An Interview with Charlotte Earl | The West Midlands Regional Chair for Conservative Young Women.
I sat down with Charlotte to discuss her recent campaign to become a County Councillor in Leamington Spa and hear her views on a variety of issues facing students today.
Q: Do you think you could tell us who you are and what you’re currently getting up to?
I’m Charlotte Earl and I’m a second year Politics and International Studies student at the University of Warwick. I’ve been active in the Conservative party since 2015, initially as an activist, but I’ve slowly become more involved in the voluntary party structure. I’m the Regional Chair for Conservative Young Women in the West Midlands and I’ve been involved in various branches throughout where I have lived.
In regard to university politics, I’ve been elected as a member of an SU committee, as the internal affairs officer within the Conservative Association, and I’m one of the university’s delegates for the National Union Students conference.
I recently ran for Societies Officer where I came in second place. However, now that this is over, I’m turning my attention to running as a County Councillor in Leamington Spa; a marginal ward where the conservatives lost by 53 votes in 2017.
Q: Someone running as a County Councillor at your age isn’t something that happens every day – this must be very exciting for you. How are you currently preparing for this?
The big change this election has been phone canvasing. I had a massive script with lots of numbers to get through of people in the division I’m standing in… And I’m going to be honest, I don’t really enjoy it. However, it’s been the only way that we can feasibly reach voters over the last few months. It’s been quite the culture shock for many people, particularly as the majority of those that we work with or are trying to contact are from an older generation who are less used to using digital tools, let alone this complex online system that we have to try and coordinate phone calls.
Other than that, it really feels like we haven’t been doing much. Due to the restrictions in place, we haven’t been able to campaign as usual. Outside of phone calls and a few leaflets through doors I’m a little limited in what I can do. However, we’re hoping that if restrictions ease over the next few weeks that we can make up for lost time.
Q: Are there any key policies that you’re running on for this position?
The three main issues that I’ve discovered from speaking to residents, colleagues, and through my own observations are: speeding and general road safety, maintaining and investing green spaces, and focusing on the cleanliness of the area.
Schooling is another important issue when it comes to being a County Councillor. However, within my division there are just three private schools, which operate independently within the area, so education won’t be something that takes up a vast amount of my time. Although, as somebody who has volunteered in schools and outreach programs, I’m keen to get involved with the schools in Leamington, even if it isn’t within my particular patch.
Q: On the subject of education, the Conservative party have recently announced plans for a governmental role to ensure freedom of speech and expression is not stifled on university campuses. As someone currently at university, who is active within the political conversation, what are your thoughts on this matter?
Back in the winter of 2019, an IDF colonel came to talk to the Jewish/Israeli society on campus and it received quite a bit of backlash; in which there ended up being an occupation of the student’s union. I was personally at this talk. I thought he was a brilliant speaker and I’m glad that the university allowed the society to bring him onto campus.
I fully believe in the right of the people that were protesting to protest, but I think that to try and block him from coming onto campus and preventing this unique perspective from being heard was wrong.
I think where I draw the line at, in terms of bringing external speakers onto campus, is when they are brought solely for the purpose of annoying people. You should be bringing a speaker who may have controversial ideas to hear a new perspective and not just to piss people off.
I do think that the government taking this stance to promote free speech is a step in the right direction. Whether it is needed or not… Talking about a lack of free speech on campus has become a buzz word to criticise the higher education sector and brand it left wing, which it undoubtedly is… There is a massive left-wing bias within academia, but I don’t think your average student who says something that could be interpreted as controversial is going to face massive consequences. There are occasions when cancel culture steps in and that’s when I think there need to be protections, however, the claim that there is a free speech crisis could be exaggerated slightly.
Q: Just going back to your point about not bringing speakers who might ‘annoy’ people… That’s a pretty difficult policy to put into place isn’t it? Where do you draw the line? Anything could ‘annoy’ someone, so where are you going to make the separation between a ‘freedom of speech candidate’ and an ‘annoyance candidate’?
So, I don’t think I made myself completely clear on that. I have no gripes with a speaker who annoys some people to come and speak. I fully believe that if they can provide a unique perspective, even if that perspective will annoy people, that this shouldn’t stop them from coming onto campus.
What I think is quite immature, is when people have no intention of bringing that speaker to hear that unique perspective, they are only inviting them for the sole purpose of annoying people. If you’re going to invite someone who people are going to protest at, just because you want people to protest, that is not doing it for the right reasons.
Q: Are there any examples you can think of when a group/person was invited for the purpose of annoying others?
Someone pledged in an election, for Warwick Politics Society, to try and bring Tommy Robinson onto campus… I don’t think that their intentions were to hear his perspective on the current state of global politics. But obviously I don’t know their true intentions…
Q: Well, that’s what I was just about to add… Tommy Robinson has got quite a significant following. We’re all aware that he’s said and done controversial things but that following isn’t simply the result of the controversy surrounding him. He has spoken on matters that a number of people believe are reasonable. Don’t you think it’s a bit condescending to say that the only reason someone might invite him is to cause offense… After all, he does have things to say.
