UK councillors are mostly white, mostly male and mostly middle-aged – councils have a diversity problem – but not in Nottingham. Heba Yousef reports.
When data journalist David Ottewell made a map of all 20,000 councillor names in the UK he ended with The Map of John – with a small scattering of Davids. This visualises the country’s ‘pale, male and stale’, ethnic diversity problem.
So much Twitter feedback on the Great Big Map of John (most common councillors names) we decided to finish it and put it in the newspapers pic.twitter.com/OZP4ShyLTf
— David Ottewell (@davidottewell) April 24, 2019
According to research by Operation Black Vote, an organisation which encourages BME communities to engage in the UK’s public institutions, only 14% of councillors in England are from Black, Asian or Ethnic minority backgrounds, signifying that Nottingham is at the forefront for change.
Ban Bansal is the first Sikh councillor in the Rushcliff constituency, Trent Bridge ward, representative for Labour.
He believes this is a whole new world for politics.
“In recent years there are BAME members who have made it into politics. If you go back you would have never thought you would see an MP sat in parliament from a diverse background”. He says.
Councillor Bansal also suggests that the new sense of connectivity through social media has help encourage people from BAME communities to go into positions in politics.
“I think as a community, we don’t support or encourage this type of career. In fact, I think that the change is social media, and setting an example to younger people.
“A Sikh boy contacted me after I had won to say congratulations, and ‘I want to be a Councillor too, how did you it?’ and, you know, I was happy to share that knowledge with him and with anyone who wants to make it.
“I’ve faced challenges. I had no Asian political role models. For me it was always about doing something to try and make a difference.”
For Naz Begum, representing Lutteral ward for the Labour party, it is also her first time being elected as councillor. Being of Pakistani decent, she has made history in claiming the seat from Stuart Matthews – a conservative councillor.
“I thought I would face some challenges but I did really well. Part of it was more talking to people, asking ‘what can I do to put your voice forward’.
“I was really listening to people at the door for however long it took.”
Although Nottingham city council is showing a positive indication of change, not enough women and minorities stand for councillors nationally, as the average councillor in England is 59, white and male, as reported by the BBC.
Naz believes that this is partly to do with stereotypes affecting the way that female BAME candidates may view themselves.
“People think that that no one will vote for them.” She says.
“They think, ‘I’m Asian I’ve got no chance’. You put limitations on yourself. If you believe in yourself you need to fight for it.
“You have to look at the positives, that’s what is going to drive you.”
More experienced councillor Neghat Kahn, 38, is now portfolio holder for early years and education, and represents the Dales ward for Labour, after becoming a councillor in 2013 in a Bi-election.
The Dales ward was previously represented by three male councillors, and after an opening became apparent, Labour presented an all-women’s shortlist in which Neghat was successful in winning the prized spot.
She is the only hijab-wearing Muslim woman councillor in Nottingham City Council and is also the chair of Nottingham Muslim Women’s association.
She believes that Nottingham can be an example of successfully diverse political leaders.
“At that time my son was just 15 months old, so I thought ‘have I got the time, what does a councillor really do?’ but when I thought about it, if you want change, you’ve got to lead from the front, so I took on the challenge.” She says.
Neghat is no stranger to local politics, her father Gul Nawaz Khan, 67, has been a Dales ward councillor since 2003.
However, although inspired by her father’s profession, Neghat has a different perspective of where she wants to take her career.
“His journey is different to mine. He immigrated from here to Pakistan, he worked as a coal miner, a bus driver, a taxi driver, and of course now he’s doing this, he’s got lots of experience.”
“What my dad has achieved is brilliant, but because I’m British born, I’m not happy just being a back bencher.” She says.
Neghat has already broken barriers, becoming the first British born, female Muslim councillor for the entirety of the Labour party. She then continued in her path of paving the way as the first female executive assistant.
“I am the first female Asian portfolio holder Nottingham’s history.”
Councillor Khan has a message for anyone sat at home, thinking that they can’t make it into politics.
“You don’t know the power that you hold. You don’t need any special skills or a degree, you’ve just got to want to make change.
“What you need is different people with different experiences.”
The Local Government Association gave no comment on their plans to help increase the number of BAME candidates standing as councillors.
Although, a lot of work is needed on a national level, Nottingham continues to shine bright at the forefront of change.