Entertainer Russell Brand issued a rallying call for young people to get involved in politics. Devon teenager Felix Soper is already making a contribution to the political debate, says Jemima Laing
Felix Soper’s interest in joining the Labour Party was sparked by the power of advertising – more specifically a large hoarding for a rival political party up the road from his home in Plymouth’s Stoke Village.
A trip to parliament with his primary school a couple of years earlier, where he met the then Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton Linda Gilroy, had introduced him to the idea of politics.
But spotting the poster one day from the car on the journey home from school ahead of the 2012 local elections, it occurred to him he could contact the Labour Party to ask if they wanted to put one of their posters up in his front garden.
“I asked my mum and dad if they could find me the number to call and Sam and Philippa Davey from the local party came round and gave us a poster to put up,” he said.
He inevitably followed the ensuing election with interest and knew then that he wanted to join the Labour Party but had to wait for more than a year, until he was 14, to become a member officially.
“I joined in April last year and was invited to meet Tudor Evans and sign my membership form in the Council House,” said Felix, a pupil at Devonport High School for Boys.
Not long after that Felix was elected as Stoke ward’s youth officer and at Plymouth Labour’s annual awards ceremony last December he was presented with the young member of the year award by the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry.
“I was really grateful that people voted for me to get that award,” said Felix.
“Part of being youth officer is about getting more young people to join the party – I think it’s important for young people to have their voice heard even if they can’t vote yet. You aren’t treated like a child – your ideas and thoughts are as valid as everyone else’s.”
Felix attended his first Labour Youth conference in Bradford last month, one of only two 14-year-olds among 300 delegates under 26.
His father Sebastian says the family has been “really impressed” with Felix’s commitment since joining.
“Teenagers are notoriously difficult to get out of bed in the morning but Felix gets up every Saturday morning to canvass. He’s very serious about it.”
Felix says his age can be something of a talking point on the doorstep. “Sometimes they are a bit surprised that it’s a teenager knocking on the door but I hope they end up thinking it’s quite a good thing,” he said.
“At first I found it quite daunting to knock on strangers’ doors but it’s interesting to speak to people, whatever party they support, and find out about the issues that are worrying them.”
Prospective parliamentary candidate Luke Pollard, who is standing against Conservative MP Oliver Colvile in next year’s election, said Felix was the youngest person to join Plymouth Labour for some time.
“He’s certainly the youngest we’ve had in a generation and the youngest youth officer we’ve had for a long time,” said Luke. “I think people can be quite shocked when they see him on their doorstep – lots of people tend to think that politics is for older people – but he’s young and passionate and he’s able to convey that passion in a genuine way and it’s quite hard to close the door on a 14-year-old!
“We have a track record of welcoming young people and valuing their contribution – in fact a quarter of Plymouth Labour’s active campaigners are under 25.”
Felix is in good company – the Labour Party boasts the youngest councillor Plymouth has ever elected in the shape of Kate Taylor, who won the Devonport ward in 2012 when she was 18.
“We are finding more and more young people want to be involved since the last election, partly because of things that affect their life like the scrapping of the EMA and the trebling of tuition fees,” said Luke.
“And being part of Plymouth Labour isn’t about dull meetings – it’s very sociable and our primary focus is being seen in the community and making a real difference to where we live,” said Luke, who is soon to leave his job to focus full-time on winning the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport seat for Labour.
Felix already has the election on his mind, mainly because it is likely to coincide with his GCSEs.
“The timing couldn’t be worse but I just need to prepare enough to make sure I can be involved in campaigning but still get good results in my exams,” he said.
Felix may be familiar thanks to his career as a child actor which has seen him appear in shows like Casualty and Waking the Dead.
So does he see politics or acting dominating his future?
“I would like to go to university, hopefully to study politics or economics so I think politics will definitely be part of my life in some way,” he said. “For now I’m hoping to encourage more young people to become involved. There are decisions being made every day that affect us, that’s politics, and you’re never too young to be part of making a difference.”