Most 19 year olds probably don’t think much of politicians, let alone think of becoming one.
But James Giles, currently a politics student, is running to become the MP for Kingston and Surbiton as an Independent in this election. Naked Politics sat down with him to chat about what he’s about and how we can get young people like you more engaged in politics.
Hi James! First, we’d like to know a bit about your background and how you got into politics
I was born in New Malden, in the constituency I’m running for, and was brought up by a single mum. I was raised in a council flat and shared a bedroom with my brother who has learning difficulties.
I’ve always thought that if you can help someone you should and my politics is very much about local communities. A while ago, the council wanted to shut down half of Kingston’s youth centres, and I wasn’t pleased, to say the least! I did a petition to try and save it – it was unsuccessful but I’ve been campaigning on other local issues ever since.
I did save one of the local leisure centres, by setting up an independent group called MICO (Malden Independent Community Organisation). We also saved the Fountain Roundabout, the gateway to the town. The Mayor of London wanted to turn it into a crossroads in 2016. We did a march of around 300 residents and the decision was overturned.
I’ve never been a member of any of the main political parties. I believe in grassroots people power and I like to do my own thing locally. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in.
People power and grassroots movements are definitely something that resonates a lot with younger people, who are often more likely to take part in activism than older people! What would you say are your values?
I believe in honesty, integrity and transparency. Like many young people, I feel that most politicians fail to live up to this.
I’m also really keen on fighting for local schools. I was educated at a local comprehensive school and I’m currently the youngest school governor in Kingston – it’s really opened my eyes as to how much the schools are struggling. Just in Kingston alone the schools are due to lose £5.4 million next year, which is £200 per child lost. That really concerns me.
I don’t think our current political class are making people aware of it or are doing anything about it. Education is extremely important and sets you up for the future. The young people who don’t get a good education are often very much on the backfoot for the rest of their lives.
Underfunding is an issue but my message is that both parties (Labour and the Conservatives) have promised to inject money everywhere. Both are offering a magic money tree, if you like. We need someone who will shout to the top to get a big branch of that tree! The trouble is that our MPs have always followed the party line and they end up becoming the voice of Westminster in Kingston, rather than Kingston’s voice in Westminster. You need someone who has no other interests or motivations.
For me, it’s about taking the local voice to the national stage.
What are your thoughts on young people’s lack of participation in traditional politics, like voting?
I think young people don’t think they have anyone that represents them, when they watch debates in Parliament or the news, or look at the ballot paper. Parliament is seen as a place for predominantly old white men which isn’t representative.
The amount of young people who are getting involved and politically active is great- but it’s really important to go and vote, even if it’s just spoiling your ballot paper. Awkwardly, my one word of caution of spoiling your ballot, do not do it by drawing a penis in one of the candidates box, last time that happened (to a rival!) it was counted as a vote!
Ha! Noted! Do you think having more young people in politics can increase engagement?
Government and politics should be on the curriculum, for sure- it shouldn’t be offered for the first time at A level. If young people are more informed, that increases the likelihood of votes at sixteen. It’s weird that you can join the army and get married at that age but still not vote.
Scotland shows that it does work well and it proves that if you look at the number of sixteen to eighteen year olds the turnout is really high compared to what some might expect. It shows that young people to want to be involved.
What about people who say 16 and 17 year old brains aren’t well developed enough to vote yet?
I’d tell them to diplomatically tell them to piss off! They can go watch our UK Youth Parliament who do an amazing job.
How important is it for the media and politicians to reach out to young people?
Living in the age of social media, you don’t have to buy a tabloid or watch the news to find out what’s happening. But as it stands there are lots of young people don’t feel like they aren’t being listened to.
I think traditional and online influencers can be part of the process- but personally I would rather those influencers used their time encouraging young people to register to vote. There’s no point telling them to vote if you haven’t urged them to register. But influencers can have a big impact.
Climate is a big deal for young people- what’s your stance on the environment and climate change?
Ban fracking, invest in renewables and start taxing companies and products that are excessively wasting material and resources. Anything we can do to support the environment and we only have one planet and we need to be a sustainable society.
I think Extinction Rebellion has a role to play. When people stick themselves to the DLR- that goes too far. Let’s go for the big boys causing the pollution, not the poor low-paid workers using the DLR.
What are your final words of hope for young people in this election?
Please go and vote. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. If you believe in one of the parties or an independent candidate, vote for them, even if people say they’ll never win. Vote for what you believe in- if we all did the world would be a bloody different place.