Yanis is a Politics and International Relations student at UCL. He is interested in both British and global politics, with a particular focus on transnational corporations. He is currently a member of the TfL Youth Panel and the Mayor’s Fund for London Youth Board. He is also the Vice-President of the UCL United Nations Association where he works on promoting engagement with the UN and its SDGs.  

I recently joined Patchworkers from the ‘Political Fish’ cohort in a Masterclass with Vidhya Alakeson, the Director of External Relations at Keir Starmer’s office. Interestingly, the Masterclass was held at Labour HQ in the very room used by the Shadow Cabinet. This meant we were fully immersed in the dynamics of the party, with the building featuring paintings of past leaders, party slogans, press areas, meeting rooms, podiums and an impressive number of electronic door-locking systems. As we settled down, Vidhya began unfolding the chapters of her career journey with an openness that was both insightful and grounding.

A Journey Through Different Worlds

We started by diving into the early stages of her career, where she was immersed in the world of think tanks. She shared with us the creative joy of developing ideas for change during this period. As her narrative progressed, we traversed continents, touching upon her time in the US government, before bringing us back home to her roles in mission-driven organisations.

It was enlightening to hear about her time at Power to Change, a charity focusing on transforming lives in the most impoverished communities. Here, Vidhya experienced the direct impact of her efforts, something she greatly cherishes. As she moved to her current role within the Labour Party, there seemed to be a vital take-away from working at the heart of politics – these political platforms are needed in achieving social change, despite the occasional frustrations that accompany them.

A Day in the Office: Connecting Worlds

We then discussed the role’s daily routine and its position as the intersection between the Labour Party and external stakeholders. Whilst I remarked that a large part of the working day was devoted to meetings, I was impressed by the strategic political thinking that shined across every single one of the decisions regarding whom to meet and why.

Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Politicos

As we neared the end of our session, we received generous advice aimed at those nurturing political ambitions. Building trust and forging meaningful relationships emerged as vital themes in the guidance, elements deemed crucial for a successful career in politics. With a note of encouragement, aspiring politicians from underrepresented backgrounds were also urged to not to give up despite the challenges that might appear on their journeys.

Closing Remarks

As we wrapped up our time with Vidhya Alakeson, it was clear that her words had struck a chord with many of us. Her realistic yet optimistic insights presented a balanced view of the political landscape, leaving me with food for thought and a positive experience. My main takeaway, however, perhaps came from the exposure to a person who is also from a minority ethnic background and operates in a setting such as electoral politics with an ethos that combines drive, resilience, honesty, and warmth in a way that I have not seen before.

Yanis Fekar, 2023 Masterclass Programme Participant