I couldn’t possibly pinpoint what possessed an 18 Year Old, in his first year of University to stand for local council on a platform of better cycling and more green spaces, but whatever it was, it led to what was 100% the most rewarding experience of my life and one I fully intend to repeat.
It was actually the idea of local politics, and empowered individuals helping to make their communities better that convinced me to leave the Labour Party for the Lib Dems, aged 16.
The day before I left to start at the University of Manchester, happened to be Bournemouth Conference 2017, where I was making an effort to meet as many activists from the local Manchester party as a possibly could so as to remain as active as I was as a Tower Hamlets member as I was moving for University.
This led to me meeting John Bridges who suggested the young person angle may be interesting to voters in his bid to reclaim the Manchester City Centre wards that were a stronghold of ours before the coalition. City centre has the youngest population in Manchester, and voted to Remain in the EU by an enormous margin.
Before I’d even had time to learn Mancunian, I was introduced to Gary McKenna, and we managed to form the trio that would carry the party emblem in Deansgate Ward. We later found 3 equally excellent candidates to join us in the City Centre, standing in the ward next-door to Deansgate, Piccadilly.
I’m often asked what can the party do to better appeal to young activists or even young voters. Put simply, the City Centre team are the answer. My age was never seen as a burden and my relative inexperience was in no way a disadvantage to them. I was seen as a meaningful member of their team who was listened to, and having that impact on an election campaign is invigorating. Being an agent is a thankless, bureaucratic task that is often the short straw of activism but our wonderful agent did it out of genuine care and compassion for our team and because he wanted a good result, and I’ll be forever grateful to the best agent we could wish for. As a team, we went into the election as a group of committed Liberal Democrats but I feel we’ve come out of it as friends.
Although, I must stress, they are not the only team in this election who it was a joy to work with. The team in Withington Ward of April Preston, Phil Manktelow and Alex Warren are everything I love about this party. Inviting, committed and everything done in the name of improving their local area. It was absolutely gutting at the count to see people who would make excellent Councillors lose.But equally, knowing that April won’t give up is ready to fight Withington again in 2019 puts a serious fire in my belly, and I will not rest until the Withington Warrior is on that council because she is what that council desperately needs.
Simply put, if you want to engage young activists, be like the city centre team and the Withington team. Young people don’t need to be boxed into our own separate group: we are an asset out on the doorstep or on the ballot paper, giving people all across the country a chance to vote for the values we hold dear, It was inspiring to see many other Young Liberals standing for Council, such as the aforementioned Phil Manktelow, Tara Hussain in Tower Hamlets and my fellow 18 year old, Eloka Ikegbunam in Lambeth.
I hope we are not the last and we can collectively serve to prove to any Young Liberals considering standing, that we are not only wanted on those ballot papers but needed. I hope we’ve also proven to any local parties sceptical of the responsibilities they can offload on their younger members, that we in generation rent, who will be 65 by the time any Brexit settlement is paid off, are nothing if not thick skinned and we are ready to fight for our futures alongside you.
George Rice is a student and campaigner in Manchester. You can find him on Twitter @GeorgeRice_FBPE.