Politics 'addict' Joe Otten on why he wants to be Liberal Democrat mayor of South Yorkshire
Having previously owned a software engineering business, he tells The Yorkshire Post that there was always an itch to be scratched at the back of his mind.
“I couldn’t really get away from this obsession of mine, an addiction,” he says.
“I’ve been on the council now for 11 years – I do still do a little bit of software – but really my focus is on working for my community, representing the people.”
He describes his initiation into politics as “certainly organic”, having initially been a member of another party, before he found a home with the Lib Dems nearly 20 years ago.
“I was always kind of a bit of a political obsessive,” he explains.
“I was a member of the Green Party for 10 years, I joined when I was 18 or something like that.
“But I kind of fell out with it, because I found I didn’t agree with the philosophy of it.
“I felt like it was cherry-picking at the science rather than accepting the science on environmental issues, and their attitudes to policies like trade – international trade is really important, and they were just against it, and that’s crazy.”
He suggests the Green opinions on the European Union – something the Lib Dems have strongly supported for many years – were also a point of contention.
“I found the whole thing quite frustrating,” he adds. “I found myself disagreeing with them so much.”
Party colleagues would joke that he would be better suited to the Liberal Democrats and Mr Otten reflects on thinking at the time they were “having a go”.
“But actually, looking back, it was quite sincere at times.
“So I think I ended up in the right place.”
Mr Otten took “six or seven” years out before ending up with the Lib Dems around 2005, and landing his spot as a councillor in 2011, six years later.
Having first stood for election more than a decade ago, the long-serving councillor is more than familiar with his local Dore and Totley patch and the needs of the community and the challenges that come with public office.
He is aware of the area’s privilege – “one of the most wealthy parts of Sheffield and therefore of South Yorkshire”.
But he says that the problems some in the area face are the same as those that many households across South Yorkshire are facing.
“We have a strong local community, local institutions. We have a lot of people who are in need and using food banks.
“People who say Dore and Totley is an extreme – it is an extreme in some ways, but it’s the same as everywhere else in other ways, so I like to remind people of that. “
Of course, it is quite the jump from holding local to regional office – if successful Mr Otten would go from representing a community of thousands to hundreds of thousands immediately.
However, he thinks that he “wouldn’t stand if I didn’t think I’d be ready for it”
He added “I am under no illusions about how much work it is.”
Dan Jarvis has held the role since its inception in 2018, with the Lib Dems coming third behind the Conservatives last time around, but Mr Otten thinks his party offer a
viable alternative to the Labour status quo.
Mr Otten told this newspaper: “I think that South Yorkshire has a problem of being something like a one-party state, and it’s vitally important that people have a choice.
“And that the Labour candidates and the Labour candidates don’t feel like they can’t be challenged.
“Because the less they feel they can be challenged, the worse they’re going to do.”
“That’s why I’m passionate about campaigning for the Liberal Democrats as a better alternative and proper opposition, that can say ‘well, we can do a better job.”
If elected, one of his early focuses would be the buses: an issue that has made headlines across Yorkshire and other English regions countless times, with reports of stripped-back routes, old rickety vehicles, and unreliable timetables.
“There’s all sorts of things that you could say you want to fix about the country: the education system, the cost of living, and so on so forth, the mayors actually have some control over the buses.”
Issues such as these, which impact the every day lives of the population across South Yorkshire, are his key impetus in standing for election.
“The more local government you do, the more you see things you think you could do better and the more it
drives you to want to improve.
“I just think in South Yorkshire, we could do so much better, we could be so much stronger.
“And the failure of local political leaders to get together and agree on things like bus franchising, it’s been part of a blockage.
“I just think we need some change here.
“I really really think that we could do better and we want to do better.”