John Waddell – People Behind The Policy (Local Focus)

John Waddell, 25, Liberal Democrat candidate for George Street/Harbour, Aberdeen City Council

John Waddell

Our Head of Media, Richard Wood, spoke to prospective city council candidate John Waddell about all things politics…

What does politics mean to you?

It’s the participation of people to achieve certain political ends. Now I hate to use this cliché, but it’s not a spectator sport. Politics has always been about getting involved for me, talking to other people and trying to persuade them to what I think is ultimately a better world-view, not just what I think is better, but taking us away from what I think is a more regressive, more extreme politics and to more centre-ground stuff. For me personally, it’s about getting involved, standing for election and trying to offer people an alternative. As you’re aware the Liberal Democrats haven’t been terribly popular recently in the UK, but I do believe that what we have to offer is much better than the other parties, so it’s about getting involved, trying to tell other people what we offer, why it’s different and why they should ultimately join us and support us. Staying in the UK, staying in the EU, taking us away from the regressive politics that’s transpired over the last 12 to 18 months.

Why are you standing for council?

There’s just not enough young people doing it. George Street/Harbour had a guy called Kris Chapman who stood last time for the Liberal Democrats and he came within 35 votes – now it’s a four member ward – but he ran five years ago and he’s just a little bit older than me now so he was younger at the time than I am now. He was out standing up for students, for young people, trying to get them heard on the Council and he sadly isn’t here to do that anymore. George Street/Harbour needed a candidate that would do that and I ultimately decided to do it to fill that gap. There’s other young people standing, but it’s for the Tories and UKIP. They might be young but I don’t think they’re standing up for young people. I don’t think most students – most young people – in the city agree with their kind of politics so offering them a liberal future from someone who has recently gone through the things that they’re going through I think is a much better option than allowing a lot of much older people to talk in the council chamber.

How did you get involved with the Liberal Democrats and what is it about your party that made you join and want to run to represent it?

I’d been political for a number of years before I started voting Lib Dem and joined the party, but when I was looking at all the other parties what I really wanted was a party I could actually participate in, and the Liberal Democrats are the only mainstream party that decide all their policies at conference with their members. …Ultimately I believed in what they believed in – I’ve always been an individualist, I’ve always believed in liberty and what it comes down to is people’s choices, define them, and they should be allowed to make those choices, and they should be empowered to make those choices. But in terms of actual party politics and participation, because the Liberal Democrats decide all their policies at conference, I thought: “that’s a party that values their members, I can go to their conference.” It makes a difference; it’s not just to mingle and meet people and lobbyists, but actually to contribute to the direction of the party and their policies. So if I had an idea I could take it to the conference, and if they support it that becomes party policy. A party that values its members like that deserves people standing up for the party, going out, promoting that message, and trying to get others people involved – bring them into the party – and influence our policies in a way that represents people and not just in a way that Labour and the Tories chuck policies between each other, trying to appeal to people, and hoping that some of it sticks. Our policies come from people, and what they need, and what they want.

What do you hope to achieve for the city of Aberdeen if elected?

I want to tell people that Aberdeen is open for business, and that Aberdeen is a hard-working city that has people that are prepared to do better. I think oil has been good for the city, but ultimately it has shadowed over the fact that the way it’s been run in previous decades hasn’t been as good as it could be. We are not telling people to come here and invest in the city. Whether the oil does recover, within only a couple of decades it will run out and we need something to sustain the city. Let’s get businesses in here, let’s get jobs created, let’s construct, build houses and actually get the local economy in Aberdeen going. That needs cheerleaders, that needs people that are going to stand up for the city and promote it to people. So councillors, they are the people running the city; they need to be cheerleaders, they need to say that Aberdeen is open for business and not just make the townhouse a talking-shop, talk outside the city, talk to the residents and get people engaged, standing up for the city, making it better. Dundee did this, and as an Aberdonians we love to slag off Dundee in a friendly way but Dundee’s been doing this for years, and it has come on leaps and bounds. It’s a beautiful place to live now. They’re overtaking us, but we could be keeping up just with minor changes.

Many people in Scotland and the whole UK are turned off by politics. What ideas do you have for improving political engagement, especially amongst young people, right across the country?

Well, on the most macro level I think the politics we’ve got right now is going in the opposite direction. I’ve been out canvassing the last couple of days, and people that are switched off are utterly sick of what’s going on. If you take international politics to UK politics to Scottish politics, there’s squabbling and talking about constitutional issues, and it’s hard to keep head above water. Even if people are politically engaged like us, it’s hard to keep up with that. And then you throw in what we’ve got with parties like UKIP and the Tories who are more than happy to appeal to the lowest common denominator in politics, it just doesn’t sound inviting, it’s not engaging. Anyone that’s got even mildly progressive politics, even people on the centre-right who are quite progressive, are going to just find that unwelcoming. Then you take women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT people who are typically under-represented, that’s the kind of politics that’s shutting them out. So in an ideal world I think that – while the Liberal Democrats stand very much against that kind of politics – as a party, putting out the most positive, progressive message that that is the worst kind of politics and that there is an alternative I think speaks for a lot young people; it will speak to a lot of progressive people. And for people like myself, being a spokesperson for the party, going out and finding the people that it appeals to and telling them there is another way of doing this, by getting involved, by talking about the issues, by telling people that that’s not the way politics needs to be, it is fundamentally an engaging thing. That’s what’s got me involved and I think it will get other people involved too.

SNP MP or MSP you most admire?

I like Derek Mackay, the finance minister. I don’t think everything he’s done is good. There’s a lot of stuff that if I was an MSP I’d be challenging him on, but as an individual who has come a long way, as transport minister and as finance minister, and overcome the adversity of being LGBT in politics, I think he’s quite an inspiring guy and he says to a lot of people. Like what we were just talking about, LGBT people who want to get involved in politics, there’s the barrier of homophobia and I think he’s a really good role-model for them.

Your political hero?

Roy Jenkins. I can’t say that if I was involved in the politics in the 70s or 80s whether I would have joined the Liberal Party or the SDP, but I very much think Roy Jenkins as an orator, as an intellectual, who went through politics in the 1960s as probably the only liberal home secretary we have ever had. The work he did in the 60s before becoming President of the European Commission and reforming Europe by and large into the institution it is today, and coming back and totally changing the face of British politics – I think that’s liberalism and social democracy embodied, we need a Roy Jenkins today, and I hazard a guess of saying Nick Clegg could be that person, he is challenging the status-quo, he is bringing an intellectualism and power to politics that it otherwise is devoid of and totally lacking, and he is rehabilitating his image in a way that I think is giving a really powerful role-model for liberalism and the Liberal Democrats. If Nick Clegg is reading Roy Jenkins’ diaries and biographies, thinking “this is how I’d do it”, I wouldn’t be surprised. So yes, Roy Jenkins.

Image rights: Photo courtesy of John Waddell (taken by Kris Chapman)

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