In March Sara Scarlett, 21, unsuccessfully challenged Elaine Bagshaw for the Chairmanship of Liberal Youth, the youth wing of the Liberal Democrats. As Tory Bear reported at the time the elections descended into a bitch-fest like only youth politics can. Since losing the election Sara has been focused on her work with the think tank
Liberal Vision. Beating The Independent to it, TB got the first interview.
On what had to have been the hottest day in London for a long time, there were few things TB would liked to have done more than sit outside Gordon’s with a bottle of ice cold white and a rather attractive young lady. It became pretty clear before even the first glass was finished that Sara Scarlett is a bit of a trouble maker, though in the very best sense of the word. Every comment that broke the wishy-washy wet Liberal Democrat line was accompanied with a cheeky look that said she knew exactly what the impact of her words would be, and she didn’t care. Starting in an obvious place, TB asked Scarlett why she would agree to talk to the Tory blogger who caused her so much grief in stirring up the Liberal Youth elections; "you don't not talk to a paper because you disagree with it's editorial line" was the blunt reply. Conversation moved quickly on to the said election. Scarlett claims she isn’t pissed off that she lost, arguing that on reflection the changes that the Liberal Youth movement needed couldn’t be implemented by a chairman in a year. It was a messy election and the whole Liberal Youth machine at one point collapsed into leak and counter brief and caused quite a headache for the Liberal Democrat HQ. One of the key moments was Scarlett’s heckle while her opponent was speaking at the Liberal Democrat Spring Forum. It was this moment that she pinpoints as where she lost the election, but cemented her reputation as a self proclaimed “political bad-ass”.
After just five minutes talking, you can’t help but wonder what this feisty, and clearly ambitious young woman is doing in the dead duck party. This proud libertarian has got in to all sorts of trouble with the Lib Dems, who despite their freedom loving veneer, can have a ruthless authoritarian streak, especially amongst the more socialist and lefty wings of the umbrella movement. It is therefore of no surprise that she seemingly doesn’t have much faith in the organisation she tried to lead. When asked what would be a good gauge of success for Liberal Youth in a years time she replied “surviving” without pause while lighting another cigarette. Though there is no love lost with the kids club, Scarlett saves most of her anger for the Cowley Street party HQ. Stressing that they are all “great guys” TB was expecting some wee dig at what Scarlett had previously described as “corporate incompetence”, but he was not expecting quite such a brutal attack; “Cowley St has misassessed [sic.] the entire nature of what a third party should be, we should be saying what the other parties can’t.” And what would Sara do if she was in charge? “Fire the whole press office” she claims they deserve 10% of the press coverage but are incapable of gaining that. “Sell Cowley Street, we're located in the most expensive property in London, when the jobs, except certain departments, could be done in Elephant and Castle.”
It's not just the ineffectual party machine that Scarlett has issue with, "Nick Clegg has been a disappointment, he's never been loud enough on the issue that made me get into politics - personal freedom." She also takes issue with the patronising attitude that the leadership has taken to it's youth wing; "Tuition fees and marijuana, that's all they think we care about. The entire youth and education vote doesn't just boil down to these two issues." Telling the kids what they should care about warranted what is fast becoming the most insulting political jibe going - "it's all very New Labour." TB couldn't help but ask how many Liberal Youth hacks practice what they preach on the pot front and he can't work out if the reply of "not enough" was a joke or not.
While the apparatchiks and sand pitters clearly couldn't handle Scarlett's bluntness and brutal honesty, she has managed to find friends and allies in the "political bad-ass" camp through the newly relaunched think tank Liberal Vision. Headed up by Mark Littlewood, who is another fan of trouble-making - to the extent he was punched by a Lib Dem MP at their conference last year, this band of libertarians are making quite a splash in Lib Dem land. While Liberal Vision are making inroads in trying to influence Lib Dem policy and shift the floundering, cracked coalition to the right, the organisation has one mammoth struggle ahead of it. TB agrees with the notion that "libertarianism is the natural conclusion of classic liberalism" that Scarlett mentioned more than twice, but whether libertarians will ever feel at home in the Liberal Democrats remains to be seen. For someone so young with a lot of energy and passion to give to politics, the decision has to be made soon of whether they want to be a big fish in a small pond or actually make an impact in a party that has the prospect of forming a government anytime soon. Scarlett was quick to dismiss the Conservatives of being any better as a nest for freedom lovers "I'll join the Conservatives when David Cameron legalises heroin... seriously though Cameron won't give civil liberties back" "Cameron and Osborne are very good on TV but they aren't reformers." Evidently not the biggest fan of DC, but then again the next generation of the Party, after twelve years of enslavement by Labour is distinctly more libertarian than those running the show today.
The conversation quickly took a turn for slightly less focused as bottle number two slipped away, but before the notebook went back in the briefcase, TB took the inevitable look to the future. Though Scarlett denies that she wants "her arse on a green bench," TB found this hard to believe. Sara Scarlett has most definitely got the political bug and she isn't going to lose it anytime soon, but what else she has is a much rarer gift - the fact she is a hack who isn't scared to break the party line and say what she really feels. She may want her "arse on a green bench" but whether the Liberal Democrats will want her is a different matter. Liberal Youth looked a gift horse in the mouth in re-electing a socialist, former Labour Student over Scarlett but that election wasn't the last the Liberal Democrats will hear of her.