Clare's Journey to Becoming a Councillor

Clare Sutton  

Clare SuttonDespite being ‘political’ from a young age - I joined the Labour Party aged 15 - it never occurred to me to stand for election to a local council. However, in 2004, my mum was asked if she’d like to stand in the forthcoming Dorset County elections. She said, “No thanks, but my daughter might…” As I was about to move back to Weymouth and needed a job, I said, “Oh, go on then”, and a few months later passed my job interview with the Rodwell electorate.

High points as a County Councillor 2005-09 included leading a (successful!) campaign to save 13 community libraries and persuading fellow councillors to vote in favour of providing match funding to ‘bridge the Rodwell Trail gap’, which I’d like to think has over the years encouraged many more residents to leave the car at home. It was a mainly salutary experience, but I decided, for several reasons, to not stand for re-election. I worked for a Housing Association in Poole and as a non-executive director for NHS Dorset, undertook a Climate Change Master’s degree, left the Labour Party, and joined the Green Party.

In 2012, I introduced myself to Brian Heatley, who I knew had been South Dorset’s Parliamentary Green candidate, on a demo against a rubber recycling plant on Portland. I had the temerity to tell him that I thought, based on my community track record, I could get elected as a Green Councillor for Rodwell. He seemed quite interested!

To cut a long story short, we conducted a door-to door survey of all ward households, started delivering newsletters and held meetings with residents, and at the first time of trying achieved the following poll in the 2013 Dorset County elections: 29% Labour, 24% Conservative, 23% Green, 19% UKIP (oh, the good old days!) and 5% Lib Dem. In 2014 I was just 36 votes short of the winner in a Borough Council election, and the breakthough came when I was elected to Dorset County Council in 2015.

…and then there were two, when Jon Orrell was elected in 2017, and then there were four, when Kelvin Clayton and Brian Heatley were elected in 2019. A continued exponential trajectory will be a challenge, but here are some thoughts:

  • Dorset Council needs more Green Councillors. Because the Conservatives have a majority, we rarely win votes in the council chamber but the pressure we apply on both environmental and social issues helps to shift the agenda.
  • Although sometimes frustrating, it is a rewarding role. You KNOW you sometimes make a real difference to someone’s life (e.g. helping a parent access additional educational support for their child); to your local community (e.g. helping get your local beach reopened); to your wider community (e.g. ensuring Weymouth retains a Registry Office). These are examples from my own experience, but Jon, Kelvin and Brian can relate many more. 
  • The results from 2019 suggest there are two particular seats where we’d stand a good chance next time round, but we also know from how Jon, Kelvin, Brian and I got elected that where there’s a committed individual, with the local party behind them, that can make all the difference.
  • Dorset Council particularly lacks young, non-white, and female councillors but, whatever your age, gender, colour, think about it. Dorset needs you!
  • On a personal level, I am proud to have set an example to my children. Aged 2 and 4 when I was first elected, they have been involved in several of ‘my’ projects along the way, including setting up Chapelhay Community Playgarden and campaigning to restore safe access to Castle Cove Beach. Today, my son is a member of the Green Party and President of XR at Bournemouth Uni. Go on, set your kids an example!