Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The secret life of Sophie Bridger, #inverclyde by-election candidate

Next couple of days are signficant occasions for two very talented young people in their 20s. Andy Murray plays Rafa Nadal in the Wimbledon semi-final on Friday. By the time he sets foot on Centre Court, though, we'll know how Sophie Bridger did in the Inverclyde by-election.

Murray and Bridger are stars in their respective fields, and, for both of them, whatever happens in the next few days, the future is full of opportunity.

I managed to catch a few minutes with Sophie this afternoon, ironically just as Murray was walking on court for his quarter final match. I didn't want to focus so much on the finer details of policy and what she could offer Inverclyde, although we did discuss that, but what it had really been like for her to find herself in the media spotlight, debating on live television with hardened politicians twice her age and frequently got the better of them. Who can forget that look she threw patronising Labour candidate Iain McKenzie as she said "Are you going to heckle me, Iain, or are you going to let me answer your question?" And then she proceeded to demolish the Labour stance on knife crime.

So, what was the secret of her debate performance?  A fair few young (and not so young) women will understand when she said "awesome shoes." It is true that the right footwear can give you confidence. If she wasn't out on the campaign trail with her sister tonight I'd have a photo to put up here. Maybe later.

She was amused by the arrival in Inverclyde of a real circus to complement the by-election media one. And of her many hours pounding the streets of the constituency, she said that there seemed to be more dogs than in Glasgow - but they were friendlier.

Sophie was  humbled by the arrival of a friend, who'd travelled over 1000 miles there and 1000 miles back on trains and overnight buses from his Summer job in Geneva just to campaign for her.

She described how she alleviated one of those frustrating moments you get in any election campaign by teaching leader Willie Rennie the concept of *facepalm*. I am shocked he didn't know already, having a teenager in his house, but never mind.

Just before she was formally selected, she went to London and met up with Jo Swinson, who is exactly the right person to listen to when you're about to face a big campaign. After they'd finished their discussions, she found herself being taken along to "Simon's party." She was surprised to find herself, not in a flat somewhere, but in the National Liberal Club where deputy leader Simon Hughes was celebrating his birthday. And not only that, but she ended up being introduced to Nick Clegg who was at the party too. She described being dragged off to meet Nick, while spotting her boyfriend whom she hadn't seen for several weeks, at the bar having a laugh with one of our MPs.

Early in the campaign, she had been told to do an interview with a local radio station. A communication cock up led her to believe it was to take place over the phone, but in fact she was expected in the studio in technically less time than there was for her to get there. She made it, just, coped with the interview and then recovered from the experience with "the largest cup of tea that can be conceived by the human mind."

She recounted how strange it was that her family at this point in time were more likely to see her on tv than in real life - and I think she enjoyed it when a complete stranger came up to her in Glasgow and wished her luck

I was kind of clamouring for more gossip, but all of a sudden she got serious with me. There have been some strange and fun moments in this campaign, and she's had some great experiences, but this isn't a game to her. She's in politics to change lives for the better.

She talked about what she would take from the campaign, how it had made her even more determined to find a way to properly tackle the inter-related issues of poverty, knife crime and drugs. It really makes her angry that young people have to leave the area because they can't find work. And when they leave, they don't expect to be back. She wants people to stay in Inverclyde, but knows that they won't, can't, without decent, long term jobs.

You can tell that the lack of opportunities in Inverclyde frustrates her and that she really wants to do something about it. These were issues which already interested her, but I got a real sense that this campaign has ignited a deep passion to change things.

Whatever happens on Friday, this is not the last we've heard of Sophie Bridger. I think it would be great to have someone of her calibre in Westminster. This is someone who's worked in a care home, is studying a psychology degree and has a long standing interest in mental health issues. She's totally people centred and has the motivation and intellect to get things done.

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