After his father’s death, Jack Sargeant decided to take his place in the National Assembly for Wales. Writing for The Big Issue, Jack Sargeant explains why and what’s next.
In November 2017, my family and the community of Alyn and Deeside was rocked by the sudden death of my Dad, the ex-Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary, Carl Sargeant.
In the immediate aftermath and during the by-election that followed, I vowed to repay our special community for their support and love. I also pledged to continue to build on Dad’s hard work and dedication in delivering for the constituency that he loved.
In February, I was elected Wales’ youngest-ever Member of the National Assembly. It was a by-election that should never have taken place, but it gave my family and me, as well as the local community, an opportunity to bring a glimmer of light and hope during the darkest of times.
In my first speech as AM, I paid tribute to my Dad and outlined my vision for the future. I also used it as an opportunity to make clear that in addition to my work as an Assembly Member, I will be working to ensure the QC-led inquiry examines the way in which my Dad was treated in the run up to his death.
In many ways Dad was not your ‘normal’ politician either.
Before being elected, I was an apprentice-trained research and development engineer. With my passion for manufacturing, engineering and innovation, some might say I am not your ‘normal’ politician. However, with that real-life experience, I believe I can offer real-life solutions to the many issues we face.
In many ways Dad was not your ‘normal’ politician either. He never had an opportunity to validate his academic intelligence with a university degree. He worked as an industrial firefighter at a local chemical factory and DJed on the weekend!
Dad had a great record in Government. He introduced and took through the most pieces of legislation in Wales. From the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 – he was a leading figure in delivering ground-breaking pieces of law.
That was due to Dad’s commitment and passion for a better Wales – a passion he took from his real-life experiences in the community that he grew up in. He saw first-hand the poverty and social issues; the levels of domestic abuse; alcoholism and mental breakdown. A lot of these issues were caused in no small part by the closure of Shotton Steelworks in Deeside in the 1980s – at the time, it was the biggest industrial redundancy on a single day in Western Europe.
My Dad held many positions in the Welsh Government, including a Cabinet post with responsibility for Housing. He was also interested in understanding why people had become homeless in the first place. He wanted to focus on prevention, rather than cure.
I remember him passionately telling me that he wanted to focus his efforts on eradicating homelessness
Dad outlined a series of policy documents which focused on ensuring our public services understand and respond to the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) many homeless people faced as they were growing up.
I remember him passionately telling me that he wanted to focus his efforts on eradicating homelessness, rough sleeping and supporting those vulnerably housed – sadly, he didn’t have enough time to do so.
In early October, Dad took to the streets of Cardiff with his friend and Assembly colleague, Bethan Sayed AM. They stood in solidarity and proudly sold The Big Issue. He had mixed feelings from the experience. On the one hand, he was frustrated by how difficult it was to engage and sell copies of the paper, but was also encouraged by the kindness of strangers who did buy a copy and stopped to have a chat.
Dad was never a bystander. He would never walk past someone sleeping rough without speaking to them – he wanted to reassure them that they were not alone. He believed we are all equal. That never changed despite holding many prestigious positions in Government. He passionately argued that we all deserve every opportunity that the world has to offer.
The political arena can be an unforgiving place. Very rarely does it take into account the impact on people’s mental health. There are thousands if not millions of people who need kindness – to heal their wounds from the past; to get a chance to build a new life; to focus on what they can give back to their community.
Contrast that sense of kindness to being tough. The need to apparently be tough on crime and welfare. We should actually strive to have a more ‘human’ response to these issues. It would help us be more effective in solving many of the issues that people face and make a significant contribution in creating the kinder politics which I have advocated since arriving at the Welsh Assembly.