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A breath of fresh air: being a young councillor by Mitch Theaker

It’s quite an exciting thing that over the past few years so many Young Labour members have won so many council seats. Since 2012 we have seen quite an influx of young people elected to councils up and down the land and unsurprisingly most of these young people have been members of the Labour Party.

I was elected to Swansea two years ago and was also appointed to the Cabinet at the same time and if I was to say that’s it’s been plain sailing ever since then that just wouldn’t be true. It’s been fantastic but certainly not easy.

Unsurprisingly at the beginning there were the general comments about age coming from the Councillors who thought ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ was still showing at the Odeon and that Wifi was a pet name for someone’s partner, but that seemed to die down after a while.

No, the real challenge has always come from policy and sheer caseload.

In Swansea our entire manifesto and mindset is geared towards tackling poverty, and I think we’ve managed to achieve a couple of pretty good things around this extraordinarily testing task. With help from experience in Labour Students and with Movement for Change we managed to secure a Living Wage for over 3,000 staff members in Swansea, we’ve been leading a very strong anti pay day loan (Sharkstoppers) campaign and we’ve significantly restructured the council to focus on three of the key areas of deprivation.

We’ve set up our own Food Bank from scratch in one of the areas that needed it the most and we were the first Council in Europe to embed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into council policy.

Naturally a lot of this work means long and sometimes antisocial hours, very high public and private scrutiny and it means that you have to bite your tongue sometimes when all you want to do is tweet something funny your chief whip says or blog about your travels.

And if I’m honest sometimes it can be very tough. Sometimes the pettiness can be demoralising, the watchful eyes and comments can be overbearing and the fact you always have to put on a good show can make you want to pack it in there and then, move to Germany and start a new life selling prized sausages in a market.

But then you remember that actually it’s completely and utterly worth it. You remember the vision and the ambition and all those people that campaigned for you and voted for you and wanted you to step and try to turn that hope they felt into palpable change on the ground.

You remember that you can achieve a huge amount and that the opportunity and ability to something like this doesn't come around too often.

So if you're a newly elected councillor, good luck. You'll be fantastic. Some bits will be tough and there will be days when you want to pack it all in, but just keep your chin up and try not to tweet anything offensive.

And if you're thinking of running in the future then weigh up the time commitment, ask yourself if you definitely want to be doing this for the next x amount of years, and if the answer is yes then give it everything you've got and show them what us young folk are made of.

Councillor Mitch Theaker is a Young Labour member and Cabinet Member for Opportunities for Children and Young People on Swansea Council. He tweets @MitchellTheaker.

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