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article imageInterview: Ben Fearn, the youngest ever Liberal Democrat PPC Special

By Kris Coombes     Aug 10, 2014 in Politics
A 21-year-old from Matlock, Derbyshire, is set to make history by being the youngest ever Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate.
Ben Fearn will be standing in the Derbyshire Dales region for the 2015 general elections, and I got a chance to catch up with him and gain insight into his thoughts before he starts his campaign.
So, you’re a PPC! How excited are you?
Very excited! It's both daunting and thrilling at the same time. The selection process dragged on quite a bit, as I completed my PPC assessment in the summer of 2012, but once I was officially selected at the start of this year the political side of things have taken off in a good way.
You are campaigning in the Derbyshire Dales constituency. What do you think you can bring to the area?
Despite my relatively tender age, I'll bring varying aspects of political experience to the area, having seen at close quarters the effective campaigns of the likes of John Leech MP (Liberal Democrat) in Manchester. I've lived here for all of my life (bar my University years), so I have a good understanding of local issues and concerns.
What plans do you have for your campaign at this early stage?
The Derbyshire Dales gets one of the lowest government grants in the UK, and the lowest wages in the whole of Derbyshire; I'm eager to highlight and change that. I'm also keen to make sure that none of the 5 towns of the Derbyshire Dales (Matlock, Darley Dale, Bakewell, Wirksworth and Ashbourne) are ignored. I want any potential candidate manifesto to have a policy designed to help each area. As a local party we've already set up social media channels, and I've publicly called for any debates between the candidates in 2015 to be streamed/recorded.
What do you love most about Derbyshire?
The countryside! I feel immensely privileged to live in such a beautiful part of the world, and having lived in Manchester (as a student) for four years I appreciate it all the more. That's not meant as a criticism of Manchester, as it's a fantastic city. However, I did miss the rural splendour of Derbyshire.
You’ve just graduated from the University of Manchester with an English Language degree. Has studying English prepared you for the road ahead?
Absolutely. I think people stereotype English Language as 'just' studying grammar, but it encompasses so much. The huge range of modules were fascinating, and I feel that I can really shape my own path in life due to the broadness of the course.
You’ve made history among the Lib Dems as one of the youngest ever PPC’s. Do you think there is any extra pressure on you?
There is a degree of pressure, especially when some of my Lib Dem friends frequently remind me of the fact! However, I welcome the pressure. It's an honour to have been selected by a party which shares so many of my values and convictions to represent my home area. The age aspect motivates me to prove my worth.
Who is your political inspiration/villain and why?
There are so many, but I'll narrow it down to a U.K. and a U.S. candidate per category. FDR is my U.S. political hero, as I felt so inspired when studying the 'New Deal' in History at A-Level. He changed the landscape of America for the better, moving away from harsh classical liberalism to compassion and support for the underdog. David Lloyd George is my U.K. hero for similar reasons, especially for 'The People's Budget' and his help in (arguably) creating the welfare state in Britain.
It's Nigel Farage for me in the U.K. at the moment, for obvious reasons! It may sound like sour grapes, but his cynical way of manipulating figures and labelling them as 'facts' especially irritates me.
My U.S. villain, Mitt Romney, ticked me off considerably in the run up to the 2012 US Election. I'm not a fan of the Republican Party in general, but Romney in particular stands out as an incredibly frustrating and contradictory candidate. He had a habit of flip-flopping on just about every major issue.
What are your thoughts on the recent reshuffle in the Conservative party?
I'm not particularly enchanted. Too often I get the impression that David Cameron is caught between trying to appease his troublesome backbenchers and appearing to present a 'modern' image to the electorate; it's an uncomfortable mix. It's good to see more women promoted, but I have to say I'll miss Ken Clarke, the so-called 'sixth Liberal Democrat member of the Cabinet'!
It is fair to say that the European elections weren’t the biggest success for the Lib Dems. Do you think this will have any negative impacts on your local campaign?
We're bound to be on the back foot because of it, but the focus of 2015 will rightly be on the economy rather than Europe. That's not to say that Europe won't be important next year, of course it will. However, we have the new and exciting task of promoting our achievements in Government, something we've not been able to do for generations.
What do you make of UKIP’s victory?
It's a sign that many people are disenchanted with politics, and it's our task to reach out to those people and address their concerns. However, I'm alarmed at the considerable lack of scrutiny that UKIP have had over the last couple of years. Every political party should be held to account, but as of yet UKIP's cynical and at times outrageous campaigning appears to be untouched.
The turnout for the European elections was 33%. Does this cheapen UKIP’s victory, or does it show disenchantment with the major three political parties?
I'd argue it shows both. 33% is hardly a ringing and representative endorsement from the nation, but there's obviously a reason why so many people aren't turning up to vote. UKIP aren't just attracting former Tory voters, but Labour and even Lib Dem ones, too. We could well be heading towards an era of multi-party politics.
You’re a big Derby County fan. How do you rate their chances for the season?
I'm very optimistic. The football we played last season was a joy to watch, and the signs are that we're going to carry that into the new season, especially as we've just signed a Real Madrid player on loan! Losing George Thorne for the season was a big blow, but I trust Steve McClaren to cajole and organise what is a very talented squad. The only thing that may count against us is the expectation from the media, which we don't usually have!
You have to have one of the following players in the starting XI for the rest of time: Robbie Savage or Conor Sammon. Who do you pick?
Easy, Robbie Savage! He can at least pass the ball, and could do a job in 'the George Thorne' role. Perhaps Savage and John Eustace could slug it out for the old git position in midfield! I could write you a whole essay on Conor Sammon, but let's not go there.
Finally, how do you plan to spend the next year?
I plan to listen to the concerns of constituents in the Derbyshire Dales, and shape how my campaign will address those concerns. I want to build a positive campaign for change in the Dales, and I cannot do that without the help of dedicated members of the local party. I'm looking forward to the new football season, too!
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