Being a political mum – thoughts on Pregnant Then Elected

Having attended the Pregnant Than Elected event a week ago, I wanted to share my reflections on the night and my experience having recently become a councillor in Lincoln. I understand so many of the barriers or fears women have about getting involved in politics, and these are things that resonate with me and I can give you first-hand account of. It’s easy to hear horror stories, but there is very little about the positives or what you can bring to the table – of which there are many.

Who is the @Wizard_of_Loz?

Here’s the thing about me – I had no connection in the traditional sense to ‘politics’ at all other than an interest and a passion to stop moaning and try and do something to make it better.

I am not steeped in history of being involved in trade unions. I was not, at the start of my journey, a member of a party. I didn’t know a single person in the Labour Party when I joined and I certainly didn’t have any family members who were involved. I don’t have a degree in politics, and if I’m honest I still don’t have a clue when it comes to the process of bills in Parliament, but yet that hasn’t held me back one bit! You do NOT need a political link to get involved in politics.

Will links help in the long run? Yes of course, but there is no way that this should be seen as a barrier to stop you getting started in the first place. All you need is a passion for change (and comfortable shoes to campaign in).

We want realness

The whole “I just don’t look/act/appear like a politician” fear, along with the “I don’t know enough” is something that holds many back. For starters – have you seen me? We need to stop with this idea that you need to make your face fit political life, when in fact we should be making political life fit your face!

People always talk at length about apathy when it comes to politics and focus on the young. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The most disengaged are women just like me – friends, work colleagues, the mums at the school gates, the parents I talk at canvassing. Everyone seems to believe this idea that you have to ‘know politics’, like you need some kind of political understanding for your voice to count. We never question what politics actually is, and it all boils down to issues rather than political structure.

Politics in your town or city is about the day-to-day: the closing of that SureStart centre, the lack of children’s play parks, having a safe road to cross to get to school. It’s the struggles you face, be it childcare, a work-life balance or paying your bills, keeping a roof over your head, feeling safe when you walk the streets, having accessible car parks to get your pram out of and that dangerous fly tipping at the end of the street that no one seems to care about. Nobody knows this lived experience better than you!

So why are we so happy to continue to believe that so many of our elected politicians, who quite often never have and never will have to deal with the impacts of these issues, will have more of a right to be there and make decisions than you do? We will continue to feed into this narrative if we stay back and allow people who are so removed from our lives be the ones that make the choices that impact them.

What politics needs – especially at the moment – is ‘realness’, and there is nothing more real than being seen trying to coax your toddler to stop acting up with a bag of chocolate buttons whilst handing out your election material. Because trust me – we have all been there. More voters will think “actually, she’s just like me” than wonder about whether you have a degree in politics or not.

Having a thick skin

Let’s talk about having a thick skin. It comes up time and time again. The narrative is you must be tough and that you can’t make it without confidence. I believe all this does is feed into that sense of imposter syndrome, and keeps people away from getting involved.

Yes, there are trolls. Yes, you can often face people who are not the nicest, and yes, you may sometimes have to speak in public, but I certainly feel like I’m living proof that you can make it without having thick skin as a shield.

I will let you into a secret – I am NOT as confident as I portray. I’ve had nights where I’ve cried all night about comments on the internet and nights where I am crippled with self-doubt over my appearance. I can be emotive and emotional, and yet I still got myself elected, despite the fact I still don’t like walking into meetings on my own, and the idea of making a phone call petrifies me. You just end up muddling through like everyone else in life. Trust me – you got this!

Once again, I have to highlight the importance of not letting any of your ‘shortcomings’ hold you back. Let your passion for change drive you through the tears. Build a network of people around you who will act like your thick skin, who will support you and applaud your successes and be there to give you a big old hug during your lows.

Remember self-care – I liked the comments from many of the panelists who suggested switching off your phone, muting/blocking comments, taking a break from social media, having a bath or drinking some wine. Don’t forget you are a mother and you deal with crises on what can feel like a day-to-day basis, and you make it through. Parents are built to be resilient. Apply that to politics and you will achieve almost anything.

Mum guilt

The late meetings, the missing school plays, in some cases the putting your child in the spotlight. I think we can all honestly say that mum guilt is just a thing that we all face, and it isn’t just something from politics.

What many people don’t talk about is the positives you can find from being a parent in politics. I was a new mum who moved to a new city. I didn’t have any real friends and I suffered from postnatal anxiety. Being involved in politics frankly got me out of the house!

Me and Arabella love nothing more than being out together in our community delivering leaflets. You make friends and you get support. Suddenly you find rather than being stuck in the house, you and your child get out for some fresh air whilst you deliver those leaflets and talk to residents. There are plenty of family-friendly social events that you can all be involved in. Being involved in politics made a huge difference in making me feel less lonely. I have made some lifelong friends and a brilliant supportive network around me. It’s not all bad, I promise – in fact, it’s actually rather good.

Actual barriers

Childcare and money are two big barriers, and I won’t make out that this isn’t really the case.

I am incredibly luckily to have a very supportive council and local party who make things pretty easy for me. I’ve been known to bring my little girl to meetings, and she’s always welcome at every campaign event we have ever been to together. I know this isn’t always the case, but again until we have more parents in political positions our practical needs just won’t be important enough to be met.

Most councils do not offer maternity leave and the cost of running for a Parliamentary seat would put any off giving it a shot, never mind someone who has parental responsibilities. The fact is should someone like me ever decide to try and get elected at Parliament level, I wouldn’t be able to afford to do so. So, the more women we have stepping forward, the more support we have for getting ‘real people’ elected, the easier we can make that path for others. Change won’t ever come without people who challenge the status quo.

Concluding thoughts

My best advice for starting out is – just do things that you’re interested in. Be that joining a political party, a group or campaign group/ community project. Don’t feel like to get involved you have to nail your mast to a political colour.

If you do some research, you will find a lot of groups will play a part in shaping decisions for where you live. These can be neighbourhood boards or community groups. All will benefit from your voice.

Don’t always think of the negativity when it comes to social media. We normally link politics and social media with trolls, but actually you can network easily and build up some useful links and support in just a few clicks. I pretty much found the nerve to attend my first meeting by reaching out to somebody through Twitter. It’s a great tool to start your journey with, so don’t be afraid to use it for your benefit.

I guess my point is when we start having this conversation we need a little less focus on the barriers, and need to celebrate what you can bring. Make the argument less of a negative from the off. Negativity never helps any one when it comes to breaking down barriers. Everybody has something special they can bring, a passion they want to influence with or a life experience that can help others. That’s what politics needs. It needs you. What are you waiting for?


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