A teenage community activist launched a campaign this week to unseat Ed Davey from Kingston and Surbiton in December’s election.
James Giles, 19, is the youngest independent Parliamentary candidate in the country, but says that with half a decade of local campaigning already under his belt, his track record is better than those of the national parties.
“I’m pitching myself as the fresh start for Kingston and Surbiton,” said James, who was raised by his single mother on a New Malden council estate.
“There will be the question levied, which is a very valid question: you are very young, do you lack the experience needed in order to serve the constituency?
“And I think that is a challenge, but what I would say to that is I think my record speaks for itself.”
In 2015, while others his age grappled with their GCSEs, James led a successful campaign to save New Malden Post Office, and earlier this year, rather than taking a gap year of self discovery, James was busy protecting Kingston residents from an apparent 350% price hike for controlled parking zone permits.
Although current MP Ed Davey began the first of his two stints as MP for the constituency three years before James was born, he says that voters are ready for a change.
“Ed is conspicuous by his absence in Kingston & Surbiton,” he said.
“He is nowhere to be seen. Lib Dem voters are telling me that.
“I was out in Tolworth just this morning on the first day of campaigning on the doorstep and people are saying: ‘We liked Ed, but we haven’t heard from him in ages.’”
When a neighbour suggested he stand as an independent, feeling the area had been ignored by self-serving politicians from ‘various shades of representation’ for too long, he took the bold step to ‘stand up for the borough’.
“Ultimately the national parties have never actually led to proper representation in Kingston,” he said.
“We have the Lib Dems at the moment, for two years we had a Conservative MP, and it always struck me that their first loyalty was to their party and trying to progress their own careers.
“It struck me that they were a Westminster voice in Kingston & Surbiton as opposed to being Kingston & Surbiton’s voice in Westminster.”
James thinks his hyper-local ticket will attract voters who are tired of their concerns for the area being blind-sided by the national paralysis in Westminster and highlights his priorities as policing, schools and hospitals.
He takes a carefully balanced stance on Brexit saying he respects Kingston & Surbiton’s wish to stay in the EU (61.6% of constituents voted to Remain in 2016) but that ultimately democracy rests on honouring the national result and any hypothetical second referendum should ask how the UK leaves, rather than if.
It would be fitting for a young candidate to have strong views in favour of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds but James says the time constraints of a snap election ‘would place a really unfair and almost impossible workload on electoral returning officers’ having to process thousands of new voters in a matter of weeks.
Instead he says he will lobby for government & politics to be taught in secondary schools, so that young people voting in future elections are better informed.
“I think we should absolutely be encouraging young people to get involved in the political process,” he said.
“My concern as it stands today would be that young people maybe do not know enough and would be unduly influenced by the rise of fake news and social media.”
James is surpassed in youth by 18-year-old Lib Dem Alex Wagner standing in Stafford. If either wins a seat in Parliament they would take the title of ‘baby of the house’ from Mhairi Black MP, who was elected aged 20 in 2015.
Ed Davey is standing in Kingston & Surbiton for the Liberal Democrats, Aphra Brandeth is running for the Conservative Party and the Green Party candidate is Sharron Sumner. The Labour Party have yet to announce their candidate.