By Bobby Dean, Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Carshalton & Wallington
As an aspiring young politician, I’m supposed to be all over social media. But earlier this year, I quit it altogether. I deleted all the apps off my phone and dropped right out. I feel better for it, but now I am making a comeback - this is my effort to explain why.
Firstly, it's worth saying I understand the benefits of social media. I run my own business advising charities and digital is a big part of any campaign. Social media can make you accessible and enable you to reach a wide network of people.
But for those in politics, it can be a drag. A drag on mood. A drag on productivity. A drag on your own perception of reality.
I’m one of those people who loves meeting people face-to-face. I knock on doors in my constituency almost every day of the week. From street to street, I get to meet a random sample of people and have a conversation about what’s on their minds and what they want to be better.
The depth of the doorstep conversation means you really get a sense of what’s driving people and can tackle the grey areas in life. Online, it’s often the opposite experience. Hollow. Confrontational.
I came off social media because I felt the bad was outweighing the good. But ever since, others have reminded me of the good and encouraged me to return: I won’t get to meet everyone on the doorstep. It’s a means of keeping people up to date with all I’m doing. For some, it’s the only way they will ever hear from me.
So I knew I would return eventually, it just had to be on my terms.
It got me thinking about what sort of politician I want to be. I’m in politics because I’m fed up with it. I’m petrified of coming across as another “only here for the photo” style politician with an insincere stream of keeping up appearances posts. But it’s probably a hard thing to avoid when running for parliament is, well at least in part, about you.
I’m not quite sure how I’m going to square this circle yet. My return is tentative but I’m going to be guided by one question: “Does this feel normal?”.
I’ll probably start by posting news updates. I’ll keep encouraging those who want to engage with me to contact me directly, by email or through the office, rather than reply on socials. I’m definitely keeping the apps off my phone.
I don’t think this is the “right” or “better” way. I think everyone has to find their own way. But I understand that if I want to represent people in modern politics, I should be present not only in my community but in this virtual world we share too. I just hope I find the right balance between being a good communicator online and being myself.
Anyway, the end of the summer break feels like a good moment to be back. Football dominates my brain’s annual cycle, so for me, it’s the start of a new season… Best leave everything on the pitch!