Local election candidate interview - Wera and William Hobhouse

Date published: 29 April 2006

In the first of our interviews with candidates for the forthcoming local elections we interviewed Wera and William Hobhouse.

Wera and William were elected to the council in 2004 as Conservative's and then made the very controversial decision to move to the Liberal Democrat's. The acrimony that caused is still evident in the council chamber with the Conservative's still clearly riled that the Hobhouse's chose not to stand for re-election under the Liberal Democrat banner at the time of their defection.

That is now happening as Wera seeks to be re-elected councillor for Norden, and William seeks re-election in Bamford, under Liberal Democrat colours.

Wera was born in Germany and met William while studying in London. They lived in Liverpool before moving to Rochdale in 1999 and live in Shawclough with their four children.

Asked why they got involved in politics Wera responded:

"I was involved in politics in Germany and I suppose I was motivated by the cold war years of Germany where people needed to participate in order to keep democracy going. I believe very much in politics from the bottom up so I've always been involved. Wherever I go I try to encourage people to actually vote to do the minimum that you can in order to participate in democracy.

"I did not find it easy to find my political home in England and at first I watched William from the sidelines, however, when in the 2004 local elections the Conservative Group was short of a candidate I said OK I can do it; I'm not afraid of being in a public meeting and going round meeting people - all that sort of thing I had done before. It was, however, a big step because I hadn’t been involved in anything for about 15 years and with four children to look after it wasn't going to be easy."

William explained he had been involved in politics all his adult life, including once standing for Parliament.

We asked whether either had found the past two years as a councillor more difficult than they anticipated and William was the first to respond:

"When you get elected you very quickly realise that unless you put in a lot of effort you don’t change anything at all, and obviously the defining issue for us has been the Turner Brothers site - that has been a classic case of the differences between really fighting for something, doing the right thing and not changing anything. The issue has really radicalised the way local politics is completely aware of what it takes to change anything. Though you can see that in all sorts of issues, with the hospital and other big issues."

Wera admitted she had been very green, and perhaps a little naive, at first, and she had found it tougher than she anticipated, however, she had been very happy to rise to the challenge.

She said: "I have been very active in a number of issues within my ward. For example, I'm trying to save an old library for the community and to actually do that successfully needs a lot of time and effort. I have tried to mobilize and gather people to do try to do something but doing something voluntarily and giving up a lot of time is something very few people will ultimately do and that is why as a councillor one has to do so on behalf of the community. I think you have to have a vision of wanting to see where your own community wants to go. I go round and ask people about their lives and the neighbourhood, it's not that complicated, but the difficulty is in how to translate what people would like to see into reality."

Moving on to what they have done for their respective wards and how they have represented the voters since being elected Wera said: "Actually you do have to go knocking on doors to find out what people really think, you must go out and meet people. Often they don't have time, and in some cases don't dare, come to you as their councillor, but once you have made the first contact they are quite happy to talk to you because they realise you’re an ordinary person."

Fully in agreement with his wife, William added: "Absolutely, it is very important to get out and meet people to properly represent your community because they don’t always come to you. As a councillor one has to have good judgement for the general issues in a particular area at any time. I find that you need a person driving from the front and that is my job as a councillor and I am happy to do it, but obviously it is important to carry people with you, otherwise your just out on your own following your own agenda not following the will of the people you represent."

Challenged about not living in the wards they seek to continue to represent, they explained that they had very active social lives that centered around Norden and Bamford and were very much a part of the community in their wards. They did not feel not living in their respective wards was in any way detrimental to effective representation.

In response to the continued criticism they have received from some quarters, particularly Conservatives, regarding their switch of party allegiance, both were at pains to stress that they did not want to go over old ground too much, they felt they were not getting the support they had expected from the Conservative Group over issues they had deep concerns about and that was the main reason for their decision to change parties.

Wera said: "I hope the Conservative Group can accept it was nothing personal, but I am now happy that I have found my true political home."

William added: "The Liberal Democrat manifesto published for these elections talks of bringing a fresh start to Rochdale and that is a crucial aspect of our intentions for the Borough. Those plans fit with my personal belief of what is needed to radically change the borough and hence I feel that the Liberal Democrat party is not just the best party for me, but also the party that will best deliver the changes needed in Rochdale."

Our final question was how confident they were of retaining their seats; both felt they had a good chance of doing so as they had been very active on behalf of constituents and hoped that would count at voting time, but they also stressed they would continue to work hard between now and polling day to defend their council seats.

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