Ed Carlisle cycled down to our rendezvous point on Wellington Street, shook my hand and
led me to the office of the charity where he works where the interview was to take place.
He isn’t a politician as such, which perversely might actually be of benefit for a career in
politics in today’s tumultuous times. Here is a good example. Last November he cycled round his community with 150 posters entitled “Missing”, with pictures of the ward councillors underneath.
“It was a piss-take”, he tells me. “I don’t think they are bad people, but they are utterly
complacent and utterly out of touch and live far away in North Leeds. It wasn’t done in an aggressive
style – it was kind of playful.”
Ed came to Leeds in the mid-nineties and fell in love with the city from day one, however it was towards the end of last year that he decided that he wanted to “stir up something”.
He is now standing as a councillor in the City and Hunslet ward. The ward has some 20,000 potential voters, but the turnout is generally amongst the lowest in the country (something Ed describes as an “opportunity”). “I can appreciate why people don’t vote because, at a local level, the councillors are so uninspiring, yet in all the years I’ve been here there has been very little alternative option. Very few parties run active campaigns.”
“I feel like I’ve got an itch about wanting to re-think and reboot politics and what really good
local politics could look like. I can’t imagine what good national politics would look like.”
Ed doesn’t describe himself as party political, but stumbled into running as the ward’s Green Party candidate. He initially asked them not to run in this ward as he felt they would be competing for too many of the same voters. They agreed, but instead pulling back their candidate, who wasn’t planning on running an active campaign anyway, they asked Ed to run as the Green Party candidate.
“I know lots of people in other parties who I work with and I’ll continue to work with and will continue to work with irrespective of whether I get elected, but I continue to be impressed by the Green Party.”
“What I like about their national manifesto is that it’s really bold, rather than fighting over the middle ground. As a society we’re in the shit and if the Green Party can create a pathway to do things differently – to do economics and society differently – then that has to be welcomed into the political debate.”
This grand level of politics isn’t where Ed is at right now. He is primarily a local politician – a “steward or facilitator” to the public, and he has plenty of ideas to improve the local area on his community manifesto which is on his website and is “based on the collective wisdom of the community”.
He talked to me, as an example, of improving the stairwell between Leeds Train Station and Bishopgate Street, and making better use of the derelict buildings scattered around the city. Cosmetic improvements can go a long way towards improving the image of city. Leeds is a city barely recognisable from just a few decades ago, with glass-clad apartment blocks cloning themselves annually. Ed thinks we play it safe and points to the ‘Brickman’ sculpture that was shelved by the council – a project by Antony Gormley that would have been similar in stature to the iconic and well-received Angel of the North in Newcastle.
“The political world has lost sight of creativity and innovation. Leeds plays it safe, but I’d love to support more community arts.”
Ed says that he is running an innovative and more relational campaign. “I’m really interested in chaos theory,” he says. “If things become too ordered or too chaotic they can become degenerative. I’m really enjoying meeting people in the community and the good chaos that comes from that.”
He is clearly focused on putting the power back into the community. Whether we like it or not, communities are going to have to fill some of the voids left by austerity – but Ed’s passion brings out the potential positivity in this. He says that his career in politics will continue whatever the results of the elections on May 7.
“I feel like we could win, but I also feel like we could easily not win, but we’re learning a lot and having a laugh. And I’d quite like to shake things up a bit!”