Meet the UoB third year running to be an actual MP in Birmingham
‘I’ll finish my dissertation over Christmas then hit the ground running’
Here's something to make your 1pm wake up calls and complaining over a 1500 word close reading seem pathetic: a third year University of Birmingham student is currently in the running to become an actual Member of Parliament.
Politics student Alex Nettle is not like any other ruddy-faced politico or bumbling Marxist in a 9am seminar, and not just because he's known to wear a fabulous Harry Styles-esque lace shirt to UoB Port and Policy meetings. He's on a mission to become the first Green MP elected in Ladywood, all whilst smashing through his dissertation.
And how is he juggling that? "With difficulty, but I'm just about managing," he tells me as we sit down.
In 2017, Labour's Shabana Mahmood won Birmingham Ladywood with 34,166 votes. The Greens got 533. As the climate crisis seeps into every area of student life – from XR marches to universities declaring climate emergencies – all Alex has to do is win over another 80 per cent of the Ladywood electorate, and the seat's his.
Splitting his days between politics and uni work, Alex comes down to the Library lounge to talk. If he overcomes those odds to get elected, he reckons he can just about manage. "By Christmas I’ll have my term one stuff out the way, I’ll have the Christmas holiday to maybe ignore my family and finish my dissertation, and then hit the ground running in January and hopefully finish bits off," he says.
"It would be a struggle, and I might not have much free time, but I reckon I can just about do it!"
Originally from a town near Bath, Alex began studying Politics (naturally) at Birmingham in 2017. But his political journey began before then, back in primary school, on a trip to the Houses of Parliament.
"I saw Gordon Brown, Prime Minister at the time, walk past in a hurry, and I remember being struck by how grey his hair looked, and how tired he looked, and it made me realise, that’s a very intense job," he says.
"But it kinda got me interested in the kind of issues around it."
Alex wasn't, however, your run-of-the-mill Youth Parliament aspiring politician type, he was motivated by environmental protest á la Extinction Rebellion, and met Natalie Bennet, then Leader of the Greens in 2014, when he realised "I’d already known I was interested in environmental issues, but I hadn’t made the link to the political party politics arena." Since then, Alex has run for Council, and was last year elected onto the Young Greens Executive Committee.
We talk about Extinction Rebellion, who Alex describes as "fantastic", and tells me "I like to think of the Green Party as the political wing of the XR movement."
"XR and Youth Strike for Climate have been instrumental in changing the debate, and I think we’re ready to pick that up in a political arena context. And we already have at a local and European level, and I think we need more Green MPs to take that message into parliament."
Uni hasn't been all politics for Alex, though, his band, Harico, are releasing their new EP next month, with tour beginning right before the election. They performed at ValeFest this year, and have supported Little Comets. He laughs when he tells me his plans to make it from tour venue to party meetings.
So how does Alex plan to balance Westminster and Selly Oak? He's turning to the experts: "the first thing I would go and do is speak to Mhiari Black, the SNP MP who got elected whilst still doing her degree, and say 'How the hell did you manage?!'". Alex doesn't seem overly phased, however, surreally allocating dissertation time and politics time.
Alex assures me the Greens have plans beyond the environment, "The main issues that students are particularly passionate about are things like the climate crisis: we’re the generation that are going to have to live with the effects of that, and The Green Party is the only party that has the plans that actually take us to Net Zero by 2030.
"But I think it’s also recognising the other issues that young people go through: the tuition fees, the debt that we’re saddled with. The Green Party will scrap tuition fees and wipe off the debt of previous students who have picked up debt. We also understand the issues around housing: the housing crisis is severe at the moment, we want to build 100,000 affordable houses every year".
I ask Alex if he really thinks we can expect to see a Green Prime Minister in our lifetimes. "I hope so! I think it will be necessary, I think it is necessary now obviously, and this election should be the climate election."
"We’ve see it in the Green Wave we talk about across Europe: in Austria there’s a Green president at the moment, so it’s clear in other countries that Greens can be at the top. In Germany Greens have been topping the polls some of the time over the last few months."
"I think the biggest obstacle to us getting that Green Prime Minister is our electoral system: First Past the Post really harms smaller parties, and it means people don’t feel able to vote for the parties that they actually believe in."
We turn to talking about proportional representation and the Make Votes Matter cause, which we have both been involved with. With tactical voting funnelling all left-leaning students into a Labour or Liberal Democrat haze, the Greens are sadly being left high and dry. I tell Alex people who would love to vote Green, but fear it is a 'wasted vote'.
"To use an example that might not be very popular with students, UKIP in 2015 got a huge number of votes, but that didn’t reflect in the number of seats, but look how far they’ve come in terms of shifting the debate.
"I think that your vote can be really powerful, even if it doesn’t result in getting MPs elected, because it says that 'this many people care about these issues'."
We part on these words: "Vote for what you believe in, that’s the most important thing. I think any other vote is a wasted vote." And then he's off to a gig.