Sunday, 17 August 2008

I Answer to Nobody

Except Jo.

1. Who has inspired you the most in the Lib Dem Party?

Really tricky to say. This might seem like a weasely preamble to an answer, but I admire different people I know (or pretend to know while looking up to) for different things: I've met diligent councillors and parliamentarians who work for such hours that in some cases their allowances put them well below the minimum wage, and they do it all with a smile and never forget to have time for anyone who speaks to them; I've met dedicated and tenacious party activists who will go for months without any meaningful form of contact from the party and then turn out to deliver leaflets for hours in stacks 1500 high without a word of complaint; in training sessions I've encountered innovative and talented people who have a knack for getting the best out of everyone.

But overall, without question, my Lib Dem hero is Jo Swinson. She's the same age as me, the youngest member of Parliament, and she has suffered some outrageous prejudice to blaze a trail for young women to follow within the party. She handles her Women and Equality portfolio with aplomb and was the founder of the Campaign for Gender Balance, which works within the party to improve the confidence and skills of female members with the aim of increasing the number of women candidates in the pool available to the party. And she didn't do all this from a position of unusual privilege, she wasn't parachuted in to a safe seat because she was a darling of the party and related to someone higher up within. No, she stood for parliament for the first time at the age of just 21, and before her eventual election in 2005 she gave up her job and lived with her parents so she could work like a donkey to bring about a Lib Dem majority of 4061 to her newly-created home constituency. She has a certain attitude which I am certain is a trait that will remain with her for decades yet and is not just a facet of her youth: she has humility and comes across as always interested to learn what a new situation or a previously unknown person will teach her. She's very special and when I grow up I want to be like her.

A special mention must go to the close runner-up, Kirsty Williams. She's got fire.

2. What has been your biggest challenge in politics?

Realising that even as a lowly local party officer in a quiet area of the country, the opposition are watching what you say and it's all too easy to find yourself the centre of an adverse news story if you don't take great care with what you say. And dealing with the fallout when it happened to me just a couple of weeks after I started this blog.

It was a double whammy, really. Thankfully I had the help of the media guy at Cardiff HQ in releasing statements to the press and to the BBC, who featured the story on their Radio Wales phone-in show. That was actually kind of fun in a way, certainly gave me something to talk about! But afterwards I had to reassess all sorts of public aspects of myself. I deleted my personal blog just in case it was found by similarly opportunist oppositionists, as with five years of my personal life and commentary on all sorts of news stories that I couldn't even remember, it was too risky to have it all there. That was hard. And I censor myself in other ways, too. I dress more conservatively and have stopped dyeing my hair bright colours, because no matter how much we liberals would love to have it any other way, the way you look, especially as a woman, plays a big part in how seriously people will take you.

3. What do you know now that you wish you had known before?

Ah, since there is no set definition of 'before' I must present you with a slightly trick answer.

I wish I had known ten years before I joined the Liberal Democrats how easy it was to really get your teeth into campaigning and feeling like a part of things once you are a member. I went out with a lad who joined the resurgent and young and trendy Labour party in 1996 under the special £1 student subs deal. All he got was a membership card. I turned my nose up at that anyway, I never have been a fan of Blairism, but it did colour my perceptions of what joining a party was all about. If I had known how much fun I could have with being a Liberal Democrat, I would have joined like a shot when I was 16 or 17.

As a matter of fact, when I was 17 and studying Government and Politics at sixth form college, I enlisted the help of my tutor in setting up a mock election for all those students who, like me, would be too young to vote in the real thing. I set up the entirely non-affiliated Ashton-Under-Lyne Sixth Form College Liberal Democrats and gleefully ran around for six weeks explaining the real Lib Dem policies of the real campaign to baffled teenagers. There were student volunteers to act as returning officers and poll station staff (sitting by the ballot box in the student centre and taking it in turns to nip outside for a cig). The turnout was immense and if I remember correctly I came second behind a socialist candidate, in part due to having some three whole ballot papers spoiled by people ticking me and writing shall we say complimentary things by my name. Hee hee.

4. Who are you jealous of and why?

Nobody. I truly feel like nobody has better or worse opportunities than I do in this party, and I can get to where anybody else is if I'm prepared to put in the work. It's a good feeling.

The closest I come to envy is when childless friends of mine in the party invite me along to things (like by-election campaigns, holidays to Latvia - cheers Mark!) that I can't possibly justify the time away from home for. I sit at home pouting because I want to be there, but I know my daughter will only be five for one year and if I'm not here she can't just bring me crudely-drawn felt-tip pictures of dinosaurs at a later date when I've got the time for her. If I'm honest it costs me a lot emotionally to go to conference. That's why I didn't make it to Liverpool in the Spring, over and above financial concerns.

5. Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

With a much stronger membership in the local party and a correspondingly better representation on Pembrokeshire County Council. Still proud to be a Lib Dem. Less frightened of speaking into a microphone. Earning a decent bloody living. Dragging my ten-year-old to enough protests and by-elections and action days that she is put off politics for life.


Jennie said...

"I dress more conservatively and have stopped dyeing my hair bright colours"

I tried all that normal hair colour and suit shit when I was in my twenties, and people still didn't take me seriously because I'm short, I'm a girl, and I have a Prescott of an accent. So I might as well do what the frig I like, because people who will spit on you for your hair colour will always find something to spit on you for.

And this is why I will never get anywhere in politics and am not a threat to anyone's ambitions. I REFUSE to make myself look like a politician, I LIKE having purple hair and lots of piercings, and I don't give a stuff if that means people won't take me seriously.

After all, it's not like I take myself seriously, is it?


jamesshaddock said...

"Dragging my ten-year-old to enough protests and by-elections and action days that she is put off politics for life."

As someone who was born into this party as the son of a former council leader, I feel an sense of camaraderie with your daughter and what she's going to go through in the future.

Anthony said...

"but I admire different people I know (or pretend to know while looking up to) for different things"

I agree completely with this. Actually the people that have inspired me most whilst I've been a Liberal Democrat activist have been members of the public it's brought me into contact with. The people who take an interest in their area, who want to make things better and challenge/push the bureaucracy.

It's also the public that are the most depressing thing about being a Liberal Democrat activist - the rude, the ignorant, the racists and the people who obviously need more help than they're receiving.

Vauxhall Velox said...

Could have given me a name check somewhere along the line ;)

But then I'm not egotistical enough to worry ;)