Future leaders: current and former University of Nottingham students looking to enter the world of politics

INSPIRATION

Georgia Power, who studied sociology and social policy at UoN from 2011 to 2014, got involved in politics by accident, having originally wanted to be a nurse or social worker. Despite this, she stated that “I always knew I supported the Labour Party because I can look back on my childhood and be relieved that Labour were elected in 1997”.

Jordan Hearne, a second year politics student, also spoke about growing up and the impact of the Iraq war on him as a child: “from then onwards I began to have an interest on why it [was] happening so from then I got in touch with my local MP (Andrew Smith) and asked to volunteer with him. That’s when I begun to learn about how party politics works and how much adrenalin there can be in that. [Since then] I’ve gone on to work for my MP on my gap year and worked for a political party as well”. Georgia also begun to volunteer for the Labour party at home (in Colne Valley, Huddersfield), in the run up to the 2010 General Election: “because I didn’t want to be ‘lucky’ that Labour got in. From there my interest in politics grew”. Jordan concluded that “being at university has just been a sort of natural continuation of the interest [in politics]”.

Steven*, currently on a Master of Research degree in Politics, who also previously completed a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Master of Laws degree, at the University of Nottingham, claimed that “despite my legal degrees, I have always had a passion for politics and writing the perceived wrongs of society”.

George Maier, a film and television studies final year student who will undertake an MA in critical theory and politics, developed a greater interest in politics while he was conducting charity work with deprived communities in St Ann’s, Nottingham. “I saw this deprivation that austerity was making significantly worse, and I really wanted to look into a party political solution to that. The Labour Party was the first party I went to but I found that their approach was not strongly against austerity and in some ways promotes austerity so I came to the Green Party as a solution”.

James Potts graduated in 2014 with a degree in ‘Politics’: “I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do when I graduated, part of me wanted to work in politics but I wanted to keep my options open”. However, after being offered a job at Westminster, James felt like he could not decline. “Politics affects every aspect of our life and love or hate it, it matters. I genuinely think that many MPs want to make the world a better place. It’s just a shame a few bad eggs ruin the bunch”.


EXPERIENCE 

James and Georgia, both graduates from the University of Nottingham, already have jobs in politics. James is a Parliamentary Assistant to a Nottingham Labour MP. He described what the role entailed to Impact: “My role varies a lot and no two days are the same. I’m responsible for drafting letters to constituents, press releases and articles. I also managed the MP’s website and social media, as well as a whole host of other tasks to make sure my boss can do his job. The wide amount of things I have to research is great, from the big issues to the conspiracy theories. It’s a good feeling when you see something you wrote published in a newspaper or magazine (albeit under your bosses name!) and of course helping resolve constituents’ problems is one of the best parts of my job”.

In contrast, Georgia is an organiser for Nottingham Labour Party, “it’s my job to organise campaigning in the city and design literature, and just generally make sure everyone knows what they’re doing as we get closer to the election. I love my job, I get to work with all sorts of people, and speak to people not involved in politics to get their perspective, which is always really useful. I guess it does get busy at times, but again I like that as I work better under pressure”.

TIME AT UoN

The interviewees time at university differed significantly in terms of involvement with student societies. Steven* simply was not interested in student positions as his interests lie in national politics and political theory.

George, however, as a member of the ‘Young Greens’, has been active on campus, for example, co-organising a protest against a recruitment drive by Atos [who conduct assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions] that resulted in the organisation leaving campus. Additionally, Georgia was treasurer and chair of Nottingham Labour Students: “I got the opportunity to meet the local Labour Party – who are fantastic! I then started volunteering with them too and learning more about Nottingham and politics in Nottingham”.

In contrast, Jordan has not got involved with the University of Nottingham Labour students society because he is still politically active at home. “Other than that I’m running for school education rep [and] for President of Politics Society… I’m just enjoying university because in some ways I think i’ve got the rest of my life to work”.

Having been a course rep and JCR President, James said he “did plenty in my three years which developed my skills. I was quite involved in student politics and I think that’s helped [me in my job]. Running for SU President was a huge eye opener and taught me a lot about the world and myself. Despite this, he regrets not getting more involved with party politics at UoN. “SU politics is important but if I’d have gotten more involved with my party I feel like I would have gained more direct experience which, although not essential, could have made me more prepared for my current job”.

