This contribution from John Marjoram reflecting on his 32 years as a Stroud District Councillor - first elected in 1986 for the newly named Green Party and re-elected every time since. The longest continuously serving green councillor, certainly in the UK and probably in the world.
John Marjoram’s 32 years!
So here we are, it is the 8th May 1986 at 10:45 pm and John, as a Green candidate is sitting waiting together with a small group of supporters around him, including his daughter, for the count to commence. He is rather nervous and sits away from those watching. What he sees in the next 55 minutes are thumbs going up and thumbs going down. All of a sudden the room becomes silent and his daughter, Cleo, rushes across the room tears in her eyes and flings her arms around him, “Dad you have won by 44 votes!”.
Scroll back now 18 months, where six Stroud Green Party members are sitting in a room trying to think how they can get their membership to increase. One bright spark comes up with the idea, “why don’t we put up a candidate in the next local elections?” eyes settle on John for John was known, at the time, as a school Governor. He was also part of a High Court group who, winning an appeal, stopped part of the High street being pulled down.
His background is varied, in 1959 he was called up for National Service but two weeks later he refused to fire a rifle, questioning the morality of killing people. He had a hard time initially but eventually worked in the bedding store, while the rest of his intake went to Malaya to fight the communists. At that time, he was himself a member of the UK Communist Party, when he managed to get Easter leave off and went on the second Aldermaston March.
During the sixties he joined the “East Anglian Committee of a 100” and CND, spending some time in prison for occupying USA military bases.
In 1972 John was inspired, and also worried, after reading the Club of Rome’s report “Limits to Growth” – the realisation that the World population is outrunning the finites resources of the planet. For this reason, he joined the Ecology Party in 1975 and has been very active since in what is now known as the Green Party.
In 1986 John’s campaign, which won him the seat, was successful firstly, thanks to the advice of an Independent, who showed him how to be systematic in canvassing. Secondly, the Libdems had decided to stand down in that ward on the proviso that he supported their party at the Council, which he then did. Thirdly, there was an unpredictable factor, the 29th April – just before the election – the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl took place, spreading radiations across the country. Only recently the last parts of Wales have been lifted to keep sheep. John at that time kept sheep and nobody from the Ministry of Agriculture could give any real advice. Rather than talking about roads or speeding of cars, he was questioned about Chernobyl and its implications for the countryside. He was able to speak and be heard, thanks to his background preparation on nuclear issues.
Over the years, John has been involved in many aspects of the Party. For instance, he has been part of the Association of Green Councillors (AGC), which he co-founded in 1993, together with 9 other Councillors: Craig Simmons, Elise Benjamin, Daren Johnson, Mike Woodman, Simon Pickering, Richard Lawson and one more.
John was active in a CND internal campaign (Green CND), along with Jonathon Porritt and others like Jenny Linsdale, to convince the national CND that nuclear energy was strictly interconnected with Nuclear weapons.
He has also been active in the South West Regional meetings for many years.
In 1989, at 50, John went for the first time on an aeroplane, representing Stroud District in the twinning with German District Landkrese Gottingen, on the East German border. The twinning was created in 1955 and last year, shortly before the Referendum, they wrote a letter pleading us to stay in Europe. It said, “We can work together and change things in Europe”. When Brexit won, the German Greens in that District were distraught; they just couldn’t believe what we had done.
If you speak to John about his overview of local government from 1986 to now, I am afraid you will get a rather pessimistic take on it. He will tell you that both Labour and the Tories see local government as a soft touch. They cut and cut funding everywhere and in Stroud staff are being cut by 20%. Already John can see the damage being done to Housing, slowing down the building of Council houses. Planning has been John’s speciality and cutting corners is increasingly damaging the final decisions in this matter (however, both Labour and the Tories, he will tell you, are quite prepared to spend £207 billions to have Trident). Further, he is critical of officers having too much control over decision-making. He gives an example of when there were 70 plus planning applications: in the past, the planning committee would deal with all of them in a day, sometimes starting the meeting at 9am until 9pm. Now, he says, they have at the most 6 Applications, while the rest is delegated to the officers.
When he talks about his first experience at the District Council, he will tell you how much more relaxed they were compared to now. In his very first meeting, in front of tea and cake, the Council’s Solicitor asked him what his interests were. When John said, architecture – “Oh, says the solicitor, then you better be on the Planning Committee.” Sometimes they now meet up in the town reminiscing of those days. Reports from officers were much more succinct and detailed then, he says, and of course in written form. More laughing then, and time to solve issues. In truth, John is out of tune with the computer world and thinks it is ruining civilisation. He still insists on having everything in paper form.
Over the thirty years, John has been in opposition in the District Council for two thirds of the time. Currently, the Greens are in a coalition with Labour and Libdems.
When asked, John says one of his main achievements was to persuade the Tory Council to purchase a massive half-built mansion surrounded by lakes near Stroud for £20k. Now a major attraction, this is part of the National Trust.
John is also a Town Councillor, since 1990, where the Greens hold a clear majority. Currently, they have 11 Greens out of 18 however, they reach quite often consensus on many issues. In fact, he is proud of the progressive and campaigning involvement of the Town community.
John has been Town Mayor on 10, and deputy on 7 occasions. He is pleased that he introduced the “Mayor’s bench” on the street, a weekly clinic for the public to discuss things with a representative of the council.
In the near future, he wishes to see Proportional Representation in place to gain a fairer distribution of parliamentary seats. In the meantime, he hopes that more and more people will play a political role in local administrations, especially Parish and Town Councils.