James Giles is a 19-year-old independent parliamentary candidate, looking to become a Member of Parliament by winning the Kingston and Surbiton seat next month.
Giles has campaigned in this constituency for the past five years, going from a secondary school student to, potentially, an MP in just over two weeks’ time.
The Kingston and Surbiton seat is currently held by the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader Sir Ed Davey. Davey was kicked out of his seat by the Conservative Party’s James Berry in 2015, but won it back two years later in the 2017 election.
With all the major parties tussling and battling for each seat, James Giles is aiming to focus on his constituents if he wins on December 12.
Here’s my interview with the candidate who could make history on election day if the result goes in his favour:
When did you first start taking an interest in politics? And what made you want to go into public service?
I first experienced politics sitting in front of the television in 2010, watching the three party leaders of the day, in essence, have a go at each other on television. But I first took an interest in politics in 2014, when the local post office was threatened with closure (we saved it, by the way!), and then again in 2015 when the Council wanted to close down half the borough’s youth centres.
From a young age, my mum taught me that if you can help someone, then you should. And I think that mantra has raised me a campaigner and fighter! For me, it’s all about the exact phrase you’ve used — public service. Serving the people — the people who pay MPs’ wages!
What work have you already done in the Kingston and Surbiton area after campaigning for the last five years?
I’ve touched on this briefly in my first answer, but I like to think I’ve made a difference over the last half of a decade. In 2014, we saved New Malden’s Post Office. In 2016, we saved one of the borough’s two swimming pools, the Malden Centre, as well as the Fountain Roundabout.
In 2019, I led a fight to stop a £360 tax hike for residents who have parking permits — we won that too. I was born and raised with a single mother in an overcrowded council flat, on the poverty line. I like to think that my local record here in Kingston shows that the power of ordinary people can always trump the rich and elite. We didn’t have big bucks but have made a huge difference in the last five years.
If you were to become a Member of Parliament, what would be your main priorities locally in your constituency?
Where to start! We’re crying out for some good representation. Priority number one is certainly more police for Kingston. Met Police data shows Kingston has the worst police response times in London. I will fight for more police on the beat, and reverse damaging Lib Dem and Tory cuts.
I’m also a hospital governor — and we need to stand up for the NHS. Kingston Hospital’s urgent care has been downgraded, leaving local people waiting longer for their care. I will fight to upgrade Kingston Hospital’s facilities — and as a hospital governor, I have the knowledge to take the campaign to Parliament.
Priority number three is supporting our local schools and young people — Kingston’s schools have a £5.7m shortfall in 2020. We need urgent action to reverse school cuts and give our children the future and education they deserve. Amongst other things, such as supporting small businesses and ensuring good taxpayer value, these are my top three issues in Kingston.
A high proportion of people will be voting based on their attitudes towards the EU. What is your stance on Brexit as an independent candidate?
This is always an interesting conversation on the doorstep. I think we must respect, insofar as we can, Kingston and Surbiton’s vote to remain in the EU (61.6 per cent against 38.4 per cent was the result in 2016), but, ultimately, we must respect the national result which the government of the day promised to abide by.
With this in mind, talking to local businesses in particular, they tell me that they want certainty on what comes next. In Parliament, I will oppose any form of ‘Hard Brexit’ — which would see us leave the EU on WTO terms, which does NOT provide the certainty businesses are looking for — but support a deal.
I hope that you’ll agree that this balances the local desire with the national vote, and is a fair compromise … although Brexit is a divisive issue!
What do you have that candidates of parties like the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats don’t? And what would you say to constituents in Kingston and Surbiton who are planning to vote for a specific party?
I have no ulterior motive — and no-one pulling the strings behind me. I’m free to stand up for Kingston and Surbiton without any party line or whip. I’m of the belief that Kingston needs a fresh start, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this change can’t be provided by any national party — who will always serve their party before their constituency. As an Independent, I will be the voice of Kingston and Surbiton in Westminster, not the voice of Westminster in Kingston and Surbiton.
Ultimately, to anyone who is planning to vote for a specific party; firstly, thank you for exercising your right to vote. That’s really important. But my one plea would be to think carefully about who will stand up for our local area. Without wanting to drop anyone in it, the Labour candidate lives in Southwark, and the Conservative candidate is a councillor in Barnes, Richmond. Not exactly Kingston upon Thames!
What are your long-term aims for the future? To create and lead a party? To remain independent? Or to work in a different area of politics?
For me, politics is about representing people; it shouldn’t be a career path for people to choose. In the long-term, apart from serving my local area, I hope to go into the field of journalism or public relations … but don’t have any plan to join a national party anytime soon, I can assure you of that!
You can support James and his aim of becoming Kingston and Surbiton’s Member of Parliament by following the link here.