The most interest I’d ever shown in politics was a major appreciation for the ’Yes minister’ and ’Yes, prime minister’ comedy series of the 1980s. Genuine tours de force that deserve a watch if you’ve never seen them.
And yet on May 28, I found myself sitting on an uncomfortable folding chair in the local school, nervously chewing on my fingernails as the votes in the local election were counted. “Please let us win, please let us win,” was the mantra running through my mind.
“Us”? A couple of months earlier the other people in the party had been just neighbours who at most would get a ’bon dia’ from me as we passed each other in the street. Now we were “us”.
The local election was the first time I’d ever stood for a public position and to be honest only one of a few times I’d even gone out to vote. Yet in a matter of weeks I’d gone from being slightly cynical and suspicious of the motives of people who stand for public office to becoming an enthusiastic, and I hope useful, member of a close team of people who had sacrificed so much time and so much effort to the cause of winning a local election.
And “we” did win, albeit with the caveat that we were a few percentage points short of an absolute majority, which means the coming weeks will be spent trying to forge agreements with groups of people who don’t like us very much. And in order to do that will require yet more hours of meetings late into the night. But I’m up for it.
It was my wife who suggested I should stand for election, arguing that I’d be really good at it. My reaction was to laugh it off and put her comments down to drug abuse. But then I began thinking, and realised that with 30 years working in different fields with different people, bringing up two kids, facing crises, solving problems and making difficult decisions, I had accumulated skills and experience that could be useful. I called one of my local parties, spoke to a few people, decided to take the plunge, and I haven’t looked back.
Despite my cynicism and scepticism, working closely with a team of people who are devoted to a single cause has been invigorating. Everyone brings a different strength and the sum of our parts makes us a very effective fighting force.
Then there’s the part about wanting to help the local community. Surely politicians don’t really mean that when they say it? Surely it’s just self-serving lip service and their real motive is pure egotism or lining their own pockets? Perhaps, but in my admittedly limited experience that has not been the case. When I stood up and faced my neighbours and promised them that I would work hard for them if they voted for me I genuinely meant it, and no one was more surprised than me.
I’m sure politics is not for everyone, and I’m still not convinced it’s for me despite my positive experience so far. But if you’re looking for a change of direction, or to inject some purpose into your life, if you like a challenge and want to connect with like-minded people, if you don’t want your abilities and knowledge to go to waste and are attracted to the idea of doing more than just paying the rent and being of some use to others, then politics may be for you. At the very least, I would recommend watching ’Yes minister’, you won’t regret it.