UK Politics

Who am I, why am I here?

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Over the coming months, Backbench will be partnering with Torrin Wilkins, Director of Centre Think Tank for a series of comment pieces. In his column, Torrin will explore prominent policy issues – some of them related to the latest news and others related to his longer-term projects. We’d love for Backbench readers and commentators to respond to Torrin’s policy analysis and ideas, so if you would like to contribute a response, please email editor@bbench.co.uk.  

Please note that all the views expressed in Torrin’s articles are those of Torrin himself and do not necessarily represent the standpoint of Backbench. 

If you didn’t know already, the title of this piece is a famous line from James Stockdale during the 1992 US Vice-Presidential debate. Yet, it’s a good question, who am I? As I am now writing a weekly column for Backbench, I thought it would be a good idea to start with an introduction. After all, most people only seem to know snippets about me. Someone the other day referred to me, quite humorously, as “Brexit man” on Twitter. This to me shows how sometimes we, as people involved in politics, are often put into one box or are only known by one thing.

I guess, in order to truly get to know me, we have to start at the beginning. I started in politics when I was just 13, and although very early, I think that it came from my family constantly debating around the dinner table and talking about politics both in front of and with me. One pivotal moment for me was watching the 2010 Leaders’ Debate and Nick Clegg saying the line “I believe the way things are is not the way things have to be”. This is something that resonated with me and really spoke to my beliefs at the time. As a result, I ended up joining the Liberal Democrats in hope – I knew that things weren’t fair and that some kind of change had to occur. They also roughly matched my political beliefs, with me holding the same centrist views then as I do now.

At the time, I was also at secondary school and so I decided to start a political society. It was something my teachers were very supportive of, and it was something I really enjoyed working on throughout my time there. During those early years, I also spent lots of my time leafleting and focusing on community issues. It was then that I met some fantastic community campaigners, who cared more about serving their community than the national party or national politics in general.

This was perhaps when I enjoyed being in politics, leafleting and talking about local issues. But as the EU referendum came, I found myself disagreeing strongly with the line of the party. I know that the EU has brought us many benefits, but it also has many downsides. I used to believe that we could stay in the EU and reform it, yet that was looking more and more unlikely- with it starting to get very close to impossible. So, instead I started looking towards other options that the UK could take other than being in the EU. For me, the perfect position was a Norway Style Deal, which is why I ended up campaigning for the Leave side. I did this through Liberal Leave, which was an organisation that advocated towards this vision.

As the party then focused almost solely on wanting to remain in/rejoin the bloc after the referendum, I think that was the beginning of the end of my time there. When you’re on the opposite side to the majority of activists in your party on a major issue, you often feel deeply ostracised. After receiving so much online abuse over this issue, I could not stay any longer and I ended up leaving the party.

After the referendum, I was also handed the old social media pages for Liberal Leave and essentially ended up running the organisation. I also traded Hertfordshire in England for Aberystwyth in Wales, which is where I went to university. It was somewhere I fell in love with, and I don’t think I will ever be able to leave properly in my heart of hearts.

Then came my own organisation, Centre Think Tank, which focuses on the creation of new evidence-based, centrist policies and policy papers. This has meant that I am still able to campaign on the issues I want, and get a lot of people feel passionate about the same things that interest me. Being able to research and campaign freely on any issue with my team, ranging all the way from high speed rail to including more people in furlough schemes, means that I am finally able to talk about the issues that I care about and put them onto the political agenda.

So that’s why I am here now, to talk to you about policy and give my opinions on a range of political issues. Sometimes they may be related to current affairs, sometimes they might be things that you’ve never heard of before, but I hope that I am able to offer a new perspective on some political issues.

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