Because I’m mentally, spiritually and, increasingly, physically about 85 and therefore laughably out of touch, I hadn’t realised Shelly Asquith was already up for re-election as NUS Welfare Vice-President.
I first became aware of Shelly when she was president of the student union of the University of the Arts in London, and already one of the country’s most prominent radical young campaigners.
There, while still managing to be active in everything from Palestinian solidarity to LGBTIQ rights campaigns, she was at the forefront of the fight for free education, and against austerity’s devastating impact on our schools, colleges and universities.
Unsurprisingly, given her flabbergasting work ethic and popularity with students, she went on to be elected Welfare VP – where she’s launched offensives on rip-off landlords, cuts to already-threadbare mental health provision, and become one of the strongest voices against the absurdity of the government’s PREVENT agenda (basic premise, let’s stop the radicalisation of young British Muslims by victimising and alienating young British Muslims, while clamping down on any political or ideological resistance to the marauding neoliberal status quo).
Most valuably, she’s continued to stand for the sort of practical, non-denominational, environmentally-engaged radical socialism that’s been in desperately short supply for decades. If there’s a strike, she’s supporting it. Name a government-perpetrated injustice, and she’s written, spoken, or campaigned on it.
Shelly’s one of those people who makes you think radical change in your lifetime might not be some sort of starry-eyed pipe dream after all. I’ve never even met her, and she’s had a big impact on my politics.
Believe it or not, I’m about her age, albeit significantly grumpier – and she was one of the principal figures who made me realise that far from all being the shallow, apathetic, hyper-consumerist drones I’d written them all off as, my generation might well be the most political since the ’80s, or maybe even the ’60s (in fact, it’s a long-held ambition to go and interview her, as the kick-off to a bigger project where I travel round and talk to young socialists about the current left-wing resurgence – alas, wage labour keeps getting in the way).
What’s more, when I’ve floated off into thinking and writing about impending climate catastrophe and suffering in forgotten parts of the world, she and her twitter feed are very good at bringing me back to the fact that in the here and now we’re still being trampled by the objectively worst government in British history.
Her drive, determination and fearlessness when it comes to taking on the rich and powerful is incredible – but when the chips are down, it’s her seemingly inexhaustible optimism that I think I, and I bet a lot of others, appreciate the most.
Endorsements from ridiculously obscure left-wing bloggers are hardly the most sought-after in British politics, but on the off-chance anyone young enough to have a vote happens across my strange website, I say vote Shelly for VP Welfare – I would if I could.