Why it’s important for young members to have older mentors

In today’s article, Andrew Bettridge tells us why it’s so important for young members to have older mentors and pays tribute to two of his own mentors. Andrew is a member of Burton Labour Party in the West Midlands. He works for a Labour Member of Parliament working on Communications, Campaigns and Events after he graduated from Staffordshire University in 2012.

Joining the Labour Party and going to your first meeting can sometimes be a daunting experience, especially for younger members. It was just a few months after the party’s defeat in 2010, I walked into a meeting at the Burton Caribbean Club for the first time and not knowing a single person – what have I let myself in for I thought?

One of the first people to introduce themselves to me was Councillor Ron Clarke, who served on the Borough Council and was also a former union rep from the car industry. I remember him putting me on the spot in the meeting asking what I thought the Labour Party should do for young people – stumbling to get my words out because of my nerves, I said something about “Votes at 16” being important.

The next event I went to was the Constituency Party’s Christmas Party, where I was reunited with my old ICT teacher Julian Mott, who again like Ron served on the Borough Council. There I also met County Councillor Peter Davies, who’s nursery I attended I think from around the age of three or four.

I talk about Peter, Ron (both in now in their late 70s) and Julian (in his mid-60s) fondly because without them three I probably wouldn’t be where I am now – working as a Communications and Campaigns Assistant to a Labour MP and Shadow Minister.

Not living at university and coming from an area that didn’t have a specific group for young labour members meant I didn’t have the same access as some do to Young Labour or Labour Students groups. But that didn’t matter because of the way I was welcomed into my local constituency party. I didn’t feel like I was missing out by not going to events like the Young Labour Conference in 2013 and other events for young members because I had my party friends in Burton.

This coming May both Julian and Peter, will draw a close on their time in local politics with them both stepping down from their respective council positions. Ron, also now a County Councillor isn’t stepping down but who knows how long he will decide to continue on for.

The reason I wanted to write this piece was to say thank you to each of them. In many ways the three of them have become like mentors to me, who have given me the best political education a young party member could have asked for and putting me in good stead for what I do now as a job.

Ron, I’d often have a drink with at the Pub and from him learnt the important lessons of “playing the political game”. “It’s not what you do but it’s the way you do it” was another of his line.

Julian who taught me the skills of becoming an effective political organiser – teaching me how to use programmes like the Party’s Contact Creator system and how to operate a RISO machine without wanting to throw something at it.

And finally Peter, who educated me about all the different mechanics of how local government operated and told me about the work he was doing on various council committees. He also held the best fish and chip suppers.

At the end of 2013 I left Burton for Blackpool to do what I do now, working for a Labour MP. A couple of weeks after the election in 2015 I returned home for the weekend, still on a high from the election success I had enjoyed as the Campaign Coordinator for the Labour Party in Blackpool South.

I met with Ron, Peter and Julian at a local curry house, and whilst they didn’t get the results they wanted in Burton, it was good to chat with them about the last five years and reflect on the influence they had made on me – from when I first joined as a shy young party member to what I am now doing.

So when Julian and Peter step down later this year, and also whenever Ron chooses to I will be very sad. But at the same time I will also be extremely thankful to these three party stalwarts for their mentoring and friendship and making me the person I am today.

Andrew Bettridge

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