“I’d rather stick a fork in my eye.”
The actual words of one amazing community leader I once asked to consider standing for parliament.
They were everything you’d want a parliamentarian to be.
Empathetic, rooted in their community with an abundance of time for people but also a strategic head that saw patterns and trends in the systems that so many people spend their lives navigating.
Systems that so often fail them.
That was definitely the most colourful description of what has become a common response whenever I’ve asked people to stand.
Women in particular are quick to point to the public side of public life.
The spotlight and scrutiny and no wonder.
‘Daily rundown of your flaws from faceless bullies’
Think how often you’ve seen reporters filmed at the end of a particular politician’s drive, cameras flashing when they lift the milk in their PJs or chasing them down corridors shouting: “Will you resign?”
That’s tame compared to the treatment they’ll face online. A daily rundown of all your flaws from faceless sad little bullies.
You know what they are, how pathetic their little lives must be to get kicks from this as a hobby but it doesn’t mean those words don’t hurt.
Sometimes because they touch a nerve or something you know about yourself that you wish was better.
Sometimes the anger flows from just how wrong your detractors are about something and you’re powerless to do anything about it because the first rule is “don’t feed beast”.
There’s always that low-level nagging worry about what your life choice might mean for your family.
You might develop the skin of a rhino and therefore let much of relentless criticism bounce off you, but your parents or kids don’t get that.
From stories half understood to rumours on the playground, political storms swirl around the lives of our politicians.
They might be at the centre of them, but the collateral damage carries in the wind.
Enormity of challenges
It’s also not exclusively a problem faced by women. Just last week we’ve seen the Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green Mike Freer announce he won’t be standing for re-election.
He had 14 years as an MP under his belt and a further 20 before that serving in his local council.
In his statement he points to the impact that several serious threats to his safety have had on him and his family. He’s no longer prepared to endure it and why should he.
If it’s not the media and indeed social media acting as a deterrent, then it’s perhaps the enormity of the challenges the world faces at the moment.
From global insecurity to climate change. How to fund public services when people are living longer better lives in a societal system that expected most adults to have retirement years you could count on your fingers not by the decade.
The changing world of work post-pandemic and the impact of artificial intelligence.
How to encourage families to have more children in order to grow the working population in age of austerity and rising prices. The list is exhausting and it barely scratches the surface of the challenges we face ahead.
The enormity of these challenges is exactly why we need the absolute very best people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and experiences standing to serve us in our elected chambers.
We simply cannot afford to nonchalantly carry on with our fingers in our ears because we generally view politicians so poorly.
Nor should we stand back and watch all the vacancies be filled with people who are so confident in their own abilities and ambition they are unmoved by any or all of the challenges above.
‘Best job I’ll ever do’
A politician’s first job is to be a representative of the people they serve.
If the distance between us and them is chasmic, why are we then surprised when they fall short of our already low expectations?
I’ve faced that media scrutiny, the social media attacks and spent days agonising about the enormity of the challenges we face and my ability to do anything about them, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
It was unquestionably worth it and you don’t have to sign up to do it forever.
Being elected representative was the best job I’ll ever do but how can I expect those community leaders and brilliant individuals to follow the path I took without promising them that it can and will be better than this.
For that to happen we must all want better than this whatever our party colours or affiliations.
It’s become all too easy to be anti-politics, to distrust those with power, their motives and sense of purpose.
Yet the consequence of checking out of this all important reality that affects every aspect of our lives is to consolidate power in the hands of those who want it for all the wrong reasons.