As the youngest candidate standing in Southwark, Yahaya Kiyingi is one of two contenders still living at home – epitomising the difficulties faced by today’s bright young things trying to get on the housing ladder.
But he is probably the only one who is keeping it a secret from his mum. “I didn’t want to put her through that,” said the 23-year-old, whose parents don’t think politics is a place for a Ugandan-born Camberwell man.
The young Liberal Democrat grew up in Camberwell after his family moved to the area when he was four. He started his own social enterprise at the age of sixteen and soon found that the power and the money were in other people’s hands.
“The people who made the decisions were above me. If I could make a difference to my community, I would be the one to make the decisions.”
Working in market research by day, Yahaya has also helped to set up a charity to keep young people out of crime and a borough-wide youth magazine.
“Youth services have been cut and young people are looking for places to go and there’s nowhere. Money for youth services should be ring-fenced. Unless you get young people involved you’re going to see higher crime levels and low achievement in schools.”
With so many young people not interested in politics, Yahaya says he is fighting a one-man mission in Southwark, not only to campaign for youth provision, but also to show the kids that not all politicians look the same.
“When I visit schools they’re surprised. They expect me to be a middle class old white man.
“Young people feel like so much is closed to them.”
Yahaya’s own party has been accused of damaging youth engagement in politics after the last election, when swathes of students voted for the Liberal Democrats as the only party opposing tuition fees. Once in a coalition with the Tories, the policy soon went out of the window and a generation learned an unfortunate lesson about politics.
“I didn’t make that decision and I can’t defend it.
“So many people [in the party] didn’t think that was the right thing and didn’t think we should’ve been in the coalition either. I don’t stand by every decision made by Nick Clegg. I think if you make a promise you should stick to it.”
Standing in one of the most diverse constituencies in the UK, Yahaya says it’s not only his youth which makes him a symbol of hope for the disenfranchised.
“Camberwell and Peckham has been represented by a white woman for the last 30 years. I don’t think that’s an issue but what’s important is a symbol and what it represents. To see a young black person is a symbol more than anything.”
At the last general election, Ms Harman had a 17,000-strong majority and Yahaya, who has recently moved to Barnet, is realistic about his chances.
“For me, it’s not about winning or defeating Harriet, it’s what I can offer. Speaking to young people in Peckham and Camberwell, it’s about showing them that a young black man can make it in politics. Everyone knows it’s a safe Labour seat, but I’m seeing what I can symbolise for other young people.”
Yahaya’s main focus is on young people’s issues, but housing and the regeneration of areas like Peckham town centre and the Aylesbury Estate come a close second.
“The community really needs to say where it wants to go. Does it want to remain the hub for African communities, or does it want to see it grow into what Brixton has turned into?
“The lack of housing is a problem because we haven’t built enough homes. If we’re not building houses, we’re not going to solve the housing issue,“ said the young entrepreneur, conceding that coalition government cuts over the last five years had “hit the people of Camberwell and Peckham hard.”
But he maintains the party line that “it would have been worse,” without the Lib Dems there to restrain the axe-wielding Conservatives.
“Their policies are so economically focused, we reminded them that they have a social responsibility.”
The Lib Dems are now pitching themselves as the party of the centre ground – cutting less than the Conservatives (£12billion instead of £25billion) and borrowing £70billion less than Labour.
On the issue of the Bakerloo extension, Yahaya has taken a controversial line, backing the route down the Old Kent Road, instead of through Camberwell and Peckham.
“I think both ideas are good, but the one down the Old Kent Road is more sensible. Camberwell isn’t like the Old Kent Road, you’ve still got the Northern line at Oval and Stockwell – the Old Kent Road has absolutely nothing.”
Asked how he thinks the voters of Camberwell and Peckham would feel about that, he sticks to his young guns, saying: “If I had to choose, I think I would have to choose the Old Kent Road, because there’s absolutely no access other than by bus or car.”
With an air of determination, the young pretender reflects on the reason he is standing, saying: “Deep down I guess I’m doing this because I’ve been told I can’t.” Just don’t tell his mum.