The importance of community politics in a homogenous political scene

When I first became aware of politics the world was looking towards Obama as a beacon of hope and change. As an 18 year old it was inspiring enough to want to change the world and campaign against inequality. However since I have gained further exposure, it has become apparent that politics attracts a disproportionate amount of young, careerist men. I refer to the likes of David Miliband, brought up in Hampstead yet representing the safe Labour seat of South Shields (which has a child poverty rate of 28%). When people say they don’t see a difference between the three parties I can fully empathise. There may still be a difference in policy, yet all three parties’ frontbenches are dominated by ex-Oxbridge men. Eric Pickles, Theresa May and Vince Cable are the only three Cabinet members who are also former councillors.

It is demoralising to see the same trend rampant in youth wings. The Tories are unashamedly proud of it with a title like “Conservative Future”. I’ve met people from all parties who fear ruining their public image and don’t drink in public. Unelected 18 year olds are already putting themselves and their electoral prospects first. But politics has been a career path for a long time, Boris supposedly a veteran. It is no longer about the people. Politicians no longer refer to us as people but as “voters”.

This is where party differentiation is imperative. On election night Sunny Hundal tweeted “At what point do the remaining Lib Dem councillors realise that Nick Clegg is bad for their careers?” The Labservatives see community politics as a stepping stone on a career path to Parliament. Every Lib Dem, elected or not, must constantly remind themselves that politics is about changing Britain, not their CVs. We must differentiate ourselves as a party that works intensely hard, after all “Where we work we in”. It may be frustrating to work without recognition but every campaigner should be reminded that the reward lies in making a difference, not in recognition.

On May 3rd remarkable campaigners lost to inexperienced careerists. I was completely disillusioned by politics, thinking it was no longer about people but about careers. The Twitter feeds of campaigners such as Daisy Benson and Tim Farron soothed these doubts. They are a true inspiration and remind me the power an individual has to help. Imagine what our country would be like if elected officials put in just 40% of the effort strong liberals put into their communities.

Many people believe politics is an Oxbridge old boy’s club for ambitious young men. We must distinguish ourselves as a party that believes in the importance of the person, not the voter. Politics must be humanised. It may take us time but a diverse party of community campaigners is what Britain craves right now. The Liberal Democrats have a head start through years of service, we can deliver where others have failed.

* Kavya is a Liberal Democrat activist in Scotland and London. She is a former co-Chair of Liberal Youth and a Board Member of Liberal Reform.

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  • Good piece. Retweeted.

  • I agree with the thrust of your article but find it interesting that you chose David Milliband to highlight. After all Nick Clegg was born in Bucks and represents Yorkshire, Cable born in York representing Twickenham, Blair was hardly the typical north east male, the list is endless.

    I have always questioned how much people really know about the areas they as supposed to represent. I’ve lived in my current town, Plymouth, since 1994. Prior to that as a serviceman I moved around a lot so never really found myself immersed in the wider community. I think it has taken a significant time to really understand where I live, it’s characteristics and it’s problems. Running a business helps as does involvement in community activities (for me that is youth and church work). All three parties tend to parachute in a preferred candidate, often from out of the area when they probably have hard working councillors (and we should accept these exist in all parties) who would better serve the local interests. The problem is they would probably also be less inclined to take the whip’s instructions.

  • @Dave Page
    That is also true for both other parties, but who decides whom is a suitable candidate for consideration ? The truth is far too many MP’s of all parties had no real base in their constituencies until selected…

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th May '12 - 10:04am

    Many people believe politics is an Oxbridge old boy’s club for ambitious young men. We must distinguish ourselves as a party that believes in the importance of the person, not the voter. Politics must be humanised.

    Yes, and how we could do that is to have a politics which isn’t focussed on the party leader, which isn’t about he and those surrounding him devising policies which the rest of the country acts as just passive consumes of at election time.

    Remember, the whole point of mass political parties was to enable ordinary people to club together so that in doing this they could challenge the power of wealth and privilege. The Labour Party was actually founded with the idea that it would enable working class people to become MPs. How many people now are even aware of that? How many people now even think of politics in that way? It seems to me the remaining dim awareness of it from the time when the big political parties really did have mass membership exists only amongst those in their 50s or older. My experience is that if one talks about politic in these terms to anyone younger than that, if one puts forward the idea of political parties as enabling mechanisms, they are absolutely astonished to hear it because they never ever thought of politics and political parties in those terms.

    If we are to push politics back in that way, to reinvent democracy, then WE must fundamentally change our image, fundamentally change the way we do politics. It’s a big challenge. I suspect however that it is something that could be picked up and built on from what will be the ashes of our party after the 2015 general election. After all, that’s what was done with the original community politics movement in the Liberal Party. It required the destruction of the old establishment Liberal Party to build something new.

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