ASPIRATIONS

While a general interest in politics is an obvious similarity between the prospective politicians, all emphasise their youth in relation to caution in committing to such a future. Noting that he has only recently graduated, James declared “it’s too early to say whether I’ll stay in politics or whether I’ll pursue another path in my career. What I will say is that working for an MP hasn’t put me off!”

Jordan “would be quite interested in one day being an MP, but that’s not something I’d want to do any time soon I don’t think. But that doesn’t even mean I’d be able to do it, the barriers to doing it are still so ridiculously high. I would rather be on the more representation side as opposed to the clogs of the political machine”. Similarly, Steven* told Impact that his “original plans were to work for a number of years in the legal sector and then attempt to get involved with a local party and from there aim to become an MP or Councillor”. He went on to say that “my interest was never to ‘work’ in politics in the sense of building a career and being someone’s staff member or hold a position internally within a party, but gain my experience from outside of politics and then try straight away to become a candidate. I have always felt that career politicians are probably some of the worst people to run the country due to their inexperience in any external profession or industry”.

George emphasised his desire to aid others: “I want to be involved in any way I can to help [combat] issues, whether that’s on the frontline of protests or in local government. I’m a borough council candidate for Erewash in 2015 and maybe in the future I will run for an MP’s seat if I believe I can genuinely help the community”.

In terms of overall aims of what the students would like to achieve in politics, a range of views was apparent. For example, Steven* is “very interested in evidence-based policy”: “I felt, as a researcher, I could help to move politics away from raw ideology and onto ‘what works’ evidentially”. Jordan, a Labour Party member, elaborated on his concerns regarding the inequality between the working class and those at the top of society: “I still think there is so much that needs to be done in this country to support people at the bottom of society who work really hard but just haven’t been lucky enough to have some of the breaks that other people have in life. It’s so unfair that just through where you’re born or what sort of family you’re born into can determine so much in life”. More ambitiously, George claimed he would “like to a see a shift in political discourse, away from ideas of absolute neo-liberalism, [where] consumerism and self-interest [are presented] as positive things”.

CONCERNS

Steven*, however, offers a cautionary tale about his experience in a Labour party local branch. He is now considering joining the Green Party, or having no party affiliation at all. Despite not originally wanting to become part of formal politics until he was older, “after being elected to my local Parish Council, I was approached by a party and became involved. This lead to me seeing the internal workings of the party, doing internships and voluntary work and indeed putting my name forward to be a candidate”.

“I would say that I have experienced ageism. I was told by a member of the public that due to my age at the time (21) they could not trust me in helping to make decisions [and] repeatedly asked questions about how my age would hinder my performance.

I have [also] experienced cronyism where if you are not in the right clique, you don’t really have any chance of advancing within a party, whether or not you are the best candidate with the best ideas. Indeed I was once told by someone who is now a Parliamentary candidate that ‘‘knifing people in the back’ is what politics is all about. It therefore seems to be a profession built upon the most gruesome ‘jungle’ values of eat or be eaten.

I also have knowledge of corruption and this corruption being used against me. Senior figures in the local party were paying the membership fees of others so that they will vote for them in internal votes and candidate selections. I lost a candidate selection due to this”.

“That is not to say there are some good people in politics, but there are also some of the worst people. To climb that greasy poll is far more murkier than I ever imagined. If you are a person of strong moral values, expect to have to compromise them in some form as you pursue your political goals.

Also, when I take a step back and look at politicians generally, I tend to see ‘salesmen’ and ‘saleswomen’ who are there to make a soundbite and persuade you to see a policy as ‘common sense’, even when it’s likely not in your interest. I don’t know if I’d want to be a salesman for corporate elites”.

As a result of these experiences, Steven* has become more sceptical of the political process as a whole as “there are the wrong values and motivations dominating”. Following this, Steven now wishes to work in academia rather than later become a Councillor or MP. “That is why I am now doing an MRes in Political Theory and hope to take on more research based jobs, such as in the civil service. If I can influence practitioners with some decent  evidence-based reports then I would be happy with my contribution. I would though, not rule out a return to party politics if it was cleaned up”.

Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu
Additional research: Natalia Deane
Image courtesy of secretlondon123 via Flickr

*Names changed to protect confidentiality

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