I was first asked by a veteran Labour councillor to consider standing as a candidate back in 2007. “I couldn’t possibly do that – and there is no way I could go doorknocking”. End of conversation.
There was no reason for the “I couldn’t possibly” other than I had never even considered … and it was politics – what did I know about politics? Forget that I wasn’t even a member of the Labour Party, the idea of campaigning and knocking on doors really was a massive ‘no no’.
By 2010 I was politically aware – you cannot work in education and not be – and a trade union activist with University and College Union. I joined the Labour Party during the Milliband leadership contest and that was me, colours pinned to the mast.
By spring 2017 I’d been running my UCU branch for a couple of years, I’d won a national election to sit on its National Executive, I’d been a director of my local community centre and I was chairing Newcastle Parks Forum through a transition of parks delivery from local authority to third sector under a glaring, national spotlight. And yet, when neighbours asked if I’d step up for local councillor …. no.
I attended a Parliament Project event at Northumbria University, a cross-party initiative to encourage more women to become politically active. Labour MPs Chi Onwurah and Julie Elliott both gave accounts of their journey into politics and, both of them talked about local campaigning and doorknocking, about how much they both enjoyed it. I told myself then, that really I should just give it a go and if I still didn’t like it, at least I would have tried.So then obviously I did nothing. Until about six weeks later.
I was surfing Facebook on the bus home from work and I saw a post from my constituency Labour MP, Catherine Mckinnell. Catherine had raised questions in The House about Universal Credit. I was incensed. I commented that the Government were pushing people into “real Dickensian poverty”. I was so, so angry at what was happening to people in Newcastle.
By the time I arrived home I had resolved that I could not just make comment. If I wanted change, I had to take action on my words.
I bit the bullet and the very next evening I joined Catherine Mckinnell’s team campaigning and I have been active in my constituency since. The doorknocking phobia I overcame within minutes. What had I been so worried about?
Last week I was selected by the Labour Party to stand as a candidate in the Newcastle City Council elections in May for the Fawdon and West Gosforth ward. I may or may not be successful, but I know that if I hadn’t attended that Parliament Project event and, without the supportive network of women the project has generated, I wouldn’t even be in the running.