University is the place for people to explore different political ideologies and for many, establish loyalties to a particular political party that will influence their politics for the rest of their lives. Be it the Labour party (which continues to garner the majority of student support), the Conservatives, the Lib Dems or smaller political parties, it would seem that to be political, one has to also be partisan. But what if none of them speak to you? Can you still be a political person without rallying behind May, Corbyn or their peers? I argue that yes, you can. As a politics student in my final year of study, this sense of a political no man’s land is something that used to bother me. Surely I had to find myself sitting in one camp or another to truly be a politically engaged individual.
With this in mind, I found myself flirting with the various political parties represented here at Lancaster and felt disconnected from every party. If I liked one thing about a particular party, I also found myself struggling to fully commit to a different aspect of their politics. Even after attending meetings of one of the campus parties for a few months, I wasn’t really feeling a connection between the party and my own personal politics. It is true that I could easily have maintained my own beliefs while joining a party, but what was the benefit of joining something that I couldn’t see myself in? This failure to connect with the world of political parties felt like a personal failure in a lot of ways. I thought that I was almost failing myself by not picking a side.
I fell out of love with the idea of being a political person. It took me a while to remind myself that politics doesn’t equate to partisan participation, I knew that there were some parties that I connected to more than others. More importantly, I knew that this was okay. If anything, testing the waters of the political parties and knowing that my own politics found itself elsewhere just made me more political. I found myself more opinionated and passionate about societal issues as opposed to the minutiae of policy that our politicians deal with. Social activism doesn’t need to be attached to anything but people, organisations aren’t a necessary ingredient in inspiring social change. Perhaps they could even hinder it, looking at the current Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia issues that have cropped up in the Labour and Conservative parties respectively.
In the words of the Second Wave Feminist, Carol Hanisch, the personal is political. Our very presence in social spaces makes us participate in politics in one way or another. By participating in public life, we are partially agreeing to how society is structured, and when we criticise the status quo, we are acting in politics. For people of minority communities of all kinds, simply pushing forward and progressing in life is arguably a political act. Through this realisation of the political existing not only in the houses and institutions of governance, but in everyday life, I reconciled my disenchantment with party membership. This isn’t to say that it isn’t important to have a diverse and open collection of political parties, engaging with politics on all levels is important. Connecting to a political party can be a rewarding and valuable path to truly engaging in politics, but it is not essential. According to some sociologists, this version of politics might even be becoming more common among millenials both here and in the US, who are growing tired of traditional politics on all sides of the political spectrum.
I think we should still engage with political parties and see if any are the right fit for us. You never know, you might find the perfect party for you. However if you’re like me, you might be one of the growing number of people who are deeply and passionately political but don’t feel the need to join a party to do that. The personal is truly political, and so are you.