“Human rights are praised more than ever – and violated as much as ever.” (Anna Lindh)

To be a party representative (councilor) in a municipal council is a most rewarding and challenging task for a politician. It is the party representative closest to the citizens; policies and decisions in which councilors take part directly influence people’s lives. If you as a councilor do your work well, people will have confidence in you and trust your party. You will help engage local people who want to develop their community. Councilors must remember that their mandate derives from the voters and the policies they are set to implement derive from the party.

When you work as a representative, there are several important questions you need to ask yourself. These will help you figure out why you are putting all this effort into doing what you do. Sometimes, the questions can reveal things that probably shouldn’t be a part of your motivations, even things that shouldn’t be a part of democratic work at all.

In the picture below, can you spot the question that reveals that the person is probably not that interested in the democrativ process after all?

The caucus and the portfolio committee
Every party in a local council has its own caucus – the party’s group of elected representatives. In the caucus group we decide our politics. A portfolio committee consists of elected representatives from different parties that are selected by their party to represent specific policy areas (housing, finance, etc).

Members of the caucus group and party representatives in portfolios committees are individuals with different experiences and competencies. The more efficiently we use our skills and knowledge, the stronger the party representation will be. To be as strong a party as possible, we need to work closely together, to ensure that each and every associate is included and can contribute.

Normally the party rule is that all party representatives must follow the caucus majority’s decision. We should always strive to achieve unity in our caucus group. It makes us strong and able to have real influence on development. But there may be occasions when we need to discuss how far we stretch this. Belonging to the same party doesn’t mean we always have to think the same way.

Click on the headlines to see how elected representatives deal with issues:

1 -Goals and strategies

“Our fundamental task is to meet the citizens’ needs. That is for example, security, health, education, housing, work, transportation and decent living conditions. We meet people’s needs together with them, not for them. The municipal programs and projects should be based on democratic decisions and people’s participation.

In our party caucus we must share a vision of what we want to achieve in the council and for whom we want to do it. This is the basis for our short- and long-term political planning. Basic instruments that you need for a planning process are: mapping, goals and targeting groups.”

2 -Mapping

“It is crucial that we know the citizens needs. What is most important to them? What services or other activities are they satisfied with, or critical of? What changes do they want? We need to gather this information in a structured, systematic way and keep it up to date. All party representatives in the caucus must have access to the information. It constitutes the information “bank” on which everyone bases their political work.”

3 -Goals

“A goal is the future state we want to achieve. To reach goals we need to have a clear vision of what our goals are. The overall goals that we present in the election manifesto need to be translated into concrete, defined short- and long-term objectives. Means and goals are often confused. An important rule is that we express a goal as a description of what we want to achieve, not how we are going to achieve it. A goal must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. Remember that how we formulate the message – which words, sentences, and perspectives we use – will reveal a lot about us and our party and determine how people will perceive us.”

4 -Target – constituent group

“Citizens are the constituents and we are working for them. Politicians are elected to represent the citizens in government and to make the laws, policies and programs that the administration must implement. Politicians’ view of themselves has changed and so has the citizens’ view of politicians. It is tempting and easy for a politician to identify with the administration. You often find politicians rather representing the administration to the citizens than the other way around. The gap between people and politicians has increased and the sense of “them” as distinct from “us” is common in all countries. This is a serious problem. Each of us has a responsibility to clarify the roles and demonstrate whose side we are on. We need to communicate with our constituents.”

5 -Work in the caucus

“Every party in a local council has its own caucus. In the caucus we decide our politics. We are amongst party associates where we can have open discussions and test arguments freely. We know that this discussion stays between us.

To be as strong a party as possible, we need to work closely together in the caucus, to ensure that each and every associate is included and can contribute. If every representative in the caucus can also develop as a politician and a person, it makes us stronger as a party and a collective in the decision-making process. Few citizens know who their representatives are and this worsens the sense of “us” and “them” and the distrust people may have for politicians. That means that individual politicians must be allowed to have more of their own profile, be seen and heard as individuals at the same time as we maintain the collective strength of our party.”

6 -Relations between the local municipal caucus and the local party structure

“The local party structure and the local councilors have different roles. It is important that they cooperate and coordinate their efforts. Both have a responsibility to ensure this happens efficiently.

The party makes policies and determines overall programs.
Councilors represent the party in local government and are meant to implement the party manifesto and programs. At the same time councilors have powers according to the laws and constitution and are accountable to voters. This dual accountability of councilors to party and to voters sometimes causes conflict. It is important to develop clear mechanisms for accountability and monitoring between councilors and party.”

7 -Relations to the citizens

“Our party must be visible and known in the community. It must be clear to the citizens that it is the Social Democratic party that engages in their problems, that listens to them and accomplishes the positive changes in their lives.

The individual citizen must be at center of every politicians’ life. Otherwise how can we claim that we represent the people? To ensure this we must work hard to plan and organize activities to interact with citizens on a regular basis. When you organize contacts with the people, it is important to be clear about the purpose of the contact and to have a clear plan for what you are going to do.

-Aim: What do I want to achieve with this contact?

-Message: What do I want to say to the people we meet?

-Target group: Who is affected by the particular issue?

-Method: What is the best method to use?

-Time: What are our timeframes and who will do what?”

8 -Ethics and morality

“Misuse of public funds always makes headlines – and rightly so – regardless of what kind of misuse it is. The caucus group must discuss and clarify which ethical and moral rules shall apply. It is not good to meet criticism by saying that rules are unclear or that they can be interpreted in different ways. Who respects that? It is never acceptable to confuse political and personal interests and to use taxpayers’ money in an inappropriate way.

As representatives of a political party, our behavior isn’t just private and what we do may harm the party and politics and politicians in general. As party representatives, we need to understand that we must live up to high moral standards; we are role models.”

9 -Relations to the media

”We need to know how media works. To start with we must understand that political parties and media have different roles in a democratic society. The democratic system is built on the notion that different ideas and proposals should be freely presented, debated, criticized and compared. Our role as politicians is to initiate, spread and rally support for our ideas, arguing and convincing citizens to support them.

A journalist’s professional role is to present and critically scrutinize proposals so that citizens have access to more information, thereby increasing their potential to make informed decisions. The journalist’s task is to report news happenings and to critically scrutinize what goes on in society, especially matters that affect people’s lives. We must be professional and remind ourselves that it is the media’s job to scrutinize politicians and that this is a sign of a healthy democracy.

There are some rules to follow:

  • Never lie.
  • Stand up for what we say.
  • Admit mistakes.
  • Simple and straight responses. Stick to message.
  • Don’t be provoked.
  • Answer all questions.

10 -Contacts with public servants

“In the local municipality the division of labor between the politicians and the public servants is clear: politicians make the political decisions and draw up the policies and guidelines whereas public servants supply politicians with the basic data upon which their decisions are made. Public servants then implement the politicians’ decisions.

We must never let public servants push us to make decisions we are not comfortable with. We must demand full information, ask questions, ensure that we have all the background, analysis, and alternatives available, before we make a decision. We politicians can never blame someone else; we must be able to defend our decisions to the citizens. If the administration dislikes a decision, they can provide new facts or information and ask that a decision be revised.”