Since joining the party after the 2015 general election, I was always someone who was keen to stand, but didn’t take the plunge until recently. Deciding to stand can be daunting, especially as a young person where you worry endlessly about your experience levels, but I am now a candidate for the 2018 local elections in Birmingham next May – and I am determined to get a great result.

While I was still a relatively new member, I remember meeting the wonderful Jo Swinson at an Action Weekend in Watford. I have always respected Jo, especially after her ‘feminist horse’ speech, and she is one of the most encouraging people I’ve spoken to during my time in the party. I feel that there sometimes can be a resentment towards people who are keen to stand for election, and people can be quick to brand you as a cardboard cut-out careerist when, in reality, you care about changing things just as much as they do. Jo spoke frankly to me about candidacy, talked me through the process, and agreed to be a reference for me, which really put me at ease.

Whilst that was nearly two years ago now, that experience has definitely stuck with me. I certainly owe a lot of my decision to stand to Jo. As a young person, I often felt that I wasn’t qualified to be a candidate. In 2016, the only by-election I didn’t make it to was Copeland, and there were often times where I was too busy doing real-world politics to actually do my politics degree. I am a confident speaker, I enjoy canvassing (maybe a bit too much), I care passionately about the NHS and mental health equity, and I am a relentless campaigner but I didn’t really see myself standing for a long while, despite people telling me I should. In part that was because I didn’t see experiences in our party that I could relate to. As much as we talked about diversity, we didn’t have a diverse cohort of experiences in our parliamentarians or councillors. The recent election was a game changer. Whilst we didn’t increase our seats by much, what we gained was a wealth of diverse experiences in our new and returning MPs that made me think “hey, this girl can!”

Whilst I am young, my experiences have motivated me to go into politics and try to change things. It doesn’t matter where you are in life, your life experience may be shorter, but that does not mean those experiences are any less valid. Whilst I look at our party and feel better represented by our MPs, that doesn’t mean that young people still aren’t well-represented at all levels of government.

In the years to come, this party does need to get better at nurturing young candidates – Jo encouraged me to stand two years ago, and it took me all that time to gather the confidence to do it.

Sophie Thornton is a Young Liberal and a candidate for Bournbrook & Selly Park in Birmingham for 2018’s local elections.  Find her on Twitter, and support the Birmingham Liberal Democrats here.

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