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The councillor talks to Vada about the government’s treatment of trans people, LGBTQ+ allyship and how he’s on a mission to serve his local constituents in Liverpool.
When Carl Cashman was at school, he hated bullying. It was a sense of fighting against injustice and giving a voice to those who didn’t have one, that would blossom into a passion for politics. Some years later, at the age of 18, Cashman would stumble upon the Liberal Democrats manifesto for the 2010 general election and an attraction between him and the party would form. Today, aged 31, speaking to me from Liverpool over video call, I can understand why Councillor Cashman is being hailed as a Liberal Democrat secret weapon in Merseyside.
As the former Knowsley Council Lib Dem leader, Cashman took on an even bigger challenge earlier this year when he stood to lead the party in Liverpool. He won the vote, succeeding Richard Kemp, who has been in politics longer than Cashman has been alive. Yet perhaps it was a breath of youthful air that Liverpool City Council needed from its next Liberal Democrat leader.
On the surface, Cashman is not your typical politician. Although he would later remind me that politics and politicians are changing, pointing out the increasing number of young people standing for election and taking an active role in politics; one of whom is Cashman’s partner, Rebecca Turner. Nevertheless, I don’t know of many politicians who go to the gym four times a week and post workout snaps on their social media.
For our interview, there’s not a pair of gym shorts in sight. Instead, Cashman is wearing a flattering grey jumper, thin rim glasses and a cheeky grin. His tattoo slides out from under his left sleeve, as he picks up his dog Richie, who is pottering under his desk. These are all things that make him relatable to his constituents, and have earned him the support of younger voters and a growing LGBTQ+ fan base.
Cashman will be the first to say that nobody expected him to be a Lib Dem. His background, he tells me, raised on a Merseyside council estate, means that most people would assume he would be a Labour supporter.
When I ask Cashman what specifically drew him towards the Liberal Democrats, he brings up his grandmother. “She didn’t have much and I always viewed the world through that lens, seeing how unfair things can be,” he recalls. “The Lib Dem’s outlook is that everyone should be afforded the same opportunity, regardless of whether they’re from a wealthy background or a poor background. And that’s what makes me a liberal, essentially, is that everyone should have the same life opportunities or the opportunity to make their life better regardless of their upbringing.”
These values are what motivated him to study politics and philosophy at the University of Liverpool. Upon graduating and as his career in local politics began to take off, Cashman worked as a mortgage broker, a role which he says allowed him to help others fulfil their dreams of owning their own home.
While he believes that everyone should be afforded equal opportunities, not everyone is of the same opinion. In the current political climate, I mention, being liberal is far from easy. “I think the government is trying to use the current political environment to their advantage. And what that normally means is that you end up picking on those that are disadvantaged,” he says, referring to the treatment of LGBTQ+ people and other minority groups.
In his view, the government’s strategy is “being anti-woke”, which is resulting in minority groups feeling the brunt of the hatred being stirred up within local communities and on social media. As for what he makes of the Prime Minister: “If Rishi Sunak wants to be remembered for the man who stood against the tide of history, then let him. I’m willing and able to stand on my principles. He’ll go out, look back and end up regretting it.”
Speaking of party leaders, I ask Cashman about Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey. Is he a fan? “I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t vote for Ed in the leadership election,” he replies. “But he’s really impressed me as a leader over the last few years. And I think he’s been very brave and bold on issues such as trans rights and other issues as well.” The Lib Dem leader has previously spoken out against the discrimination faced by trans people in society, as well as publicly condemning Rishi Sunak for his comments about trans people.
Cashman also appreciates how Davey doesn’t take himself too seriously. Earlier this year, the Liberal Democrats launched their local election campaign with its party leader driving a tractor through a ‘blue wall’ of hay bales. “I always love it when I see a Lib Dem riding through bales of hay on a tractor. That’s always a nice sight to see!” he laughs. “I love how Ed’s adopted how cheesy that is, and the media have just lapped it up.”
