Our very own AA Public Affairs Executive, Mark Johnson stood as a candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Ilford North at the General Election on December 12 2019. In a toughly fought contest against the incumbent Wes Streeting of the Labour Party, Mark came a very respectable third place. In this interview, he looks back on the contest and its highlights and looks ahead to what the future might hold for him in his political career.
I’ve long held the view that society is fundamentally unfair for so many people and believe we can do more to celebrate diversity and assist those who need a helping hand. University helped me realise that I was a liberal and I took a job working for a Lib Dem MP after I graduated. I decided to move away from working in politics earlier this year, which has been incredibly refreshing, allowing me to take on new challenges and learn more about the private sector. However, it turns out I couldn’t keep myself away from politics completely! A few people encouraged me to go through the candidate approval process and I’ve always sought to find the best ways to promote the values I believe in, which, in this case, I felt was done best as a Parliamentary Candidate. Being involved in politics in my spare time, as opposed to my professional life, has been brilliant and has allowed me to enjoy it again.
- What was the scariest thing about standing?
Public speaking! This was something I hadn’t done for a few years and speaking in three hustings debates on live radio and in front of audiences of 150+ people was nerve racking. The second hustings debate was held by the Jewish Leadership Council at Redbridge Jewish Community Centre the day after the Chief Rabbi had publicly made remarks about antisemitism problems in the Labour Party. Given the incumbent MP was from the Labour Party, the debate was particularly vociferous but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
- What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from the experience for yourself?
I doubted myself at various points, but I learnt that I can speak in front of large audiences and give a reasonable account of myself and the values that I believe in in the process!
- What’s the most important lesson to bring back into the work we do here at the AA?
I always had realistic ambitions standing as a Lib Dem in a seat which the party have never won, but we set out reasonable goals and drafted a six-week plan which set out how we thought we could achieve them. We stuck to the plan and managed to get the result we had hoped for, which was to maintain a strong third (out of six parties); increase our vote share, which we did from 1,000 votes in 2017 to 2,600; and keep our deposit.
I’m very pleased that our result was the best any Lib Dem has achieved in the constituency since 2010 and making a plan and sticking to it helped us reach these very modest goals. I think that planning in this way is important when carrying out any major project. This is a perspective I hope to bring back to my work at the AA.
- What does your political future hold? Will you stand again?
My first post-election ambition has been to catch up on sleep! The experience was certainly challenging; balancing a full time job with being a Parliamentary Candidate whilst still trying to maintain the social life of a 25-year-old living in London. However, I did thoroughly enjoy the experience and would definitely do it again if I thought I could make a difference.