What's it like to become a female councillor in Birmingham?

What’s it like to become a female councillor in Birmingham?

What is it like to be a member of Birmingham City Council?

With the second-city seeing a host of new people entering the council chamber during the last few years, the Local Democracy Reporting Service has asked some of them exactly that.

One person from each political party represented on the authority has been interviewed.

In the fourth and final part of the feature series, Morriam Jan explains why her residents are ready to boycott the Commonwealth Games and why female candidates ‘get it bad’ during election campaigns.

The former secondary school teacher, who currently works for a housing association supporting the homeless, won her Perry Barr seat in a by-election in 2017 for the Liberal Democrats.

Cllr Morriam Jan

Why did you want to become a councillor? 

It’s about making a difference. When I used to watch the news I would get depressed.

A lot of people would say we need changes, we need younger people to come in, people with energy that actually want to make a difference in our local communities.

Half the time they were saying we don’t even know who our local councillors are let alone MPs.

I was getting a bit frustrated with what I was seeing. I thought getting into politics is another way of trying to make a difference.

Read More

What’s it like to be councillor? – A four-part series

Is being a councillor what you expected? 

No. Not so much in a negative way. I didn’t realise my whole life was going to be taken over. Even though I have another job I’m still doing casework in between, taking calls, going to meetings, I go in and out of work, luckily they don’t mind.

It is time-consuming but it is so rewarding. Just to know you’ve made a difference to someone’s life, just someone saying thank you, that is an adrenaline rush and a half, that’s what keeps me going.

It takes a lot for people to ask for help, when they ask you they need that support so I wouldn’t let them down.

Sometimes it’s win, win, sometimes it’s a no-win. But at least they know you’ve listened to them and you’ve tried your best for them.

What has been the biggest surprise? 

Cllr Morriam Jan.
Cllr Morriam Jan.

Making a positive change in people’s lives that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do if I wasn’t in this position.

It’s building trust in communities. A lot of people think politicians are just there, they don’t care, get elected and you never see them again, they are not interacting with people.

It’s all about engaging, making that difference and enjoying what you do.

If you are happy and content in knowing you can make a difference then you know what, go, go, go.

What has been your biggest achievement?

Cllr Morriam Jan discussing bleed kits in the council chamber.
Cllr Morriam Jan discussing bleed kits in the council chamber.

Winning my first motion around bleed control kits.

Then also, I won an amendment for a Conservative motion about knife crime.

A lot of times you can be in Full Council put motions on but nobody will support you with it, but I had full cross-party support.

That is something I want to see more often, when all parties work together and communicate with each other.

We are all there for the same reasons, there for the community, we are not there for ourselves.

What has been the most challenging part of being a councillor? 


Not being able to save the Perry Barr flyover.

We are still trying, we have just got a new petition going.

It’s going to be chaos, it’s costing a lot of money.

The council moan they haven’t got any money yet they can spend £27m demolishing a flyover and turn Perry Barr upside down.

Two and half years of work, it’s going to be chaotic.

They seriously need to the people who it’s going to affect.

If you could change one thing about the council (apart from the political make-up) what would it be? 

There should be more female councillors. Cross party should support each other by helping new female councillors, because sometimes the women councillors when they are standing for candidate, they get it bad during elections.

You get put down.

It’s the campaigners, they get quite aggressive.

It’s happened to me before. Even in the by-election one of the ladies standing outside of the school, someone from another party team said if you continue to support Morriam we are going to smash your car. I suggest you walk away now.

Someone tried to hit me as well. 

People see us [women] as weaker. It’s wrong.

At the end of the day it’s the best person that wins, there’s no need for aggression and threatening behaviour.

When people see that it puts them off.

How do you spend most of your councillor time? 

Helping people and listening to them, trying to deal with their complex needs.

It’s casework, dealing with vulnerable people and also following it up, to find out if it’s been resolved, if not why not?

Sometimes you can go back and think I’ve tried but I couldn’t do anything.

The Commonwealth Games is keeping me busy because we have got to have meetings every month and we have got to liaise with the residents.

What is the biggest issue in your ward? 

An artist's impression of Alexander Stadium in Birmingham after its transformation for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the third time England has been chosen to host the event
An artist’s impression of Alexander Stadium in Birmingham after its transformation for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the third time England has been chosen to host the event

At the moment, it’s the Commonwealth Games and the fly-over.

People are saying they are going to have to put up with all of this disruption for two weeks and then the officers are going to go and then we’re stuck with it. There will be no-one accountable for anything.

People feel they are not being listened to, that the area is just being destroyed and nobody cares, just because the Commonwealth Games are coming for two weeks.

Because of the Games, they are getting all of this disruption, so they don’t want to support the Games anymore.

They are not excited about it anymore and a lot of them won’t be attending. This is causing too much for them and they have to live in it.

What barriers are there to becoming a councillor?

I think there’s a lack of support for young people.

People think younger people don’t have a lot of experience. What difference could they make?

Well maybe if they got involved with the knowledge they know from their age group, they could make an impact in politics.

Also I think they [young people] look at it and think damn that’s hard work.

Campaigning is not easy, getting people to support you and vote for you and to believe in you.

It’s also for young people to find politics interesting, because they find it boring. It’s what they see on the news and it depresses them.

They think it’s not for us. But really and truly politics can be quite fun as well.

 

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