Councillor of the week: Tom Bletsoe
18-year-old Tom Bletsoe is not your average Cambridgeshire student. Following his victory in the safe Conservative ward of St Ives earlier this month, the independent candidate became the UK’s youngest ever councillor.
He is also the first 18-year-old to win a seat without the support of a local constituency party. Bletsoe told Total Politics that: “at a local level, party support doesn’t come into it much”.
He went on: “People are more interested in the passion coming from the candidate; being around talking to people. These aren’t party political issues.”
Bletsoe, who attended his local comprehensive school, said he has “never” been involved with any national party. The councillor was sponsored by the Independent Network after signing up to the Bell Principles, which regulate the conduct of the group’s affiliated candidates.
He told Total Politics that he would pursue a fiercely local agenda, “making sure there are things for young people to do”, and acting on the responses to a “town plan” survey sent out to residents last November.
He also listed transport as a top priority, reminding listeners that he “had to rely on public transport” as he “can’t drive”, in common with many in his age group.
Bletsoe still sees a role for large parties and their manifestoes at “a national level, to get things done”. But his council is proof, he suggests, that independents work well: 10 of 16 members stood successfully on unaffiliated platforms at this election.
Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that just 0.4% of UK residents have tried their hand at becoming a local councillor, with only 7% of 16-25 year olds are “participating in civic activism” compared to 13% of 65-74 year olds.
But perhaps all that is set to change, as unwieldy party monoliths struggle to compete with local independents. As Tamsin Omond, national coordinator of the Independent Network, said after the St Ives’ election: “We anticipate more successes like Tom’s.”