When it comes to issues that Cashman feels strongly about, Brexit was something that he campaigned against. At the time, he was labelled by the Liverpool Echo as ‘Britain’s hottest campaigner against Brexit.’ Yet despite his efforts, the country voted to leave the European Union. Speaking seven years after the vote on Brexit, and three years since the UK left the EU, I wonder if he considers Brexit as a mistake? “Oh, yes. Massively,” he replies. “You only have to look at the price of food in your local supermarket, or how difficult it is to get certain items from abroad, or how much more difficult it is to travel. I just think it’s been a massive, massive mistake, and a lot of people are realising that now.”
Cashman’s grandparents voted to leave the EU; a decision which he could not believe at the time. Speaking to me today, he rationalises the pro-Brexit voters in that age bracket as wanting to regain some political power. In his view, the only political choices that his grandparents’ generation would have were between Labour and the Conservatives. “Your choices were the least worst option,” he says of the pingpong between Labour and Tory governments. “Whereas with Brexit, I think a lot of people who didn’t necessarily believe in the project of leaving the European Union actually thought, this is my chance to give the government a good kicking.”
Some people argue that Brexit divided the country, I venture. Does Cashman feel that the current political landscape is divisive? “One hundred percent,” he says. “And I think this is the biggest issue in politics today. Things are just so polarised, there’s no room for nuanced positions anymore.” He mentions facing abuse on social media for taking a stand on certain issues, which overshadows the possibility of him replying to “reasonable queries” online.
In addition to the UK’s relationship with the European Union, LGBTQ+ people have also found themselves in the middle of several so-called political debates recently. When I ask Cashman if he considers himself to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, he says that it is important for him to support queer people, due to the ongoing discrimination they face. “It really makes me sad that there are still people out there now that don’t feel that they can be themselves, because of other people’s opinions,” he replies.
Cashman adds that as a Liberal Democrat, it is important for him that LGBTQ+ people are able to live their lives openly and authentically. Within his local community, he is focused on supporting queer people in Merseyside. Cashman attends Pride in Liverpool, snapped at this year’s parade sporting a rainbow Hawaiian lei necklace. But for him, his support of the LGBTQ+ community is a year-round focus.
Recently, whilst Liverpool hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, a local bar had homophobic slurs sprayed on its walls. Cashman deployed his deputy leaders to visit the bar’s owner and offer their support. “The fact that still happens today is completely wrong,” he says of the abuse. “We offered our support to the owner and raised the issue to the local council to try to get further support for him.”
Putting politics to one side, I begin by asking Cashman about his growing public profile, and how it feels when the press focus on his age. “I see it as a bit of a secret weapon,” he smiles, before praising young people who are politically engaged. “When you don’t have young people in politics, you have the same ideas that get very stale, and we have this stagnation of progress in my opinion. You need a mix of ages, genders and people from all sorts of communities to make politics interesting and a really vibrant place.”
And when it comes to comments on his looks, I venture, how does he feel about that? “I always think it’s not something that should really be involved in politics, but they always say that politics is show business for people who didn’t quite make it into showbiz,” he laughs. The 17.9 thousand instagram followers that are treated to pics of Cashman’s physique, be it at the gym or on a beach holiday, may argue that Cashman still has time to pivot into modelling. “Well, maybe that’s the case for me, I couldn’t make it as a model, so I went into politics.”
Cashman says he finds the attention mostly flattering. In person, the comments about his appearance come from older women. “Usually after we’ve had a little chat,” he adds. Online, the attention is mostly from queer men. Cashman says he takes it in his stride and the online comments are, on the whole, complementary. “Sometimes the comments do get a bit vulgar, and that’s the part that I do try to avoid if possible.”
But despite his playful posts, Cashman is focused and comfortable in tackling the serious issues in his local community. When I broach the idea of Cashman coming down to Westminster as an MP, he says his main focus right now is on local politics. “When you’re a councillor and a council leader, you can really transform local people’s lives,” he says. “I see my mission right now to cultivate people around the city of Liverpool. That means getting young people, the LGBTQ+ community, women, minority groups involved and getting them interested in the Liberal Democrats. Not only so that they vote for us, but to the point where they’re standing for us in elections.”
Councillor Carl Cashman is leader of the Liberal Democrats Group on Liverpool City Council and represent Church ward in Wavertree.