Yeah, I agree. Ultimately, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head and proved me wrong in the sense that we can’t exactly tell what people’s motivations are and an invite for Tommy Robinson would have probably created one of the best debates on campus that Warwick has seen in a long time; even though his views are despicable on a lot of matters. But we still have to accept that there will be people that will try and get a protest and attention rather than for genuine free speech purposes.
Q: Aside from free speech, I would be interested to hear what you think are the other big issues that students are facing today?
I think one of the key issues has been the loneliness that people have experienced this year. The first lockdown was a struggle for many, but people got through it due to the optimism they had of going back to university in September. But as lockdown came back, eased off, and then came back again, loneliness just became such a massive issue.
There are so many students who, nearly a year on from the start of the pandemic, are still struggling. Yes, you can say that universities could be doing more to offer therapy and wellbeing services, but we just need this lockdown to end so that people can get out there and cure, as I see it, a loneliness pandemic.
Secondly, I think the cost of living is a real issue right now. With the shutdown of the hospitality industry over the last year, which are massive employers of students and young people, it hasn’t allowed them to earn the money that they need to afford university and they have had to look for alternative jobs where there simply aren’t any. It too hasn’t helped that people are paying for rooms that they aren’t living in.
While I’m personally against any rent strikes but universities should be doing more to support students who are in dire straits or wavering rent for on campus students who aren’t living in their accommodation.
Q: We’re currently seeing a divide both within the Conservative party and the general public on what should be done in regard to handling the pandemic and the use of lockdowns. What’s your perspective on this situation?
On a personal and selfish level I want nothing more than to get out now, I really am just screaming for freedom. There is so much more that the government could have done to support students throughout this pandemic. People have been hoping and praying that there would be some form of announcement that would reach out to us… Especially when the new lockdown came in and people were stranded at university and were unsure whether they could go home or not – it was all very uncertain and confusing for those in that situation.
Although very few people tend to focus on the student community throughout all of this, I do think that we have had it quite hard, despite insistences from some people that we are just cracking on, having a great time, breaking the rules, and causing chaos. No, I think that most students have been stuck at home and just praying that they can get back to university.
In terms of the way I think the government have handled lockdown overall, I’m just going to be honest and say that I’m angry about some things. Mistakes have been made… At some point were all going to realise how many people have died from this pandemic, not from coronavirus but because of the effects of lockdown. I think that more could have been done to make sure that people didn’t get left behind.
However, I give my praises to both the governments initial response and the vaccine rollout – these have been amazing. At the start of this incident, we were in a period of immense uncertainty… Despite criticisms that the government’s actions were inhuman and heard immunity was immoral, I think that history will judge their actions kindly and look back to our vaccine rollout as by far the best in the world.
Q: One of the great political travesties about this entire situation is that there doesn’t appear to be an effective opposition that can combat some of the poor decisions that have been made throughout this pandemic. We have 73 Conservative backbenchers putting up a fight but aside from this there is nothing and no one… Just Starmer’s ‘we should have done it two weeks earlier’. We’re not exactly faced with much of an alternative or choice in this matter, are we?
Yes, I think that Keir Starmer has been absolutely terrible as Labour’s leader, he really has been weak on everything. As much as I am a Conservative and have a lot of faith in the Conservative government, I do think that Labour, as her majesties opposition, could have held the government to account on a lot of things which it just hasn’t done.
Above being a Conservative I am someone that has an interest in politics and improving this country. While I don’t want Labour to win elections, I fully believe in the good that a strong opposition can have… And there just hasn’t been one over the last few months.
It is quite pathetic how his [Starmer’s] style of opposition is to call for policies that the government have already been planning. He’s not coming with his own ideas or holding the government to account… It’s acting really. I think that the country will see this when it comes to the next election, they haven’t managed to move on from the failure of previous leaders despite Starmer being seen as a reform candidate to move away from the days of Corbyn they are still just a bit weak and pathetic.
Q: Students and graduates are largely living with their parents, they don’t have a stable job, they don’t have any savings, and life is rolling by. The stages that our parents were hitting back when they were our age are no longer being met… This is becoming quite the worry for many students – do they have a future that they can look forward to? Do you think anything is going to change on that front?
I’m absolutely terrified as well.
I don’t think there is going to be much change… I sadly think it’s only going to get much worse. We really haven’t felt the full financial and economic effects of the pandemic yet. If you look at the statistics, we are set for a recession on par or worse than the one in 2008.
Hopefully, when we can open up again in the spring and summer, there can be some kind of renewed economic growth, but I think that the type of industries that are going to benefit aren’t the ones that typical graduates are going to be looking for jobs in.
I think it really is a sad state of affairs. It comes back to what I said about the government forgetting about students… They might just be studying now but what are they going to do when they graduate?
I really hope that we don’t have a generation of talented graduates living with their parents. I hope that people can start getting on the property ladder, jobs, and savings… but it seems impossible right now.