Keith Moffitt is the Liberal Democrat leader of Camden Council. Lib Dem Voice has quizzed him about why he’s in politics, what he’s achieved and how being a Liberal Democrat means he does things differently from other parties.
And if you’re hoping to get elected to a council for the first time in June, read to the end for his top tip for new councillors.
1. What made you get involved in politics originally?
I’d always been a Liberal voter, but became active because I was impressed by what the Liberals (as they then were) were doing locally in West Hampstead in Camden. To be precise, I put up a poster for the Liberals in a by-election Flick Rea was standing in, got a thank you letter and a follow up visit, and the rest is history – 30 years’ of it!
2. And what made you want to become a councillor?
I love having influence over the place where I live and the things that happen around me. I’d done the usual things like being chair of my residents, association and secretary of my trade union branch and this was the next obvious step. And I believe that it’s our duty as Lib Dems to make sure that everyone has that chance to have that same influence on the things that shape their day to day lives.
3. What do you like most about Camden?
The amazing variety. We have some of the richest and most famous people in the world living in Camden – the ward I live in has had two Nobel prize winners, most recently Doris Lessing. And yet we also have some of the most disadvantaged people in the country, in areas like Somerstown, which sits cheek by jowl with the amazing new St Pancras International Station, which presents enormous challenges. We’re fortunate to have some of country’s major institutions, such as the British Museum, the British Library and the University of London, together with tourists hotspots like Camden Town and the north of Covent Garden. We also have a fantastic ethnic mix (including my Brazilian partner!) which is one of the things that makes Camden so special. I’d better stop now!
4. What most surprised you when you took over as council leader?
The fact that although local government can be slow to deliver, it can also be very response when you give clear instructions. We asked our officers to give us a new secondary school, preserve our Victorian swimming baths, radically change the parking regime, introduce area forums, etc – and it was impressive how quickly they got cracking! But if you don’t give clear instructions, then things will drift.
5. What’s the biggest challenge the council faces over the next year?
As part of our recession response, we’ve just frozen our Council Tax for this year and announced our intention to do the same for next year. Continuing to provide excellent services and deliver on Lib Dem values, while keeping down costs and helping local residents and businesses cope with the recession is a huge challenge.
6. What one thing would you most like central government to do for local government?
Start trusting local government more, and as the most important step introduced a local income tax which would be fairer and at the same time make us more accountable.
7. What’s been your greatest achievement as council leader?
As a Lib Dem I firmly believe in proportion representation, the inevitable consequence of which is that we can end up working with other parties. I hate the term “no overall” control – the Lib Dem-led administration has worked constructively with the smaller Conservative group in Camden to make significant changes for the better after 35 years of Labour control, and I feel I played a key part in ensuring that this has happened smoothly and effectively, and that the Council is very much “under control”!
8. How do residents of your ward notice that they’ve got a distinctively Liberal Democrat councillor, as opposed to a councillor from any other party?
They hugely value the fact that we keep in touch all year round, that I’ve lived in the area for 30 years and am part of and understand the local community, and that I try and deliver what they want, not force things onto them from the top down!
9. How do residents of Camden notice that they’ve got a distinctively Liberal Democrat council leader, as opposed to a council leader from any other party?
They are amazed at how accessible and human I am – I make a big effort to get out there and meet as many people as possible, and so that I understand their lives and how I can help them, rather than assuming I know best – that was the downfall of my Labour predecessors. It’s one of my top priorities, along with improving our sustainability, to ensure that the Council listens to and responds to local people.
10. What would your top tip be for anyone wanting to become a councillor for the first time this year?
Go on a time management course! You’ll love the job but balancing all the competing demands on your time is really difficult, especially if you want you want to make sure your relationship with your family or partner doesn’t suffer.