I wonder what Tim Wigmore would think of me, were he to meet me? I read with amusement his somewhat confused analysis of young people who join political parties being weirdos, or wanting to be spAds or parachuted into a seat.
I don’t want to be a spAd – that’s one hell of a commute – and the odds of me being parachuted into any seat are incredibly low, but I am, admittedly, a bit weird. I set out my reasons for wanting to be involved in politics not long after I was selected here, and I wrote an extensive blog about the difficulties I’ve faced as the youngest ever councillor in Plymouth here too, and both of them were read well, which says a lot in itself. Being a young councillor is unusual, it’s odd, its…weird. In fact, I often wonder if my own journey into politics began because I found it too difficult to make friends, and all too easy to make my opinions known.
But its no wonder that few young people do get involved in politics when a) a lot of them don’t really know what they are voting for – and I couldn’t agree more with Kerri Prince’s call for compulsory political education – but b) when they do stick their head above the parapet, they are mocked in this way, is it? And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t spout “pompously”, with the Twitter handle @yeskatiedear, and didn’t “backstab” anyone to become Chair of my University Club, because I was the one who put in the hard work to make it happen. And with great smelling deodorant.
Tim Wigmore is right about something though – a lot of successful politicians are as successful because they are seen to have a personality, a bit of spark which exists separate of their party rosette. I faced an uphill struggle, fighting an election at the same time as I was talking my A Level exams, where my age was controversial, and contributed to a lot of people refusing to vote Labour again because they wouldn’t be represented “by a child”. But my personality meant I was able to win at least some of those people round – the political reporter of my local newspaper called it “youthful enthusiasm”, commenters on an online article said I “hadn’t been scarred by cynicism yet, and I’d grow out of such naivety”, but I just called it honesty. Telling people what I could and couldn’t do, and recognising that not everybody is looking for a party political broadcast on their doorstep. Those things still ring true, with the added bonus that if you help them, perhaps they will help you out at the ballot box too.
Membership may well be falling, but I’m encouraged by all the campaigning that is happening across the country – and not just from my own party. I had to smile at the Labour candidate in Southampton Itchen, Rowenna Davis, tweeting that she’d knocked on Conservative Group Leader Royston Smith, the Conservative candidate’s, door whilst out canvassing. You only have to look at campaigning happening in council by-elections to see how excited activists get knocking on peoples’ doors, representing their party. You only had to be in the pub following close of polls during the Southway by-election in Plymouth, between Labour’s candidate having a pint with the Independent candidate, and the Lib Dem candidate making friends with Labour Party activists. Politics is about disagreeing, and it doesn’t always have to be dirty.
I didn’t get involved in politics to shout at people – that’s just an added bonus. I didn’t get involved in politics to get myself some sort of status to elevate me above other people. I certainly didn’t get involved in politics to be popular. If I wanted to be popular, I certainly wouldn’t have chose politics, I’d have followed my other desire in life – becoming an extra in Hollyoaks.
If wanting to improve peoples’ lives through local government, if wanting to close the gap of life expectancy between people in my ward and their counterparts in the east of the city (currently 15 years difference), if wanting to lower health inequalities, raise educational attainment and aspirations for young people and make sure that each and every person in Devonport is given the same opportunities as those in Plympton, makes me an “ambitious weirdo”, then I’m proud to be one.