In politics, is it where you’ve come from or where you’re going that counts? Too often politicians are judged or even dismissed out of hand for coming from a certain background.
Those that don’t fit the mould ‘don’t have what it takes’ to succeed in the cut-throat world of Westminster, say the doubters, and should stay on the side lines.
Tell that to Wes Streeting. “I’m from a working class family, I grew up in a council estate in a single parent family, and so I’ve felt the sharp end of inequality in this country. But there aren’t enough people in parliament or local government that understand what life was like for people like me growing up and we need a more representative parliament. Hopefully my experience will lead to a better quality of decision-making in Westminster and a better understanding of inequality.”
Wes’ background didn’t stop him from getting stuck into politics from an early age. The first member of his family to go to university, he made the most of the experience by participating in, and eventually leading, the student movement. He served first as President of the Cambridge University Students’ Union before rapidly climbing the ranks of the National Union of Students (NUS), a rise crowned by two terms as President between 2008 and 2010.
The labyrinthine machinations of student politics served as a valuable proving ground for the tougher fight Wes now faces, bestowing him with the skills needed to excel as a candidate. “In order to be a good representative as a candidate and an MP you need to be a good listener and genuinely understand people’s concerns. You need to grasp what it is that is making their lives difficult and find out ways to make a difference.”
Another vital skill is communicating, and communicating honestly. “The most important thing right now is honesty. It may seem counterintuitive because politicians so often want to please people all the time, but actually people don’t expect me to make promises I can’t deliver here in Ilford, and I’ve put on my literature that although you may not always agree with me you will always know where I stand. People have a lot more respect for politicians who are open about where they stand.”
This need for honesty extends to the party as a whole. A party that is united and speaks with one voice on what it stands for and who it stands for will succeed, says Wes. One that is divided and riven with faction-fighting will fail. “Labour is at its best when it is visionary, when it is united, and when we’re open minded. Then we can think about how we actually implement our radical ambitions for the country.
“We’re at our worst when we’re riven by factionalism and internal debate that is conducted in an uncomradely fashion. Ed Miliband has done a great job as leader keeping Labour united, and I hope that will continue when he’s Prime Minister”.
Ed reaching Number 10 isn’t just something Wes wants for Labour. It’s something he sees as crucial for Britain as a whole. “This is the most unpredictable election in living memory- and also the most important. Another five years of a Tory government is not worth thinking about in terms of what it will do to our national services. It would also do terrible damage to our place in the world. David Cameron has time and again sold our interests down the river on the international stage. There is nothing certain about our place in the world in the 21st century. Only strong trans-Atlantic links, inclusion in the European Union, and strong bilateral links with China, India, and south east Asia will allow us to compete in the global race.”
And what does Wes think personally of the Prime Minister? “He doesn’t wake up in the morning and think: ‘how can I make the world a better place?’ He wakes up and thinks: ‘Isn’t it great I’m Prime Minister’”. That’s not the thought process of the man you want running the country, says Wes. I couldn’t agree more strongly.
The digital pamphlet ‘Fifteen for 2015′, profiling fifteen of Labour’s new candidates, is available to read online here.