HALF a century after becoming involved with local politics, John Foley’s motivations remain the same.

“If you want to improve your community, you mustn’t sit back and let other people do it.

“You’ve got to get up and say, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that.’”

It’s a philosophy he says has served him well not just during his unbroken stint on Stratton St Margaret Parish Council but during the nine years he spent as a county councillor and the dozen he spent as a member of the Thamesdown and Swindon borough councils.

He believes all politicians, no matter their party, should remember where their first duty lies: “It’s the electorate, regardless of party politics. In fact, I’ve been known to stand against and talk against certain group decisions.”

John has been involved with the Labour Party for 70 of his 84 years, and remembers leafleting for local candidates while still in his teens.

Asked what informs his personal politics, the answer is immediate: “It’s the unfairness of society, the haves and the have nots.

“There are a lot of people worse off than we are even today, and we’re pensioners. Because of people like that, I’ve had to do what I’ve tried to do – to make things better, to try to make things better.

“I know it sounds self-aggrandising, but basically that’s been all my life, making things better, doing things better.

“You see this Universal Credit now. I think it’s a disgrace. There are people who are hard up and are getting deeper in debt but they’ve no need to be.

“All it needs is a couple of extra pence on the basic rate of income tax. People can afford it – it’s not as if they can’t.”

He is full of praise for the NHS, which has tended him through heart problems, a stroke, major surgery and now the progressive loss of his sight.

John is originally from Merthyr Tydfil. “My dad was a regular soldier. His postings were such that we went to Reading. I think it was in 1936. I was only about a year old. I lived there for 33 years and went to school there.

“I passed my 11-plus, went on to grammar school, did the Oxford school leaving certificate and then went on to the railways for two years in movement control.”

His work there included a stint helping to run operations at Paddington Station in the era before computers or even personal radios.

Then came National Service and two-years in the Royal Artillery, working for the War Office at the secretive underground anti-aircraft command centre in the now-closed Brompton Road tube station, guarding against Cold War dangers.

Back in civilian life, five years as a bus driver and long hours of evening study led to his moving through various management roles before coming to Swindon in 1967.

By the time he retired 24 years ago he was a senior manager in the Swindon and District Bus Company, which was taken over by Stagecoach.

When management called him to a meeting, he had his letter of notice in his pocket - but then he learned he was to be made redundant.

“I laughed all the way to the bank!”

In his long local government career, John has seen many changes, including the rise of career politicians in certain councils. He is unhappy about that, although he firmly believes in subsistence payments which allow people from all backgrounds to serve.

“When I first became a councillor we didn’t get paid. We had no retainers or whatever they call it these days.

“We did it for just the expenses and because we wanted to do it, because we hoped we could make things better. Now, I think, some people do it because of the financial rewards.”

John feels honoured to have served with some of the most prominent and respected people in local politics, including Dennis Carver, Eric Hodges, Percy Jefferies, Bill Winton, Arthur Miles and Brian Cockbill.

Although these councillors had a diverse array of standpoints and personalities, John insists they had something in common: “Honesty. That’s all they needed – that and dedication to working for their constituents.”