.g., Cameron’s lobbying scandal) the more powerful people get, and the longer they hold office. Luckily, democracy accounts for this and is a system where people may be elected or unelected.


My feeling is that we should thank the good councillors from previous times for their work, and should give the new councillors a chance to prove their worth.

This will happen if we as the public engage with the work of the council, and communicate. If we don’t, others make decisions for us that we may not like, and even may feel are wrong, but which they feel is in the local interest. How will they know otherwise if we don’t discuss issues in a rational, reasonable manner?

We may not all become or wish to become councillors, but we all have a voice, and should be prepared to engage in constructive, positive debate with those who do, for a brighter future.

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