James Mustoe - 100 Journal
The morning that I meet James to take his portrait is a stunning clear blue sky kind of morning. Apart from a chill North East wind blowing in off the sea, it feels spring like. He comes round to my home in Mevagissey where I’ve set up a make-shift natural light studio (essentially a chair by the window and a large reflector). The forecast is for snow, but it’s hard to imagine at the moment, the sunshine is streaming in. James has just spent the morning on Pentewan beach helping with a litter pick, one of many that he’s involved in in the local area. We chat over coffee about his work as a Cornwall Councillor. His division takes in Pentewan Valley, London Apprentice, Mevagissey, Gorran Haven, over to Caerhays and back across to Heligan. It’s a rural, coastal seat and takes in some of the most beautiful scenery on the south Cornish coast.
I had wanted to photograph James for my original 100 Portraits project but for various reasons, it never quite happened. It’s good to catch up with him now, find out more about what it is that he does in his role as a councillor.
“I see myself, as Cornwall Councillor, to be a champion for the local area, to make sure that our area isn’t forgotten about and to make sure that we get our fair share of things from the council. Also, my own role as community leader, to promote and make other interests around this division better, so I work with local businesses to feedback into the community to promote what they do, both in their community work and hopefully to make the businesses more successful. Anyone can approach me and I’ll try to help them as best as I can, whether it’s a council matter or social issues, I’m passionate about making this a better place to live, work and grow up in.”
What motivated you to stand as a local councillor?
“I was sat in the Ship Inn one night and people were moaning about this that and the other, and saying they could do a better job than the current lot. So I thought to myself, why not get involved? I looked into how to do that, spoke to local people who were already involved in politics and thought the best way to proceed would be to try and stand as the local councillor. I wanted to lead the change rather than just moan about it and do my best to get the changes I wanted to see. The average age of a Cornwall Councillor is 67, as a young man with a young family, I see it as being crucial that Cornwall Council represents everyone in Cornwall and not just a particular set of people. Since I got elected, I’ve tried to bring people in from my own peer group, whereas before I was certainly the youngest Conservative councillor in Cornwall. I’ve now got surrounding me councillors of a similar age, the councillors of St Mewan, Par and Mount Charles are all of a similar age to myself. So trying to bring a more representative group of people, to represent the interests of people in Cornwall.”
Is that why you’re described as a pain in the ass?
“Yeah! I have been described as a pain in the ass by senior councillors both in tenure and in age! And it’s because I won’t see the answers that are given to me by other councillors as “we do it like that because that’s the way it’s always been done.” That isn’t how it should be, we should try and do things in a way that works for the community, not just because that’s how it’s been done for the past 40 years. Times are changing and we need to adapt with those times. We’re not in this for ourselves, we serve the people, we’re here to serve the community and offer the best possible service. I do my own little bit in my own way to make that as accessible and transparent as possible for the local community.”
You use Facebook a lot to promote the work that you do, why is that?
“It’s a great way to communicate with the people in the area that you represent. Being a good councillor isn’t just about being there and doing the job well, it’s about letting people know that you’re doing the job well. So they can see you and come to you with problems, with ideas and share those with you so we can take them forward. For example, the beach cleaning that we do wasn’t my idea, they came to me and said we’d like to do this, how can we? I was able to use my contacts in the council to get the equipment and get people to come out - it’s a way of bringing the community together, like the old Parish noticeboard, I like to use my presence on social media as a way for people to see what’s going on in the area.”
What’s next for you?
“It’s an interesting time for us as Cornwall Councillors. We had elections last year and I was really pleased to get such a nice endorsement for what I’ve done by the number of people that voted for me. Cornwall Council as a whole is reducing the number of councillors from 123 to 86 which will mean that the areas for councillors who get elected in 2022 will get a lot larger. For me this means that if I’m elected again, we could see the area where I am at the moment, lose Gorran but gain Charlestown which I’m not particularly happy about because I want to keep a rural area separate from the St Austell area. I’ve put my own proposals in to the boundaries commission which would see, instead of going into St Austell, taking St Ewe, Polmassick, Polgooth and Sticker to retain a wholly rural and coastal seat. I think it’s interesting times as councillors where we’ll have to take larger areas under our wing and work hard, represent more people. I love what I do so I’m up for the challenge. But I think it’ll be interesting to see Cornwall Council as a more strategic body perhaps in the next 10 years or so than it is at the moment.”