Is the middle class and middle-aged face of politics finally getting a much called for makeover? With the election of the youngest MP since 1667 in Paisley, Scotland, Mhairi Black – who is just 20-years-old and a woman – it certainly seems so.
And it’s not just candidates and MPs but even the electorate that is changing as this General Election saw 60% of 18-24-year-olds vote.
In fact, the emergence of a new, younger model of politics can also be seen across Manchester, particularly in Cheadle, with Drew Carswell and Matthew Torbitt.
They may still be part of the ‘boys’ club’ but they’re certainly offering a fresher and trendier take on the country’s political landscape.
‘Council estate born and bred’ Matthew Torbitt, 24, is a student with a topknot. He studies at Salford University and is a former semi-professional footballer for Wakefield.
His chequered past includes a 12-month suspended prison sentence for his involvement in a bank scam and a period of homelessness.
As a sufferer of depression he is a strong advocate of mental health issues.
He now splits his time between studying, a part time job and volunteering at mental health and elderly support charities.
Matthew chose to run as an independent candidate in the Cheadle constituency to represent those people in his area who ‘didn’t feel strong enough to stand up and say something for themselves’.
“I was there for other people to use really and to make sure that the underprivileged and those that are most vulnerable are looked after and are remembered,” he told MM.
Keen cricketer Drew Carswell is a 20-year-old student studying History and Politics at Sheffield University.
Cheadle Hulme is his hometown, and where he’s lived his entire life. He chose to stand in the general election for the newly created Above and Beyond Party that campaigned solely on the single issue of introducing a ‘none of the above’ option on ballot papers after it ‘took his fancy’.
He decided to run after chatting with the Above and Beyond leader over Facebook, who convinced him of the need for systematic change at the level of the ballot box.
He told MM that the party stands for ‘the people who don’t vote or the people who feel that their vote is wasted’.
He said: “The party itself it’s not necessarily about electoral performance as daft as that might sound. It’s more about getting the message out there and creating debates about the system.
“I think that Natalie Bennett and Nigel Farage, whilst it’s in their interests to come out and start talking about a more representative electoral system, shows that there is certainly an appetite for change.
“Doubt about the current system is clearly being shown all across the political spectrum.”
Matthew Torbitt told MM he was inspired to become politically active after watching Nigel Farage and Russell Brand trade blows on Question Time.
“I thought – is this what it’s come down to? Is this what politics is now becoming, a Punch and Judy puppet show between a couple of characters who are almost not like real people at times?” he said.
“I was watching it after a couple of glasses of wine and went ‘right that’s it, that’s it, I’m going to have to make a stand.’ And then actually thought, oh no I’m going to have to follow through with this now.
“I just thought that people deserve better than this if I’m perfectly honest. I don’t like things that are unfair and I’ve become greatly frustrated about a system that doesn’t seem to work for many people I know of.”
Both candidates resorted to unconventional methods to raise the money for their £500 deposits.
Drew ran fundraising events, including playing in, and refereeing a five-a-side football tournament at the Stockport Power League which ran for over four hours.
Matthew used crowdfunding to raise his deposit, posting videos online explaining his message and asking people to pledge their support, on the basis that if he got over 5% he would refund all those that had given him the opportunity to stand.
Donations came not only from friends and family, but also from strangers on twitter who believed in his message.
He was vocal in his criticism of party ideology, saying: “I crave the day that someone like David Cameron stood up at PMQs and said to Ed Miliband, ‘what an outstanding idea that is, why don’t we do that, because it works’ as opposed to what our ideology says.
“It would be better with 650 independent minds, with people there for the good of the country as opposed to their own career and personality.”
The two men were similar in their condemnation of the current system and the need for change.
Drew explained that seeing the Conservative majority had prompted him to think about standing again.
He said: “When to me the situation requires something far different it does make me a) frustrated and b) want to change it, whether or not that is through another electoral process or just through getting involved in more direct action”.
Matthew added: “I was devastated personally, I was not a fan of the majority of the parties but I’ve never known a political party to strike such fear into so many people. The atmosphere in my household was one as if somebody had died.
“There was such an empty feeling, because I’ve got friends and family that feel they’re going to be hit the hardest, who’ve got disabilities, people who work for the council, and the Conservatives aren’t usually big fans of local government.
“I shed a tear because I was scared for the future, and scared of what it might bring for myself, I was just really shocked, I think a lot of people didn’t expect the Conservatives to have such a majority.”
The inexperienced candidates told how they struggled with running campaigns without a budget, attending hustings, producing leaflets and getting the time to go door to door.
Their votes reflected their relative obscurity and part-time nature of their campaigning, Matthew received 390 votes, Drew got 208.
They chose to look on the positive side of the battle; Matthew said that although he knew he wouldn’t win he ‘thought it was a success because there were so many outsider people that I knew were voting’.
Drew said he had two objectives, not to be last and to get over a hundred votes, saying he would have ‘preferred to do better but in terms of getting those two aims that I had was just pleased to achieve that’.
On the whole effort Matthew concluded: “I would encourage anybody if they could to stand, because I think you gain a lot from it, you learn a lot about yourself as well as other people. It’s just a worthwhile experience.”
Images courtesy of Twitter, with thanks.