Epsom and Ewell's youngest councillor speaks out
A shy student from a disadvantaged background has just celebrated his first year as a local councillor.
Dan Stevens made history last May by becoming Epsom and Ewell’s youngest-ever councillor aged just 20.
The Labour representative for Court ward described the past year juggling constituency casework and council meetings with studying politics at the University of Surrey as "a steep learning curve".
And he is no longer embarassed about his age.
He said: "During my election campaign, my age was one of things that put me off knocking on doors because I didn’t want people thinking that essentially a kid was trying to dictate how they should be living their lives.
"After being elected, I thought if I made a mistake, that straight-away people would point to my age, but no-one’s mentioned that at all."
While his fellow students are kicking back or or out on the town, Coun Stevens is usually working to improve the lives of his fellow residents.
He modestly describes it as " a balancing act occasionally involving a lack of sleep like any other student" - but would not have it any other way. Politics has always been his passion, ignited by a strong belief in social mobility and desire for each individual to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
He said: "It’s nice to make a difference. I have always lived in the ward I represent and, in official terms, I come from a disadvantaged background so I’m very conscious about climbing out of that and making sure others don’t have the same experiences growing up.
"If someone had said to me when I was a kid that I would go to university I would probably have laughed at them.
"In my ward, one in five kids live on the poverty line which in 2012 is just unacceptable."
Councillor Stevens said his highlights of the year include being involved in the important issues, old and new, of the area - including the Epsom Guardian’s campaign to bring Dignity to the Dead at Horton Cemetery, and the re-development of the shopping parade on Hollymoor Lane - which he has visited "since I was old enough to walk there" - into family housing. Of his council duties, he said he has learnt exactly what can and cannot be achieved: "The last thing I would ever want is to get people’s hopes up to help them when I can’t. If I can, I will go after it and give it everything."
On a personal note, he said, the year has been character-building and that making his first speech in the council chamber in February was a massive challenge.
He says: "It was nerve-wracking. I’m not the best public speaker, I’m quite shy, but I did it and it was nice afterwards when many of the councillors came up to me and congratulated me on it.
"I’m growing in confidence - I can go out and knock on people’s doors and talk to them without feeling nervous which a couple of years ago wouldn’t have happened."
A former pupil of Epsom Primary and Blenheim High Schools, Councillor Stevens is a prime example of his belief that more young people are engaged with politics than is stereotypically claimed.
He said: "If you look at the reaction to the tuition fees’ increase, young people are affected and many are involved in young political associations. It is harder than ever to get a job working for an MP because so many people have decided to go down that route. Engagement is an issue for all ages."
Having had a flavour for national politics while working in the Treasury’s communications team in 2009-10, he says he is not yet sure where his political career will take him, believing that being an MP is not the only way to make a difference to people’s lives.
"Epsom and Surrey, as a whole, is my home. The political landscape isn’t particularly in Labour’s favour and I don’t agree with people being parachuted into seats," he said.
"If I were ever to go into national politics I want to have experience of different things to back me up because otherwise you can’t really understand the people you’re representing.
"One of the issues I want to explore is the military. My brother completed two tours of Afghanistan in the army, and I’m interested in the great organisations we have in the area, and particularly want to publicise the mental health issues which soldiers suffer." An avid AFC Wimbledon fan, Councillor Stevens said he has just applied for a season ticket but is "not very sporty" himself. He enjoys music concerts and reading, but says there is only one hobby which really comes to mind.
"There’s not a lot to me to be honest - I mainly just talk about politics," he said laughing.