Written by Luna Webster
This year, a lot of young voters will be preparing to mark that all important cross on their first ever ballot paper. But how do you go about deciding whose name to put it beside? In a new series of articles that will be released in the run up to the general election, I will be sitting down with my local MP candidates to discuss why exactly young people should put their faith in them. I start this week with Huw Bell, an ex-armed forces serviceman who is standing for the Conservatives in North East Fife.
Luna: Hi Huw! So, just to give our readers a little more idea of what you do, how would you describe your average day?
Huw: Well, an average day would probably be I get up, have a flick through my emails, read stuff which has maybe come in overnight, have a quick scan through headlines, get an email with the latest what we call “lines” to take, which is basically guidance on what’s topical in the news and how our party reacts to it. Often I have meetings in the morning, going out to meet some people, whether it’s people at a college to go and find out what’s happening there, going to meet some business people, going to meet some charity people, just getting out and about and seeing if there’s ways I can help people. That’s usually mornings. I’m getting about the area trying to knock on doors, trying to speak to as many people as possible. So it takes me everywhere across North East Fife. I’ve got a way to work out where to go and meet people where I think that people will be most receptive to my message. I try to really find out the issues that matter so that I can do something about it. That usually takes me into the late afternoon or into the evenings, and then back, maybe at home or maybe at the office and trying to catch up on other things. Then also more meetings, attending gatherings of people, people who support me having maybe 6-80 people to their house, to have a conversation. Tonight I’m giving a wee speech for burns night. So yeah, a whole load of things going on. There aren’t enough hours in the day. And I’m trying to raise funds for the campaign! Oh – and then I’ve got to write all of this as well! So I write all the leaflets that go out, I’m updating my website, doing my social media and stuff, and genuinely, it’s me.
Luna: Wow – I doubt a lot of people are actually aware of all the work that goes into just being a candidate. It sounds very active. What are your canvassing sessions like?
Huw: I try to do action days on Saturday mornings. People will be doing a mixture of posting leaflets through doors, and helping with the canvassing. I’m also asking people to help do canvassing via the telephone aswell, I’ve got students in St. Andrews to help me with that. It’s kind of a small focus team really. We haven’t got a huge army out there or anything. There are about 60,000 people on the electoral roll here. I would love to have a conversation with everyone, but one of my problems is sometimes people are really nice, and it’s hard to get away, you know sometimes if I’m doing three or four hours, I’ve got a target I set myself of how many doors, but at this time of year, when it’s getting dark, people are nice like “would you like to come in”? Well, yes but, if I spend half an hour with you, you know. But you don’t want to be rude either, because actually, if they want to speak to me I’m delighted, sometimes people haven’t got a lot to say, some people don’t want to meet me at all! There’s a fine balance.
Luna: It sounds pretty full on. So, what lead you to join the Tories?
Huw: So back to my early politics, actually my mother is of a different party. She’s a Liberal Democrat, but I was brought up in a house where my dad was not particularly interested in politics. My mother was a councillor, and she stood in various elections and things, she’s actually a candidate in this election, in Yorkshire. She sort of had me campaigning with her, obviously if I could go back I wouldn’t be delivering her stuff! Then, it’s an interesting period actually, because when I was 18, just able to vote, we had the referendum about having a Scottish parliament. And I was really interested in politics and did modern studies in my sixth year, but interestingly around that time was when a big change happened, nationally, when after many years of the conservatives being in power, Labour under Tony Blair came in. And my mother wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of the conservatives then, the media was really ramping up this wonderful Tony Blair man, and it was quite influential on me at that time. I suppose as well because I’d only ever grown up with one party in power, part of me was like aah, it’d be nice to have a change, as you would. Change is exciting. So at that time I vaguely thought I would vote for Labour because of those influences. But then when studying modern studies, and going to university, my mind quickly changed, when I read more about it and thought actually, this doesn’t fit for me. I met at university some friends who were Conservatives and after some discussion I thought this is where I fit. The sort of underlying principles fit me and how I’ve been brought up and how my grandparents generation where and I saw eye to eye with that. I actually ended up becoming the conservative chairman of our conservative club at university. That was at a time when there was also discussion about us entering the euro. So I helped with campaigning to keep the pound and things like that.
Luna: So you really started to find your political identity when you were in your teens. How do you think that you would represent young voices as an MP?
