Cllr Rhys Thomas is a Vale of Glamorgan County Councillor, representing Plymouth ward in Penarth. He also serves as Chairman of the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee.
I’d like to congratulate Conservative colleagues who were elected on Thursday. To serve residents as a councillor is a great honour and a privilege. After the adrenaline wears off, have a good rest, and then get ready for the hard work to really start.
I was first elected twelve months ago, at the age of twenty-six. I mention my age, because in the world of local government, those on the younger side aren’t well represented, to say the least.
Let’s have a look at the numbers. According to the Local Government Association’s national census of councillors for 2022, the average age of councillors is 60. 42 per cent are aged 65 and over. Only 16 per cent are aged under 45.
So, if you’ve just won election as a younger Councillor, you will be in a small minority. This certainly brings a set of unique challenges, but it also provides great opportunities as you develop – both as a person and an elected official.
I’d like to offer a few thoughts on dealing with your new role, and things to remember as you embark on your journey of public service.
You are an equal
You have been elected by your constituents just like everyone else has, and your mandate is just as worthy of respect as anyone else’s.
In one of my first Vale of Glamorgan Council meetings, our Conservative Group put forward a motion to end fully virtual meetings and move to a hybrid system. We were keen to get into the chamber, to have proper debates and discussions. Naturally, Labour opposed this and one of their councillors said I wanted to end fully virtual meetings because I was a young white male.
Labour claim to support a range of voices and life experiences in politics, but obviously only if you agree with their far-left opinions! I am afraid to say you may experience such comments, and I am sure even worse things are said. That is the rough and tumble of local politics, but don’t let it put you off. Some people are threatened by difference but remember the faith that residents have in you and take that with you every day.
By the way, the Labour-run Vale of Glamorgan Council still insist on virtual meetings to this day – the only one in Wales to do so.
It’s good to be different
As the statistics show, youth is a rarity in local politics. In my experience, it is something that most residents engage with. A (relatively) fresh face can be distinctive, and you can bring qualities that will make you stand out from the crowd. This can be reflected in areas like your social media activities and constituency work. Get out and about, attend events in the ward and meet people. The way you conduct yourself will win people over and cement your status as a councillor of action. I’d also encourage you to engage with the younger population in your area, to show that politics is accessible to them.
On the Council, you will stand out from a mile off – this is in no way a bad thing. That distinctiveness will stay in people’s minds and being memorable (for the right reasons) is certainly useful in politics.
In my first month as a councillor, I ran for election as Chairman of the Learning & Culture Scrutiny Committee (that’s education in normal-speak). I won and have served in that role ever since. To have a leading role in scrutinising the Council is a privilege, and I didn’t feel that I should hold back because of my age. I was confident that I had the skills and abilities to chair that committee, and my group colleagues agreed. If you feel you can do something like that, then back yourself and go for it. In many cases, you may well have been elected for the first time just like new Councillors much older than you, so it’s important to remember that being older doesn’t necessarily mean more political experience!
Politics is a team game
Finally, this is something that all our councillors should abide by, no matter their age or background. You are a Conservative. Remember what that means. You’re representing the party that governs the greatest nation on earth. The party that stands up for freedom, enterprise, and unleashing every person’s potential. It’s a privilege to be elected under that banner. Don’t forget that, and let it sustain yourself through the tough times.
You will have a team of Conservatives around you, whether that is in the administration or in opposition. Get to know them, work with them. Utilise all their skills and talents to be the most effective team possible. Together, stronger.
So, those are my tips for younger councillors, and indeed for councillors of all ages.
Do everything you can to repay the faith your residents have shown in you, and you’ll be well on the road to success. Good luck.