Putting theory into practice

April 29, 2005

At 21, Hannah Hedges, will be the youngest candidate in the election

The good thing about being an undergraduate and standing in the general election is that there is no set pattern to my day. I can campaign when I want. The bad thing is that I will be sitting my finals two and a half weeks after polling day. When other candidates are relaxing post-election, I'll be cramming for exams.

Right now, friends at the London School of Economics, where I am studying government, are revising. Meanwhile, as the youngest prospective parliamentary candidate, I spend much of my time in Hitchin and Harpenden talking to constituents. Still, I have told my activists not to call me before 1pm so that I can study in the morning.

I helped set up the Liberal Democrat society at the LSE three years ago and have watched it go from strength to strength. Being in such an atmosphere has given me confidence when I am out on the stump. Many lecturers are not sure that I am doing the right thing, but one is right behind me handing out leaflets on my campaign.

Lecturers teach the theoretical side of politics while I practise the practical side. When you knock on doors, people are not going to ask you about Machiavelli or Locke but about why their child has not got into the local school. I love talking to people. True, they can sometimes be ambivalent or even rude. One man set his dog on me. Many, though, say:

"Good on you - we should have more young people in politics."

My passion is education, from pre-school to college. Of course, top-up fees and student hardship are important issues. In my constituency, where schools are good and a high proportion of young people go to university, Liberal Democrat policies go down well. I count myself lucky that I will come out of university only about £10,000 in debt - I know some students who have reached the limit on four credit cards. Student hardship puts young people off higher education.

I joined the Liberal Democrats at 16, was approved as a potential candidate when I was 19 and was selected for Hitchin and Harpenden the following year - all before I was old enough to stand for Parliament.

But being a young person in politics can be a lonely experience. I would like to see a time when age is irrelevant. For now, I aim to empower young people. Three years ago I was thinking about whether to take A levels or not - now I'm standing for Parliament.

Hannah Hedges is the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden.

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