Research and Representation: Sturry’s (second) youngest ever councillor

MA student Harry McKenzie has balanced his studies alongside political activism throughout his degree, as former Chair of Kent Labour Society and Social Media Officer for Canterbury Labour Party. This culminated in his recent election as a Canterbury City Councillor on May 4th, 2023. He blogs about it here.

‘What a historic day it was! After 18 years of Conservative leadership in the Canterbury City Council, the verdict was in and they were out! This coincided with fantastic results for Labour as we doubled our seat count from nine to 18; delivering a Labour-led council, along with the Liberal Democrats. Luckily for me, I was among the nine incoming Labour councillors, representing Sturry ward.

It was an ecstatic moment for many in Westgate Hall on May 5th when mine and my running mate, Keji Moses’, results were called. Following the verdict by Sturry residents the day before, we were declared to represent that ward of Sturry for the next four years in a hugely unexpected result. Sturry had for a long time been a Conservative-held ward, one of our Tory opponents was even the incumbent Sheriff of Canterbury, but not any longer!

We spent hours upon hours watching official counters count slip after slip of paper, with precious votes written on them, and it wasn’t until late afternoon that the results for Sturry could finally be called. I won by a landslide, with 783 votes, 125 more than the second-placed candidate. Unfortunately, Keji was not so lucky… at first, the result came back that the second councillor in Sturry, being a two-councillor ward, would be a Conservative, by a margin of around 11 votes. However, we were thankfully able to demand re-counts and on the third one we heard Keji had got over the line by two votes, so was also duly elected.

During the election campaign in Canterbury, for reasons unknown, we heard that nobody had seen Conservative candidates and activists knocking on doors or hand-delivering leaflets. This included in my ward of Sturry where it seemed, as reflected by resident testimonies, that myself and Keji were the only two candidates who were meeting with voters to introduce ourselves and ask them what we could do for them. We started our campaign in March and spent two long months knocking on doors and delivering leaflets; we weren’t going to take anything for granted!

The workload was a double whammy for me since I am still a student, studying an MA in Sociology at the University of Kent. While I had committed to regular election campaigning, I was also attending lectures and seminars, writing essays, and doing dissertation research.

‘you are not too young for politics, you are welcome in politics, and your views are valid regardless of your age’

As a local councillor, you do get paid, not alot, but what you do get is a golden opportunity that not many people get: the opportunity to change things and help people. That is the reason why people should become politicians and it is definitely why I became a politician. There is little more fulfilling than knowing you are doing something important that people desperately want and need and that will make their lives better.

Where it all started: Harry in his role as Chair of Kent Labour Students.

I felt that when I spoke to developers on a house building site to demand more regulations to prevent plumes of dust from smothering nearby gardens. I felt that when I approached Sturry Kings Football Club with a strategy to get them funding for a new football pitch. I felt that when I assured residents that I would liaise with the Kent County Council to request more traffic calming measures to make the roads safer in Sturry.

However, it is important to point out that I did none of this alone. Not only has Keji been by my side the whole time as the fellow councillor for the ward but we also had a brilliant team of local activists who knocked on doors and delivered leaflets for us throughout the campaign, many of them also University of Kent students, and we thank them all. That team was headed by a very devoted ward organiser called Mike Holman who worked himself to the bone to organise our campaigns and get myself and Keji elected – thank you, Mike!

I love that I am the second-youngest councillor at the age of 23 (tragically beaten in the race to be the youngest councillor by 6 days!) and I have been elected while still a student. This shows that politics is not only for settled adults and older people, as too many people assume. Young people, like me and you, do belong in politics! The myth that young people are too inexperienced, unwelcome, or uninterested in politics is debunked and it brings me pride that I can exemplify that.

If there is one message I want you to take away from this, its this: you are not too young for politics, you are welcome in politics, and your views are valid regardless of your age – we need more young people in politics who are prepared to do the good service-centred work to make other people’s lives better and make a difference, so please, get involved with politics, join me and let’s deliver for our community together!’

Harry McKenzie is currently completing an MA in Sociology.

View Harry and Keji’s councillor profiles.