As we move from crisis to crisis with increasing scrutiny placed on those who represent us, it is right to ask ourselves questions about where we are finding our politicians and whether they are up to the job. The recent eras of our political elites find their roots in popularist portrayals, from Cameron’s Cuties, to Blair’s Babes, New Labour, Momentum, Remainers and Leavers we see individuals through the lens of predictable political upbringing and new labels. We have made it easy for the public to subscribe to these portrayals serialised by an equally caricatured media class, with the Covid crisis playing this out with a depressing predictability. It’s the ‘Westminster Bubble’ at its worst and is a turn off for most ordinary folk.
While political engagement is at its peak, the public still do not like nor trust politicians. And at a local level, you simply have to trawl local Facebook community groups for a taste of voter apathy towards our political classes or look no further than the turnout at a local election or indeed, the demographics of your local Association AGM or management team. Can we really blame the public for getting the politics that they vote for, if we do not offer up the quality that they crave? As a former Conservative agent, I have felt those frustrations too. Returning from a sabbatical period of military service, I toyed with the idea of creating a political disruptor for our times based on my observations and experience of the values and skills contained within the military community; an antidote to what has been laid out in the opening comments of this article. The public is at ease with our armed forces,and they are ‘back on the telly’, as they repurpose in a post-Afghan era to one of home resilience, just as the Help for Heroes effect was wearing thin. But the people do like and trust this small but mighty group of service orientated fellow citizens, and industry is already lapping up their talents, as evidenced by the growing swathes of companies signing The Armed Forces Covenant and hiring veterans. So why not politics too?
CampaignForce CIC was born a year ago setting out to change politics for the better. Buoyed by the meteoric rise of the Johnny Mercers of this world, and others from the post-911 generation who had made an impact, CampaignForce is the first and only organisation in the UK set up to help inspire, train and coach those from the armed forces community to ‘stand up and serve again’ in public life. My own service began in 1996 serving in Northern Ireland, returning to this calling as an interpreter in Afghanistan, a break away from my now established civilian career with the Party. After Afghanistan I returned to politics, successfully running the general election campaign for the then Party Chairman Grant Shapps, after which I went on to become a civil servant at the MOD helping veterans transition into civilian jobs. It was here that the penny really dropped.
I had seen how big businesses like Deloitte, Barclays and others were tapping into the talents of service leavers and I had experienced, as a political professional, the challenges of getting good people into politics. I thought, why don’t I start up an organisation, using my skills, military background and experience helping veterans find out about a second career in politics?
CampaignForce is beginning to make some waves and showing early signs of positive disruption. With high level endorsements from a former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Richards, and the current Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer MP and additional support from industry already in the bag, the idea behind getting veterans to become politicians at every level is proving a popular alternative to that portrayed earlier. In just a year, it has already delivered two political ‘insight’ workshops for veterans in London at Facebook’s HQ and at The Shard with other engagements held at both Labour and Conservative Conferences with MPs, The Prime Minister’s Defence Advisor and veterans in attendance. As an social enterprise, CampaignForce has been reaching out and collaborating cross-party; a lot of traction for an independent not-for-profit started-up on limited funds.
It is hoped that this initiative will not only help produce better politicians and create opportunities for veterans and reservists to serve again, but also deal with issues around diversity in our politics. Remember that picture of your local AGM? Although we already have around 50 MPs in our Parliament with some form of military experience, we lack veteran MPs from several diverse groups and the Armed Forces is a diverse pool of talent to fish from.
The area where it hopes to make the biggest impact though is within local government, the piece of politics that we are all closest to, the topic of many social media rant. With over 20,000 councillors elected across the UK, there are lots of opportunities for veterans to serve again when resettled, or for those managing a spare time career in the reserve forces. It is an area where their skills are badly needed.
The start of this not-for-profit campaign has been a good one, achieved with little resource but a whole lot of influence, with the armed forces community and quest for a better politics at its centre. It now looks to grow, seeking investment and a wide base of support. Politics is not going to move away from our TVs, our phones nor our communities. It is important that the armed forces is part of the debate, and that our country does not miss-out on the transferable skills and important values that this community has to offer. Who knows, perhaps the next populist portrayal of a political elite will come from the Armed Forces? We simply deserve better and modern times call for this kind of politician.
For more information on CampaignForce contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram by searching @CampaignForceUK or the hashtag #StandUpServeAgain