Looked at holistically, she says, they’re all part of one job: the work experience. She calls them “taking part stages” that help to form her political judgement and give her issues to campaign with. On the other hand, her political connections allow her to step up as a champion for each of the sectors she’s worked in, and bring the most pressing matters to the attention of her party colleagues by way of personalised letters (see sidebar).
The idea is so self-evident, the first
question ought to be, why aren’t
all politicians doing this? How
did you first come up with the
notion of stepping into the shoes
of a worker for a
I want to put these jobs at centre stage, to show them off to people, let them see what’s good and bad about the jobs. For my selection, the main inspiration was: what do I not know about? My parents spent years in the food service industry, so I know perfectly well how that works. I chose jobs where I don’t have any experience, but certainly admiration for those who do it. And I also chose Genk as my field of action, and that’s linked to the local elections. In another town the choice might have been different.
Your opponents will accuse you of
running a campaign stunt to get
attention for yourself and your
list, and win votes.
No, it isn’t a stunt. I want to carry on doing this even after the elections. I did this more in order to give some shape to my thoughts about what this city needs. This is the best training for politics you could have: down in the trenches with your feet in the mud, and living with the people.
I could have done it differently, and gone in as a politician on an official visit, but then you’d get a different picture, with everything cleaned up for your arrival and the spokesperson giving the official version of the story. Whereas this way I get the chance to talk to bosses and workers who just tell it like it is. They complain about certain issues, and of course you get to see things for yourself.
That’s another part of the reason I’m doing it, and part of the reason for the choices I made (to work as nurse, kindergarten teacher and behind the counter in a baker’s shop): because I have respect for those people, and because it’s hard work. The baker who faces huge competition from multi-national chains, or the employment office where you see that some people really don’t want to work while others are begging for a job. You get a fuller picture of what the situation is really like.
What sort of lessons
have you learned?
The most important lesson is that everybody ought to be doing this. I’m thinking mainly of politicians, and especially the ones who are based in Brussels and have little or no local base. It would be great if a hospital surgeon spent a day in a kindergarten classroom, for example. Why on earth not? That sort of thing broadens your horizon. A lot of people spend their whole lives in their own little pigeon-hole. I’ve learned much more on a day like this than I ever learned on a study day organised by the party. For that reason alone it’s worthwhile.
For each individual stage I’ve tried to articulate the lessons I learned in the letters I wrote to politicians. It’s just a matter of me saying what I think in as positive a way as possible, while still being critical. I was pretty outraged when I spent a day in special education. Those teachers are under constant pressure to provide a safe learning environment for children with all sorts of psychological and behavioural problems, and they do a great job, but the infrastructure they’re forced to work in was awful, and I think that kind of thing needs to be said.
Politics for me up to now has been an unpaid occupation. Most of my colleagues are paid professionals, in the senate or the chamber or the Flemish parliament, in Brussels mostly. So I think as a self-employed person who makes her living elsewhere, I already have a different point of view from those who are in politics full time. I’ve often noticed, while sitting in meetings with them, that I have the point of view of an outsider, even before I started with these stages. I’m not saying they’re cut off from the world - that wouldn’t be fair - but I believe it’s important to have a viewpoint from outside politics.