As the dust of the General Election settles, the bins still need emptying and the schools still need running. Many know little about them and most don’t bother to vote for them, but local councillors wield huge power over everyday lives. Eastlondonlines has spoken to some of the individuals who are responsible for spending £96bn of your money.
Barney Stone speaks to Joani Reid, who is the cabinet member for safer communities in Lewisham.
“Politics is the best vehicle to make the world a better place.” So believes Councillor Joani Reid, 33, cabinet member for safer communities in Lewisham. As the granddaughter of a renowned Scottish trades union figure and a former campaigner for Barack Obama, she speaks from the heart.
Reid was born in Glasgow into a ‘fiercely political family’, where she later completed her Master’s degree in Philosophy and Politics. Her second Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management, at Birbeck, brought her down to London. She has remained here since.
Her grandfather was Jimmy Reid, the influential workers’ rights activist during the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ work-ins during the 1970s, a former Communist who later joined Labour. He was also a prominent speaker as Rector of the University of Glasgow. His 1971 ‘rat-race’ speech drew international acclaim, with the New York Times declaring it the best speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Reminiscing about dinner table debates with her grandfather, which often ended in polite disagreements, Joani Reid said: “It was good fun, we didn’t take it too seriously”. But she adds: “He was a massive influence and inspiration”.
One key issue the pair disagreed on was the movement for Scottish Independence. While her grandfather may have advocated for independence, exemplified by his later membership in the SNP, Reid said, “I am totally suspicious of independence and nationalism”.
She resolved to have her voice heard on matters such as this. Her work in politics began when she crossed the pond to North Carolina, campaigning for Barack Obama in the 2008 election. “That was so much fun”, she said.
This was followed by an unsuccessful campaign for a council position in Southwark in 2010, before her election to the Lewisham Council in 2014.
In 2018, she was appointed to the cabinet by Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan. Awarded the title of ‘Cabinet Member for Safer Communities’, Reid’s responsibilities include: tackling youth violence and justice, partnerships with police, regulatory services, environmental health, noise enforcement and anti-social behaviour.
Discussing her role in combating youth violence, Reid detailed the emotional trauma of “receiving the calls and emails that tell you about another murder, especially if it is a child”. “Very few issues are more important [than youth violence],” she said. “We don’t talk about it enough in the Labour Party, but it feels like I’m doing something really worthwhile.”
Reid pointed towards “the huge barrier in trust between communities and police” because of an increase in ‘stop and search’ tactics. “There is lots of anger. Toward politicians, police, institutions. We don’t have government support, funding and commitment”.
In response, Reid has advocated for a public health approach to combatting violent crime; a pertinent reminder that police investment is not the sole remedy for this crisis. This approach has led to the introduction of a ‘Violence Reduction Board’.
Until recently, Reid was employed as a policy manager at the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. and is now on maternity leave from her role with the Council.
Asked about the best part of her job as a councillor, Reid said it was just “the small things”. “Simply resolving case work shows that the impact you can have is huge. If you can rehouse someone, that’s why you’re in it. Giving someone the support they need. We are at the coalface of people’s lives in local government.”
As a self-declared opponent of Corbynism, Reid expressed her concerns regarding the future of the Labour Party. Her response to the outcome of last week’s General Election was one of disdain, as she criticised Labour’s senior hierarchy and their inexorable supporters.
As she awaits the birth of her child, Reid is uncertain of her future in politics, but remains determined in the meantime. “I always want to do something that has an impact, with a use for wider society”.