John Booker Interview: The Role Of A Councillor And How To Be Elected As One
As I intend to stand in local elections next year in an attempt to gain a seat on Sheffield City Council, I thought it would be a good idea to converse with a current Councillor and solicit their advice. So that other potential Council candidates could also benefit from this, I decided to write an article on the subject, so I arranged an interview with Councillor John Booker which took place on Thursday the 28th of September. I apologise for my tardiness in authoring this piece, recent events threw up other issues that required more urgent commentary.
He gave me a tour of Sheffield Town Hall to begin with. On our way up the stairs from reception, he showed me a statue of the 15th Duke Of Norfolk. Rubbing the Duke’s foot as you pass supposedly ensures that you will never have money problems. “Of course, it works better if you’re Labour” John quipped. There were meetings in progress within several rooms, but he was able to show me the actual Council Chamber where Council meetings are held.
He took me to the UKIP office where we chatted for around 2 hours. He also gave me several printouts and showed me newspaper clippings that showed his involvement on multiple issues. I have documented the gist of the answers he gave to my questions.
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What does a Councillor actually do?
John told me they do many things. In his opinion, the most important job is casework – dealing with specific problems, often raised by members of the public. He has dealt with cases such as abuse in care homes, tenancy transfers and the rescinding of a local football player’s unjust ban.
He is a member of the Children, Young People And Family Support Scrutiny And Policy Development Committee, which deals with issues including adoption and fostering, paedophilia, drug addiction and school leavers.
He is also a member of the Overview And Scrutiny Management Committee, a body that is responsible for, among other things, ethical procurement – ensuring that companies who tender for Council contracts are run properly. John told me of a history of Council projects being subcontracted and subcontracted again, which raises costs due to the increase in numbers of middlemen and takes work away from local firms. He would like a force of 500 in-house workmen. He also added that a socialist cabinet benefits only big business.
What’s the limit of your responsibility?
Councillors vote on Council policy. The highest body within the Council is a cabinet, not a committee. This means that the body is wholly comprised of Labour members rather than being proportionally representative. Booker told me that the Labour group have changed the rules. UKIP used to submit many motions but are now limited to submitting 1 motion every other month. (I think this is disgraceful political gerrymandering!)
How do you help the community?
What have you done to alleviate the housing, repairs and schools crises?
He has obviously campaigned on the usual UKIP agenda, pushing to leave the EU and so on. He opined that there seems to be no upper limit for housebuilding in Sheffield, which is detrimental as we have a lack of necessary infrastructure and energy generation problems. He wants to ban subcontracting for Council projects.
His wife, who is a school governor, thinks that children who are carers for their parents should be given more slack. He added that he had helped to reduce the speed limit from 40mph to 30mph outside schools.
What have you been doing lately?
Preparing for a Parish Council election.
What do you think made your campaign successful?
He is very hands on and locally known. He endeavors to ensure that taxpayers’ money is better spent.
What did you put on your leaflets?
John is very proud of being elected as Sheffield’s first UKIP councillor in 2014. He included a plan of the changes he would make on his leaflets. He identifies as a man of the people. (I have actually witnessed this attitude myself. I once attended a debate at The Leadmill which was broadcasted on BBC Radio Sheffield, at which Booker was on the panel. I bumped into him outside beforehand and heard a staff member invite him to sit in the building. He declined, preferring to wait with audience members.)
The day before I interviewed the Councillor, I publicised the upcoming meeting on Facebook and invited members of the public to submit questions that they would like asked of him. I received 3 responses.
Reece Coombes: What do you do to gain popularity while already in office?
He shows he’s worthy with his actions and by getting the right results. He believes what he says.
Nicole Bushill: How can we get branches and councillors working together better to ensure UKIP are being promoted in a positive way? Do you think more could be done, as it seems to me that there is disjuncture within many branches between the branch and its elected representatives?
He orated that his branch works well together. Anyone is welcome in his office. He suggested that members of dysfunctional branches attend a Penistone And Stocksbridge branch meeting to see how it should be done. Elected representatives should attend branch meetings.
Lisa Broomhall: Our councillors work hard, yet aside from the local rags, the positive things they try and get through are not heard of. What can we do to get media exposure?
How do normal citizens go about watching Council meetings?
What are the rules at these? Is there any level of public participation?
How well off are you for being a Councillor?
John receives £11,800 per year, minus tax and National Insurance. Since he was given a £10 a month raise, he has donated it to Alzheimer’s Society. He has claimed £150 in a year for diesel, while all of Sheffield’s Labour Councillors have claimed £750 each in less than a year.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
He expressed his desire for the party to have a good leader. He was backing JRE. (I am unaware of whether or not he would, with hindsight, still back this candidate.)
I would like to publicly thank Councillor John Booker for his time and hospitality. He was a very gracious host and would even have made me a cup of tea if only there was any decent milk in the UKIP office.