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What it’s like to work in politics — as a mayor and in European Parliament

Alex Phillips is the Green Party MEP (member of European Parliament) for the South East, the mayor of Brighton and Hove, and a Green councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council.

Brexit. Climate change. The housing crisis – it can seem like we’re surrounded by bad news. 

But there are positive things happening; the UK recently voted for the most ever Green Party MEPs, and in Brussels we’re fighting for a better future.

I joined the Greens back in 2003, after New Labour under Tony Blair dragged Britain into the Iraq war. I wanted to be part of a Party that stood up for the rights of ordinary people and had a strong sense of social justice. 

What does working in politics involve?

My job now means that I can help bring about real change for my region on a wider scale. Engaging with constituents face-to-face and listening to people is still the highlight of what I do, and I also love travelling around the region: meeting new people and seeing new places. 

Being part of Europe has always been important to me. 

Alex Phillips MEP

I studied at the University of London Institute in Paris, where I read French Studies. I speak French to my baby. And now, as an MEP for the South East, I’m constantly dashing between Brussels, Strasbourg and Brighton – where I’m also the Mayor.

Every day is different

My jobs, as you might imagine, involve juggling a lot of different projects at the same time! I might be opening a youth centre in Brighton one day and be voting on a piece of EU employment law the next. But the hardest thing about that is having to leave my 21-month-old baby each week. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m doing all of this for him and his generation.

I sit on three committees in the European Parliament, involving employment, the environment and women’s rights, and much of my work is focused around something called the Green New Deal. That’s a set of goals created to tackle the climate crisis by putting social justice at the heart of it. It will create secure, well paid jobs by investing in renewable energies and energy efficiency measures. This will contribute towards tackling the climate crisis while simultaneously tackling inequality. We’ve never needed something like this so desperately before.

Becoming an MEP

It’s taken me 12 years to become an MEP. Before now, I’ve been a secondary school languages teacher, worked for a health charity and worked in the private sector – so quite a variety of roles. But I’ve also been a councillor for the last decade so have enjoyed being involved in front-line politics for quite a while now.

My advice for anyone who might be considering a career in politics would be: don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young, the wrong colour or gender, not bright enough, or that it’s too difficult.

Diversity in politics

We desperately need more diverse representation in politics – so believe in yourself. You can and will do it.

The UK is in a current state of crisis. Brexit has divided our communities, inequalities are rising and we are feeling the impacts of the climate crisis. The problem is that our politics has been pale, stale and male since the dawn of time. Would we be in the current state of chaos had there been a more diverse group of politicians in place? Probably not. 

In order for things to really change, we need fresh ideas from all sectors of society – and that means young people getting involved. Just look at Extinction Rebellion; Greta Thunberg is just 15 and has got more people talking about the climate than any adult. She proved you can create change, regardless of age or experience. 

If I could go back and tell my teenage self one thing, it would be not to worry so much about what people think of me. You have to celebrate being who you are.

Read more: How I got a job on the BBC Politics Show

Bex Bastable
Bex Bastable
Bex is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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