Having taken part in the May 2015 elections, and been elected a councillor, as well as being long listed for parliament back in February this year, I feel I have an improved understanding of the difficulties faced of even being in the position to stand as a candidate, let alone win.
It is expensive and time consuming. I am fortunate enough to be in a secure job as a doctor in Emergency Medicine and General Practice, yet I still found it no easy task to participate. This worries me because if a professional like me could struggle then so too could many more other people in less well paid jobs. Could someone on the minimum wage stand? This is dangerous for democracy if only money determines who stands as candidates.
Reflecting on our local and national elections, for us to make any real and meaningful change to our politics, it can no longer be done from the sidelines only, and I feel we must actively get involved ourselves. I am trying to encourage people from all walks of life to get involved in politics but it is no easy task as you will all appreciate. I often heard it said during the months running up to the election, when I had put myself forward to be a councillor, that 'I would do it myself if I had the time or the money'. This was the most common response I heard to me encouraging people to participate in the process themselves as candidates.
I feel, like many others do, that for us to have truly representative and reflective democracy, and to address the ever growing apathy towards politics, we need more everyday people to get involved and participate as council and parliamentary candidates. That way we would have more of the type of politicians we want and can identify with, plus all their associated varied skills from their respective careers and backgrounds. Plato said 'one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics, is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.' A true revolution of politics would be enabling greater participation from across society, leading to a more varied mix of politicians, both locally and nationally.
We would all benefit from this across party lines. People with regular jobs have highly transferable skills and know what it is needed in their area be it in teaching, business, management, nursing, the service sector etc. We must not ignore this reservoir of untapped talent.
To achieve this change we need to consider the obstacles faced in doing so. I feel they are time and money, as many friends, colleagues and those on the doorstep often said to me. To mount a political campaign is no easy task and requires a lot of planning and effort, and therefore time and money.
You may be working and the only 'bread winner' in your house, for example. To participate may mean you lose out financially as you are not earning when out campaigning. The American actor Will Rogers said 'politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated' and he said that in the 1930's! Does this mean those who have regular jobs during the day should be excluded from politics? Does this mean only the financially secure or retired be allowed to govern us? This effectively excludes a large section of society and denies us the skills, knowledge and attributes they regularly use.
Equally, you may decide to mount your campaign in the evenings and weekends in your spare time, knowing you will need to sacrifice key family or leisure time which is essential for health and well being. It is not easy. This again puts people off before they have even started and I feel we are missing out on what they could bring. They could be the change we need to make our society better and inspire more young people to get involved.
What can we do then to bring about such change to bring more everyday people into the political fold? I don't pretend to have all the answers but I feel giving some suggestions may help continue this much needed conversation and spark more debate. I would like to see legislation discussed that actively supports those who put themselves forward as political candidates for council or parliament.
If selected, could employers support candidates in allowing them paid or part paid 'political leave' to pursue their campaigns without fear of financial loss? I imagine supportive employers would be proud to have a member of staff seek to represent their local area? Indeed, many employers support members who are union representatives, as well as being encouraged by government to support members of the British Army Reserve (of which I am a member). Why can't something similar be considered for political candidates? This would be a step towards a healthier democracy I feel.
Also, if elected to local government, local councils must do all they can to allow those with regular jobs to take part by allowing committees to meet after 5pm in the evening when they are available. Meeting earlier in the day effectively denies people with regular jobs from active participation. I would encourage all councils to have their committee meetings after 5pm to encourage greater democracy.
To be the change we want to see to improve our local area we need time. Give people greater chance to have the time to participate as political candidates and we will see improved politics for all of us as well as a higher turn out in elections as people will feel more engaged in a process that gives them more chance to be included and have their say.