Danger on the doorstep: Dog bites councillor

Once Bitterne, twice cry

Phil webb bandaged finger supplied 600 A Bittene Park ward councillor suffered a dog bite requiring hospital attention while out delivering leaflets. In this non-party political piece, councillor Phil Webb, who was elected for the first time last year, mulls the ups and downs of both the role, and local campaigning.



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I was advised I’d need to be thick skinned entering politics – I didn’t realise it was meant so literally. Wednesday’s (March 27) dog bite certainly came as a surprise, and is probably one of the dangers of campaigning I’d underestimated.

Before I continue, I’d like to say another public thank you to the good Samaritan local resident who came to my aid as a hapless bleeding mess on her doorstep!

dog bites councillor phil webb drawing
When canvassing gets ruff

You may have seen the data from the Local Government Association published in February: “27% of councillors said they would not stand in the next election, and two-thirds (68%) of respondents to a survey said abuse and intimidation had influenced their position on whether to stand again”

In my experience in Bitterne Park over the last year, 99.5% of residents have been great to speak to, even with different political leanings. Conversations vary in length, but most appreciate their concerns being heard, information or clarifications, and have a broad understanding that some issues are national ones that a local councillor has little impact on.

Conversations are almost always conducted in a civil manner, and only a handful of times have I come away shaken up by the verbal abuse on the doorstep. As a rule we don’t canvas alone because of this, and it’s good to have a dedicated local team to be able to either hook us out or defuse situations.

I’ve had some more surreal moments as well over the last year – I was lucky enough to stumble on a household with a small business owner who was part-way through experimenting with a new recipe, and who sent me off with a failed batch of cakes (which still tasted great), and latterly the more bizarre experience of a significantly senior lady making amorous overtones to both the female colleague I was with and me.

I was asked pretty directly, 'given all this, why do it?'.

Our public accessibility is an interesting topic: there was an incident at the full council meeting in February (which might have bypassed media coverage) where somebody threw something into the chamber from the public gallery above that encircles us. It fell behind me, so I had no idea what it was. Thankfully, given that it was just a laminated bit of card from an angry TUSC member, panic was soon over, but in those brief moments I was alarmed.

But you look at the tragic incidents with both Jo Cox and Sir David Amess in recent history, and although more high-profile national politicians, I do ponder on the safety issues. They were both killed at their constituency surgeries. Preferring to meet residents on the doorstep, we’ve not held a ward surgery since I’ve been in office (May '23). I’d be keen to explore the demand, although all ward councillors are accessible, via e-mail (where most of my casework is resolved) or social media. But I do want to be inclusive to non-internet users (who obviously won’t be reading this either!). In the meantime they can still use traditional phone and letter routes.

In terms of threats to physical health, there is the mental side as well. I was subjected to what would be considered as some relatively ‘light trolling’ a month or so ago, and it did have somewhat of an impact.

phil webb bloodied
Politics can be a real blood sport

You have to shake that off, because I suspect that’s what they wanted to happen. It's a tricky balance. Maintaining a social media presence I think is important: I sense people want proactive local councillors, who are transparent and informative in what they actually do. That’s what I’ve been trying to showcase. Then again, the obvious risk attached to that for me is that it opens up a floodgate of relatively anonymous abuse. For my sanity I’ve learnt it’s best not to open up the comment sections on some posts, or I’d come away thinking I genuinely was a lying corrupt incompetent!

The member’s allowance is significant but not substantial, and that might be off-putting to talented potential councillors from all backgrounds and parties, particularly given the time commitments. I was sat in the Hop Inn with some fellow Year 2 dads last Wednesday, post-dog incident, and was asked pretty directly, “given all this, why do it?”.

I suspect my answer would be same as many others involved in ground-level politics of all persuasions, and that is wanting to make a positive difference to the local community. I hope I can continue to do so, and with no local elections in Southampton next year, hopefully my neck and remaining fingers won’t be on the line until 2026.

Phil Webb was elected last year until May 2026. He's one of three councillors who represent the Bitterne Park ward on Southampton City Council. Local elections are on May 2, when one of the other ward seats is up for grabs.

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