Huw: I’m 33, I’m not too old and I’m not too young. It’s not that long ago since I was in those shoes so I can remember well what it was like when I was that age. I think it’s a case of being able to listen to people really, just like with any other age group.
Luna: Obviously following the Scottish referendum there’s a lot more political interest within my generation. What do you think you could do to keep that up and encourage more youth involvement?
Huw: I’m going to be out and about and that includes meeting young people who are going to be voting in the general election and did vote in the referendum. I holding an event with the SRUC, a jobs fair, and there’ll be many of the students there so I’ll be hoping to get out and chat to them. I’ve also been doing an initiative in St Andrews called “Start Up St Andrews” which I started with a group of students there and through all these ways I get out and meet people, and through charities I meet maybe more disadvantaged people and hear what they have to say, so it’s the same way as I’m going out to meet people from any other age group really.
Luna: Those sound like good initiatives, but on a national scale, what can the Conservatives do for young people?
Huw: I’m going to start with a bit of fun: long-term economic plan. But actually, in all seriousness, it is the fact that the Labour government that we inherited the mess from, they genuinely set up a lot of people who were young at the time to fail. A lot of the things that they did got me into politics today because I saw what they were doing and I thought I don’t agree with this, I have to do something about it. I could moan, or I could just try. Actually, we just need a suitable system where you can control public finances, and you don’t have a huge amount of debt, which we are all going to be continuing to pay off long after those who made it have gone. It’s certainly a sensible thing so our generations aren’t saddled with the mess from before. Sorting out the welfare system so it actually doesn’t trap people into not working, really focusing particularly on youth unemployment, which was getting particularly bad and has been helped, also helping companies with things like apprenticeships and other means to employment.
Luna: What about in terms of education and employment?
Huw: A key factor is education, because I do believe strongly that in the UK as a whole, obviously there are different education systems in England and Scotland and Wales, but we have fallen far behind other countries. We need to learn a lot from other countries; why they’re succeeding, for example I was reading recently about the education system in Poland which has been improved, and we find that we have a lot of really skilled people from Poland working here who have better numeracy and English in many places than a lot of Brits. I think we definitely have to do something about that, we’ve got to get the education system focused back on the absolute basics, which everyone needs to be really employable, so that they are of equal fitting on the jobs market as everyone else from other countries, and that is going to take some time. I think we can learn from what’s happened in England so far, we can learn from other countries and we need to apply that in Scotland. I’m seeing how I can work with the schools around here and help them. I actually spent two years as a school governor. It also comes down to our colleges and universities. There’s been a lot of talk recently about college places being taken away by our current SNP government, and I think we need to challenge them on how they focus their resources. Moving on from education, to general finances and the economy, there was obviously a crash, but it was being mismanaged and that lead to that horrendous situation in 2008, with companies closing and jobs being let off. People were very negative about Conservative policy to turning that around. But we’ve actually seen a fantastic recovery start, and we’ve got the highest growing economy in the G8, we’ve got 1000 new jobs a week or something like that, it’s amazing. It’s not purely because of the government obviously, because I actually believe that governments are just there to not get in the way and let other people get on. It’s businesses that really grow the economy and that’s what’s happening. And I think that’s what’s most important for everyone. Those who are trying to get into the job market, looking for a job, those who are in the job market maybe looking to change, have a different career, get a promotion, better income, whatever it may be. And that’s at the heart of what we’re about, and that’s why we want to continue. I think if we have a change of national government in May, I think that’s seriously going to put all of that on the back burner.
Luna: Going back to education – do you think that politics should be compulsory in schools?
Huw: It would be arguable that everything be compulsory on the curriculum! I think that we’re all obviously entitled to vote unless we’re in prison or mentally incapacitated or whatever, so it’s vital that we all have a good understanding of how the system works. One of the biggest problems is that it can be very confusing, particularly here in Scotland, we have UK elections, Scottish Parliament elections, two different systems, even council elections, even for me, it all gets a bit confusing. I think because we’re going to be having 16/17 year olds voting in the Scottish Parliament elections from now on, I think at 15/16 there should be a point in the curriculum where there is at least the tools you need to understand how to vote and how the system works so at least when you get to that point, you’ve got a clue of how to write on your voting paper. I think it’s also good for elected people to get out to schools to start a conversation and explain things as well. I’d like to go around all the secondary schools in the area – at the moment it’s hard for me to speak because I’m not elected yet. If I’m elected I will absolutely, certainly do that. That’s a way that as an elected politician I could help young people.