Monday, 14 March 2011

Why I'm no longer interested in being in politics

Today I wrote an email to the executive committee of the Salisbury Lib Dem party explaining that I won't be putting myself forward as a candidate for them at the next election. 

I tweeted last month that I finally felt comfortable describing myself as a "ex-politician" and I thought it was only fair to explain this in more detail.

In the email, I gave two reasons for not putting myself forward:

A) I can't afford the financial cost. I don't think that most people realise this, but being a parliamentary candidate is a really expensive thing to do. In the run up to the last election I spent thousands of pounds of my own money financing the campaign (and I wasn't on a great salary to start with!). I'm not sure what happens in other parties, but I got ZERO help from the central Lib Dem party. I understand the reasons: Salisbury was not a target seat. However, that doesn't change the fact that it is a very expensive thing to put yourself through.

B) I have new priorties and no longer have the time. Being a candidate requires a huge devotion of time and energy, if you want to do it properly. This comes at considerable cost to your personal life. Our trip to Africa made me realise my real priorities, and politics simply wasn't one of them. I want to focus on building my career and making sure that my family and the people around me are secure. Ultimately, I am no longer prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to stand for Parliament.

So those were the two reasons I gave to the local party. However, 12 hours after having written the email, I realise that there are in fact way more than just two reasons why I don't want to do it. I can add at least an C, D, E and F to the list:

C) Salisbury is unwinnable for the Lib Dems at the next election. The upcoming boundary review will seek to equalise the number of electors per constituency (at around 76,000). This will mean the Salisbury constituency (with only 67,000 electors) will expand and take in new areas to the North and West with high numbers of Conservative votes. This will make an already "safe" Conservative seat even "safer", and basically unwinnable for the Lib Dems or anyone else. I'm not excited about entering a contest I know I will loose. Particularly when you factor in how unpopular the Lib Dems are. Which leads me on to point D...

D) I don't really identify with the Lib Dems anymore, my political views have changed. It isn't all about winning, there is a huge amount of value in promoting the democratic process, giving people a choice and standing up for something you believe in. I still believe all this, but unfortunately the Lib Dems aren't really something I "believe in" anymore. Contrary to what you might expect this isn't because of the disastrous press that the party has received since May. I actually agree with 80% of what the coalition is doing. Where as before I would have described myself as a centre-left social liberal, I would now probably describe my views as centre-right and closer to classical liberalism, even libertarian on some issues. I've no hard feelings against the Lib Dems, they are a good group and I had fun with them. However, there is now no UK political party that represents my views. This was an unexpected result of our trip to Africa. I thought it would make me soft and woolly, but in fact it made me tougher and harder. We saw a lot of the world, how things really are, as opposed to how they are when talked about round western dinner tables - seeing these things changes your views.

E) I don't actually like politics. Even during the campaign I never enjoyed the "politics" of what we were doing. What kept me going was the idea of "running a successful project". We had set aims and objectives, but how we got there was up to our creative skill and effort. I was building something, achieving something. Yes of course I agreed with what the party was saying, and believed in much of it - and I certainly believed in and was sincere about representing people in Salisbury - but it was never the "cut and thrust" of the politics that stimulated me, in fact I really didn't like that side of it. Politics just happened to be the subject matter of the project I was running. I was asked recently why I did it, why I stood for Parliament? I answered by saying that when George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest he simply replied "because it's there". I stood for Parliament "because it was something worthwhile to do". Nothing more complicated than that.

F) I'm really enjoying having time for other things in my life. In all the 5 years that I was in politics, I never met a single person involved who came across as content, peaceful and happy in life. Everyone in politics is strained. I just don't think it is an occupation which puts you at peace. There is constant conflict, drama, hyperbole and everyone is always in a rush. You're always being attacked or attacking someone - it's just not good karma. It leaves you nervous, paranoid, hollow. There was no time for the simple things in life. These days I feel like a different person. I have a quiet, wholesome happiness right at my core. I know it sounds cliched but I have an "inner peace" which I never had at any point in the last 5 years. I get to read books, go for runs, make good food, research obscure topics that interest me, spend time with my family and with Eeva, dream and make plans for the future – it's like a whole new lease of life.

Don't get me wrong, I don't regret standing for Parliament, it's just that I don't want to do it again. I mean, I had an amazing experience which I couldn't have had in any other way. I created a successful project, learnt a huge amount about the world and hopefully did something worthwhile in the process. As a citizen, I stood up to be counted in the democratic process and to represent people in my community - which is a cool thing to have done. I'll always be able to look back and think "I gave it a go".

But now it is time to move on. It's time for the next adventure.