The venue for my meeting with Bridgwater Labour member, Sadie Trent (as is now customary), is in a coffee shop. It is a day on which the subject of unrecyclable coffee cups is much in the news and, sadly, in our case, we have added to the waste mountain as Costa Coffee were not able to serve drinks in their best china due to the breakdown of their washing machine.
Born in 1992, now 25 years old, Sadie measures the time of her birth according to the political state of the country at the time. In other words, she was a baby of the ‘Major’ years or, as her parents call it, the ‘major disaster’ years.
Schooled locally at East Bridgwater and Robert Blake, she was always interested in the arts and is today, after a year of journalism at Exeter, studying PPE plus International Studies via the Open University
University of the Air
I mention how fitting it is for this conversation to talk of the OU, one of the greatest and most enduring achievements of the Wilson Labour government. First mooted in 1963 as a University of the Air it was finally launched only in May 1968, after years of work by Jennie Lee MP, and in the face of much opposition.
My own mother was a beneficiary of the OU. A survivor of the death camps in WWII, her education years were obliterated, but an OU course in the 1970s gave her self-esteem and confidence. Today, the OU with its amazing joint productions with the BBC and online learning, is now the most marvellous tool for learning for life. For Sadie, who has a disability that prevents her attending University full time, it has been the difference between receiving a higher education or not.
To what, then, I ask Sadie, does she attribute her political awakening? Interestingly, it is not family background. Rather, at seventeen, she found herself duly elected by her fellow students to attend the National Youth Parliament. In other words she became an MYP (Member of the Youth Parliament) which took her to various meetings around the UK including to the House of Commons in 2009 for the first ever Youth Parliament debate to take place on the plush green leather seats of the House of Commons before speaker, Rt Hon John Bercow MP. It is today a remarkable annual event which can be viewed by going to www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk and a genuine route by which some young people have graduated into full time politics. Sadie tells me that the present Labour MP for Midlothian, Danielle Rowley, was an MYP contemporary.
Does she think that issues raised by young people at NYP can make the transfer into the mainstream? ‘Well, the present debate about the voting age, is actually one good example’, she replies. Other issues that she thinks are migrating from the youth sphere to the mainstream are issues about the costs of public transport (the iniquitous 3.4% rail fare increase at the beginning of 2018 being an example) and the way in which poor and expensive public transport simply holds back employment. She also thinks the young have much to say about housing – for it is their generation which is held back by the shortage of council property.
I ask Sadie for her top five political issues which she says are 1.) Equality 2.) Education 3.) Transport 4) Universal Credit 5.) Zero Hours. Space does not permit going into each issue, but Sadie is clear that the matter of equality comes before everything. We agree that there is a kind of underclass today, held back by a spiral of connected issues all of which are the items on her list and to which you can add the overworked and underfunded NHS.
Sadie is not afraid to engage. She is as likely to be seen on the Cornhill in Bridgwater helping out at the Labour stall, as knocking on doors or, in her case, asking a question on live TV during the BBC Question Time visit to Bridgwater (it was a question about whether the panel thought there was any similarity between Russian and North Korean policies on the world stage). MP Jess Phillips’ answer was that both countries want to be noticed.
Nor is she afraid of being knocked back. On one canvassing outing she knocks on a door, only to be sworn at by an elderly woman. She reports that she said to her, ‘We’re young people. Why would you want to swear at us? We’re just trying to do good. People like you want to put us off. But you won’t put us off!’
Sadie, like one of her role models, Angela Rayner MP, was brought up on a council estate on housing benefits. Her MP heroes are, apart from Angela Rayner, Jess Phillips, Tracy Brabin (who won the by-election after Jo Cox was sadly murdered in her constituency) Paula Sherriff, Stella Creasy, Andy Burnham, Alison McGovern, and Emily Thornberry. Sadie’s ideal job – serving in the foreign office under the future Foreign Secretary -Emily Thornberry. And, interestingly, ideally in the Ukraine, which she attributes to meeting the former Ukrainian MP and 2004 Eurovision winner, Ruslana Stepanivna Lyzhychko, thus bringing together Sadie’s two favourite interests – Eurovision and Politics!
And what is she reading in the political field? It is a great reading list – the Hillary Clinton biography, Robert Peston’ s latest book ‘WTF’, Jess Phillips’ ‘Everywoman: One Woman’s Truth about Speaking the Truth’, and Jon Sopel’s book about Trump’s America – ‘If only they didn’t speak English’.
As with all my interviews, it would be easy to go on for much longer, but I ask her finally if there are any frustrations with our local labour group that she would like to see addressed. Her reply is two words ‘social media’. She feels it is not being used to best effect in our locality and the local party should – with editorial control – make better use of the younger generation. This sounds like an issue she wishes to fight for.
Sadie is an articulate young person and again I have found someone mild mannered and fair-minded who simply wants to overturn the obvious injustices perpetuated under the present administration. She joins a group here that is working together to try and overturn decades of injustice.