Alex Mockridge, the 18-year-old who stood as district councillor in Totnes, talks to Milo Mirzai about Corbyn, values and integrity
Alex Mockridge, aged eighteen, decided to run as an independent candidate in the South Hams district council by-election in Totnes, with the endorsement of the Labour Party. I interviewed her the day after the election, where she came third with roughly 21% of the vote, getting more than triple the votes of the Conservative candidate, but losing to the Lib Dem candidate, John Birch, who had run in the previous election and come a near second. If she had won she would have been one of the youngest Councillors in the UK. Nevertheless, within the circumstances, she ran a clean and successful campaign. Despite this, she has received harsh and unfair criticism from members of the Labour Party, most notably Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter.
Alex first became engaged with politics “when Michael Gove interrupted the English GCSE I was doing - that was the first time politics directly affected me.” She then went on to study A-level politics, and had no plans to run for district councillor. But no one else in the Totnes Labour Party was willing to stand. “When the local Labour Party was looking for someone to stand, I couldn’t say no.” She was initially turned down on the grounds that she was too young and had not been a member of the Labour Party long enough to be an official candidate. On the day of the deadline to register, she decided to run as an independent endorsed by the Labour Party and with the support of Educating Independents.
Young people have become disengaged and disillusioned with mainstream politics, partially because they have been the victims of the Conservative Party’s vicious austerity measures, ranging from removing housing benefit to scrapping maintenance loans. Due to her age, a few people did not think she was competent enough: “someone explained the basics of first past the post to me, which was really patronising.” Despite the rhetoric from politicians about how they want to get young people engaged with politics, Alex says “No, I don't think political parties are willing to take on younger candidates.” This demonstrates a devastating failure for parties across the board to represent young people. She fully supports both mandatory political education and lowering the voting age to sixteen, saying that “one cannot happen without the other.” As demonstrated by Scotland’s referendum, when young people are given the tools to engage with politics they take full advantage of them.
Being an outspoken feminist, Alex faced some adversity over stating this openly on her leaflets. “I did have one woman yell at me on the street ‘you shouldn't have put feminism on your leaflet, that will lose you votes’… she told me to lie for votes and I think that's the political culture we live in, in which the rejection of feminism feeds into.” To be shouted at on the street for expressing your sincere belief in gender equality is a clear indicator that the way mainstream politics functions is deeply flawed.
As if on cue, shortly after our interview, Ben Bradshaw MP tweeted “Corbynites take over Totnes CLP choose ineligible candidate who runs as “independent” & lose our only seat on south hams Council! Well done!” demonstrating his complete disregard towards young people in politics. With absolutely no context or knowledge of who Alex was, he spun the results for his own partisan gain, blaming the left of the party for the lost seat. In reality, Labour only previously held the seat because the Green Party didn't field three candidates, so it was never a fairly won Labour seat. Alex described Bradshaw’s comments as “childish” and “the reason young people are discouraged from engaging with politics.” Bradshaw’s politics differs immensely from the politics of values that both Alex and Jeremy Corbyn subscribe to. She ran a clean and positive campaign that connected to people who had become disillusioned with mainstream politics, many of whom had never voted before, resulting in almost double the expected turnout. She should be applauded for that.
The politics of values that Jeremy Corbyn has re-introduced has arguably been the key to his success. “He doesn’t speak like a politician… Margaret Thatcher had voice coaching to sound more like a man - Jeremy Corbyn is not having voice coaching to sound like a liar, he’s staying true to himself and his values.” Politics is changing, it's no longer about appealing to the perceived centre ground, it's about standing up for what you believe in and demanding change, and that is why Corbyn has been so successful, especially among young people like Alex. “It was his acceptance speech, that was the moment, because he speaks so honestly… when he said he cared about young people I burst into tears because honestly, I had never heard a politician say that, that I could trust.” This is the brand of politics the Labour Party needs to follow, not the elitist and PR-friendly politics Owen Smith and Ben Bradshaw follow. “I admire Corbyn for his integrity, he has integrity beyond anything else, the way he is brutally and viciously attacked by the media is unjustified. And yet he’s still standing there every day.”
Alex will be supporting Jeremy Corbyn in the upcoming Labour leadership election and is critical of members of the PLP involved in the coup. “Constituency Labour Parties are sending their support to Corbyn, these are the same Constituency Labour Parties for the MPs that are part of the coup. The local labour parties, the base of your support, do not support your actions.”
Even though she is a Labour member, Alex is now a strong advocate of independent candidates for local politics. “Because I was an independent I started to realise the benefits of that… They [party councillors] vote by the party line, they’re not independent of national politics.” With current talks about progressive alliances from the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and even the Labour Shadow Defense secretary, Clive Lewis, independents could be a way forward for a progressive alliance in local elections. Alex is cautiously optimistic. “I definitely support the idea of a progressive alliance, but I have reservations over how it could by carried out,” the issue being that if it's done in a certain manner it could undemocratically limit people’s choice.
Alex ran a very successful campaign in the circumstances and has received undeserved criticism - bordering on bullying - from the right of the Labour Party to score political points. As an eighteen-year-old, she managed to gain 21% of the vote and reinvigorate local politics in Totnes without resorting to cheap tactics, which is a huge achievement and should be celebrated. She represents the future of left-wing politics, and I sincerely hope she goes far.