A Kipper in York: Bullying in Youth Wings

Image: University of York UKIP Association

Image: University of York UKIP Association

So to start before I discuss the topic of my article, I should say that I and other members of our society attended the national UKIP conference in Llandudno last week. A good time was had by all and I look forward to going to the YI conference in the summer. Meanwhile we will continue to campaign for leaving the EU and supporting UKIP in the coming elections.

Now on to the topic at hand, while I was at the National UKIP conference, Labour were also holding their national youth conference. Despite what some may think , most of us student politicians don’t actually hate each other, and learning that several good friends of mine were bullied and harassed when they attended their conference in Scarborough. Discrimination based on disability is disgraceful, regardless of which party you are in. It’s not just Labour either, in a case that has gained  national notoriety, a member of Conservative Future took his own life which has been linked to bullying in the Tory youth wing. To some degree my own party youth wing, Young Independence, has problems with bullying as well , as do the Liberal Youth and indeed the Young Greens. No party youth wing is free from the blight of egos, over-exuberant idealism and general childish nastiness that pervades all youth politics of all stripes. Depression is exceptionally common in youth politicians, as are other mental health difficulties, and generally parties as institutions are rather poor at dealing with internal complaints. So the question then becomes, how does one deal with the issue of bullying across youth wings? I’m no expert on social relations, but certain things that I have learnt from campaigning in a Youth wing may help.

To start with the personal, it’s best to remember that you are fighting for a cause that you all believe in. If you aren’t then you wouldn’t be in politics. Put aside petty egos or whether somebody elected someone else that you don’t like and get on with campaigning. Your party will not do well if you are busy fighting among yourselves, for one it looks bad, (look at how the media uses quarrels in my party and blows them way out of proportion) and it does no good in the long term.

If you are getting ill because of politics. Take a break and even get medical help if you need it, sometimes it can be hard to pull away from whatever your cause is, but you’ll be far more helpful to the party well than feeling awful all the time. No cause in politics is more important than your health,  I don’t whether it’s the EU, the proletariat or the environment, if your campaigning is making you ill, take a break. If you are being bullied by fellow members of your party, then tell someone you trust (either party or non-party , preferably the latter) and talk it over. Complaints to the NEC or whatever body your party has can come later where necessary.

To the parties: your youth wings are your life blood, they produce hard working activists that tend to be switched on to the world around them. If there’s a scandal in the party, they’ll know about it. If you have a policy that they like , they’ll shout about it to everyone they meet. Sadly playground style attacks are not uncommon and you have to make sure you properly process complaints. Don’t listen to anyone that tells you that you shouldn’t intervene, to use the extreme case-Conservative Future did not intervene and it contributed to a young man’s suicide. Don’t let bullying become the norm, otherwise you will lose activists, members and donations all because of nastiness which tends to have nothing to do with politics.

Finally to all people that do anything political, remember that everyone you see in politics is a human being. When you shout at someone, or throw an egg at them, or attack their appearance, it can be upsetting, especially to young members of parties that haven’t developed thick skins. This may be common sense, but when groups such as Stand Up to UKIP exist  or  after the nastiness at the Tory Manchester conference last Autumn, one does wonder whether enough people get the message. Bullying is never right, regardless of politics, and while it is an area where thick skins are necessary, hating people you don’t even know, or letting your personal feelings about someone get in the way of your cause is both counter-productive and stupid.

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