Deputy leader urges more young candidates and those from diverse backgrounds to stand for election
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
Conwy’s new deputy leader says politics needs to change so more young people can serve on the council.
Cllr Emily Owen is likely to be the youngest councillor to serve as Conwy’s deputy and says more needs to be done to attract councillors from diverse backgrounds.
The recent election saw a record intake of 26 new councillors into Conwy’s 54 seats.
Cllr Charlie McCoubrey was re-elected as leader, selecting his cabinet from six independents, two Welsh Labour and two Plaid – including 27-year-old Conwy Labour councillor Emily Owen as deputy leader, also holding the portfolio for housing.
But Cllr Owen now says she wants to see more young people and those from diverse backgrounds standing for council in future.
“The intake of councillors this time has been different, and we are making headway in that regard,” she said.
“We need younger people, more female representation, LGBT, black people, disabled people. We need to be making politics accessible for everyone, and I’m pretty sure it is not.
“There is a lot of work to do around that. Politics is not set up for young working people to get involved in. I absolutely think we need to be encouraging young people to stand for what they care about.
“Part of the problem is when you look at national politics, some people think that they don’t know anything about it. It is a mindset. But it is about thinking about what you care about in the community and how you can change that.
She added: “If you don’t get into politics, politics will get into you because it affects everything, every single decision you will make, jobs, housing, education, social care, health, every aspect of life.”.
Stereotypically, councils are often made up of an overrepresentation of older men, many of whom are retired.
Whilst Cllr Owen believes hybrid virtual meetings have made it easier for younger, working-age councillors to attend, she said a lot more needs to be done to encourage people from a wider demographic.
“It is much better in a democracy if you’ve got a wide range of representatives from all walks of life,” she said.
“If you’ve got all those viewpoints and all those life experiences in one place, it is much more likely we are going to be able to come to a decision that is going to benefit everyone and not inadvertently leave a whole section of people out, and that happens far too often with young people.
“There are more young people coming through, but it is a slow process, and it is difficult getting women involved in politics in the best of times, especially young women.
“Women, generally speaking, have got a lot of caring responsibilities, but if you think about how the political system was set up, it was set up for privileged white men. Working-class men didn’t get a vote. It wasn’t set up to be inclusive.
“The salary of a backbencher is sixteen grand now. Some people aren’t able to live on just that, so they will want to juggle it with work. It is quite a lot of juggling, balancing being a councillor and caring, and still working.”
“If I hadn’t become deputy leader, I would have had to continue to work. But I’m lucky because if I had had to do that, I was working for a union who are incredibly flexible. I don’t know how flexible a private care home would be if a member of staff was a councillor and had to leave for a council meeting. It does become much more tricky.”
She added: “So who is politics accessible to? You’ve got retired people; people who own their business and can sort their own hours out; people who don’t need to work alongside it, and then you’ve got this whole hunk of people it’s still not quite right for.
“I still don’t know the answer to what we do about that. But it is something we need to look at in politics. Generally, things aren’t accessible, and that is why you don’t see younger people of working ages because it is really difficult.”
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