30 things any would-be politician should do this summer (Part I)

Inspired by Journalism Grads: 30 Things You Should Do This Summer post (pointed out to me by Lib Dem Voice’s Stephen Tall), here’s my list of 30 things anyone wanting to become an elected public official should do over the summer.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my Twitter, Facebook and email messages asking for suggestions for inclusion in the list. Whether your idea(s) made it in or didn’t quite make the cut, the final 30 are the better for all that feedback. Parts II and III follow on Tuesday and Wednesday.

  1. Look up a piece of legislation, read it line by line and keep on reading it until you understand what every bit means. Being able to understand the detailed wording of proposed legislation (or, at council level, motions) should be a key part of the role of an elected official. Understanding wording that others glaze over is also a useful, if quiet, way of exerting influence on what actually ends up happening. If in doubt, you can start with this one which, helpfully, was and is widely discussed online.
  2. Go canvassing. There’s plenty to follow in this list about technology, but politics is about serving the people and you can’t do that if you hide away from them or only talk to people you already agree with. Canvassers are very thin on the ground, so you should find your offer of help is warmly welcomed.
  3. Go and find three interesting facts about paperclips. Seriously. You’ll have to find out all sorts of information about all sorts of topics you’ve never thought of before, and there have been millions of paperclips for decades. How hard can it be? (Rest assured: it can be done. I know four.)
  4. Read The Great Siege: Malta 1565. If you want to understand the modern world, you need to understand the interplay between Christianity and Islam. Many in the west don’t appreciate the historical legacy from centuries of warfare centred around the Mediterranean. This book is an enjoyable way of remedying that.
  5. Read Down the Tube. It’s a great account of the London Underground PPP scheme. It’s of interest to far more than those wanting to get in to London politics, for it also provides a clear but detailed account both of why so many people were attracted to PPP (and PFI more generally) – and the many, many ways they can go wrong.
  6. Get a longstanding local grot spot sorted. Find the longest outstanding pothole, piece of graffiti or dumped rubbish and get it sorted. Don’t just report it once to the council but follow it all the way through to getting fixed. Chances are you’ll learn one of two things: (1) how longstanding issues are often only longstanding because no-one has ever bothered to take them up, or (2) how the buck can be passed around and fixing an issue requires someone with the persistence to see it through.
  7. Attend two meetings of your local council. Especially useful if you want to be a councillor, as if you don’t do it before you get elected you’re in for a shock afterwards.
  8. Spend half a day volunteering in a local community organisation.
  9. Spend a day with more small children than you have hands, preferably on public transport and pushing a pushchair along a pavement. You wonder why some people spend so much time campaigning about the state of pavements? Try pushing a pram – even on pavements which look smooth to walk along – and you’ll soon find out.
  10. Spend half a day in a court observing a trial or two. Crime fills the rhetoric of politicians, but have you noticed how rarely MPs or councillors show any knowledge of the details of how the legal system actually works – or often doesn’t work – in practice?

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