The day after a bruising election debate attended almost exclusively by hard-line socialists, Tom Booker, UKIP candidate for Mosborough, was shocked when asked why it seemed like he’d pledged that his party would nationalise the country’s gas.
“I never made pledges,” he explains. “All I said was that it might be a good idea. Do I agree with them? F**k no! But that’s what that audience wanted to have and I thought it’s Labour’s turn to get stick tonight, I don’t want to make things worse for myself.
“I was all over the place,” he admits, swilling a pint of lager around. But how did a 21-year-old law student, who should probably be focussing on his final exams next month, end up standing for Sheffield City Council?
“There aren’t enough people in our Sheffield branch that are willing to stand as a candidate. Too many people in our branch are very happy to support us, very happy to come to meetings, but it takes something else.
“It does take quite a lot of confidence to say: ‘I’m going to stand on the party line, I’m going to stand with that party rosette on. It does take a lot of conviction and I thought if people don’t want to do it that’s fine, I’ll do it.”
Booker, originally from Peterborough, is one of a small group of Sheffield students standing for fringe parties in Thursday’s local council elections, driven by discontent with the centrist triopoly of the main parties.
This feeling unites Booker with a man whose politics he would otherwise be diametrically opposed to. Chaz Lockcett will represent the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition in Walkley, and laughs loudly when asked if he’d ever consider standing for Labour, the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives.
“Not in a million years,” he says after regaining his composure and brushing his moustache, which was dishevelled in the guffaw.
He should probably not be running a campaign, given that he still has to hand in two dissertations for his degree in history and politics, but he said he’s enjoying campaigning.
A relative veteran, he stood for election last year, aged just 19. He reckons the 102 votes he chalked up then can be improved upon this year, partly because this year he won’t be up against the Socialist Equality Party, which split the radical left vote. Originally from Derbyshire, he says that there’s little chance of doing breaking much electoral ground on Thursday -“200 or 250 votes would be absolutely stellar”. But he insists that his party is engaging in the first steps of a movement to re-align British politics.
Pointing to a groundswell in radical disaffection with the status quo, he says: “The occupy movement, I think, has been very positive. Those kinds of movements draw in people who haven’t been involved in activism. We’ve had 30 years of neo-liberalism and New Labour.
“It’s really pushed people away from politics because they think that politics is the same three, main political parties who will always do, no matter what way you vote, the same thing.
“This is barely even the first step. There’s a real gap that exists in British politics and if it isn’t filled by the organised left it’ll be filled by the right. It’ll be filled by fascists and people who provide easy, racist answers to the legitimate grievances that working class people have.”
And UKIP’s similarly anti-establishment Booker would be keen to avoid accusations that those right-wing parties Lockett alludes to might include his own, taking a much less truculent view on immigration than the party’s leader, Nigel Farage. And he would certainly dismiss claims that UKIP are just a more respectable version of the BNP.
“Anybody with a sound mind- who actually has thoughts in their brain- could not and should not be backing or supporting a party like that. I disagree with pretty much every one of their policies. I’ve read their manifesto, and it’s disgusting,” he says.
“I’m a classic liberal. I’m somebody that believes that governments are there to provide defence, for administration. I do see a need for a National Health Service, but I believe in a rolled back state, a less interfering state, a state that treats humans as individuals with intelligence.”
And there are some pages in his party’s national manifesto which he finds “unpalatable”, including their stance against same-sex marriage- a disagreement fuelled partly, he admits, by his own bisexuality.
He and Lockett probably won’t be seen at the same campaign meetings, and might have different ideas on government spending, but they are united by more than just a common university. They are both fully-committed members of a young generation which is tired of the current political situation bequeathed them by their elders and, whatever happens at Friday’s count, hope to make big changes.
As Booker puts it: “I think there’s a problem, certainly in the three main parties. We have careerists, who want to be in the party so that they can be someone, not to do something. That’s the reason I joined politics. I sat back and I thought things are going wrong around me. I can’t sit here and do nothing. I have to be doing something.
“If I can achieve something tiny, but something which makes a difference to society as a whole, then I can look back at my life and I can say that I’ve done something that I can be proud of. And that’s why I’m in politics.”