How to Get Elected workshop: Exeter by Siobhan Strode

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I booked my tickets to WOW Festival in Exeter purely because I’d seen that there was a training session being run by the Parliament Project. Having spent the summer campaigning and canvassing, then attending Labour Conference in September, I really didn’t want to lose momentum and I felt in need of guidance.

During the session, Lee and Vicky were knowledgeable, but didn’t bamboozle us all with acronyms or hyperbole; they kept it at a “normal” level, and made the session quite interactive. We had opportunities to talk about our backgrounds to our neighbours, discussing what holds us back from taking on leadership roles or more responsibility – not in our job roles but in a political sense.

So why do we hold back? Fear. Worry. Family/care commitments. Lack of self-confidence. After breaking our discussion down, Lee and Vicky spoke about how women often give too many f*cks about what other people think. And this is certainly true on my part. Throughout my life I’ve been a people pleaser. It’s only since upping the ante on the campaigning front with Fair Funding For All Schools in the Spring and doing interviews with the press, or rallying parents, that people have started to say to me, “have you thought about politics?”.

Why does it seem that most women need it pointing out to them? Is it because we all assume someone else is better for the job, and that that’s fine? It’s not! Lee and Vicky pointed out the postcards that had been on our seats: “Send them to that woman you know who doubts herself but would be amazing in parliament!” Then they handed out these brilliant little Parliament Project cards with #GiveZeroFucks typed on the back. WOW Exeter was making this room of women (and two men!) think!

The “How to get elected” part of the session gave us all an insight into the process of standing for selection. Lee was able to speak about her own experience with WEP, and Vicky ran through the LibDem process, but they talked about the other parties too. Obviously in such a short session it would be impossible to go into detail, so they were signposting really. The main thing they emphasised was: Do it NOW! Get the process started. Join a party if you haven’t already and begin the rigmarole of selection.

Next, we heard from Marina Asvachin (Devon County Councillor, Labour) who is this physically dinky and unassuming woman from Exeter, with a powerful story to tell. She kept reiterating that she never thought of herself as someone who’d go into politics, she just wanted to help people. And this is her way of helping more people. Marina is a nurse, and described how she got more and more involved in her union and was encouraged to stand for county council. She knew the area well, understood their problems; winning votes because she’s down to earth and personable. It was incredibly inspiring hearing from such a “normal” person who’d made the leap.

The whole session was bubbling with enthusiasm and you could hear women raising each other up. “Go on, go for it. What have you got to lose?!” It was empowering. We felt like part of something. I think everyone went away feeling like they’d had a confidence boost. Just the opportunity to talk with like-minded women, from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, gave me the confidence to think, “do you know what? You’re totally doing the right thing. Stop questioning yourself and start applying for training.”  

Since the Parliament Project training, I’ve got a co-option interview for my local Town Council and I’ve put my name on the ballot for District Councillor in Barnstaple; been elected as Vice Chair of my CLP; applied for the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, as well as LWN Foundation Day training; and I have my eye on the 50:50 and Parliament Project websites for more learning opportunities. All thanks to the women in that Exeter Phoenix room making me believe I can do it.

If there’s a training session with The Parliament Project coming to a town near you, you seriously won’t regret going. I drove for an hour to Exeter to make this one and I’d totally have driven for 3!

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY, OCHIL AND SOUTH PERTHSHIRE

For the General Election 2017, we invited women standing for election from across the UK to write about their experiences of campaigning. First up, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.

The constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire where I’m standing as SNP Candidate this General Election and where I’ve served as an MP since 2015, covers a beautiful part of central Scotland. From the busy towns of Alloa, Alva and Dollar, through the rolling hills and farmland of the Gleneagles area to Auchterarder, Crieff and Kinross, it’s a constituency with rich variety of people from many different walks of life, each with an equal right to be properly represented in Westminster. So it seemed right and proper to start last week with my first husting of the election, focusing on the importance of equality.

Hustings can be a high-pressure event, but being put on the spot and being able to properly answer questions from an audience is part and parcel of being a politician. These events highlight areas where people have issues that need addressed and give them the chance to have their voice heard. Many people in my constituency are worried about changes to their social security and disability benefits, cuts to tax credits and changes to the state pension age. As an MP and now a candidate, the pursuit of equality is at the central core of everything I believe in and work towards. From standing up against racism, to championing equal pay, to supporting a fair deal for WASPI women, and protecting disabled people from cuts to their social security payments, I’ve pledged to champion woman and minorities at every opportunity to build a more equal and fairer society.

Continuing on the theme of equality, the next morning, my team and I headed off to Perth for the launch of the SNP Manifesto, a manifesto with fairness and equality at its very heart.  Even a torrential downpour of rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd gathered to celebrate the launch, as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon delivered a positive speech on prosperity and opportunity.

Freshly recharged by the launch, we headed off to the South Perthshire end of my constituency for some rather soggy canvassing. Over the last few weeks I’ve been out and about across the region, knocking on doors and discussing voters concerns and personal issues. I’m so lucky to have such a dedicated team, who accompany me on these canvassing sessions whatever the weather, helping deliver leaflets, highlighting our campaign promises and talking with local constituents.

On Wednesday, the people of Alloa came together to observe Armed Forces Day, with pipebands from local schools, girl guides and army cadets leading a parade to the Town Hall. Lt Col (retd) Johnny Stewart, Lord-Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire, gave a moving speech, as we focused on the huge sacrifice and service of the armed forces to maintain our security and freedom. After the formalities, we gathered together in the town hall, catching up with old friends, freshly elected councilors, and the wonderful team who organise this annual event.

Towards the end of the week, my good friend and fellow politician, Humza Yousaf, MSP for Glasgow Pollock, came through from the West to help with my campaign. Together we met with the residents of Alloa at our SNP street stall, before visiting the local mosque for Friday prayers. It was then on to a very sunny Tillicoutry for more door knocking plus a trip to a well-loved tearoom in the village, although neither of us could partake of any tea and cake as we are fasting for Ramadan. I also managed to take part in the Big Fit Walk starting from Sauchie Hall that morning, joining with walkers from the area who regularly get together to keep fit and socialise as part of the fantastic Paths for All health and fitness initiative.

Friday night finished with an impromptu pizza party in our campaign office for all the team who’ve helped me so much so far in the run up to the election. After everyone had had enough to eat, they were busy and back to work, stuffing envelopes and labeling letters, ready to be delivered during the final week of the election. I couldn’t do any of this without them!

Daisy Cooper, LIBERAL DEMOCRATS, ST ALBANS, ENGLAND

WEEK ONE:

It has been a hectic time since the General Election was called. Here in St Albans, in the first two weeks, more than 300 volunteers signed up to help me with the campaign. Many are happy to help us with our ‘bread and butter’ campaigning – delivering leaflets and speaking to residents door to door. But many more have specialist skills as proof-readers, graphic designers, photographers and videographers. We also have people with cars who can make sure I am in the right place at the right time. Fighting elections really are a team effort. 

A local school hosted a hustings for their Year 13 students, squeezing a slot in during their busy exam revision period. Along with the Green and Conservative candidates, I was grilled about issues that are important to these young people. For the first time in their lives they have the chance for their voice to be heard, by voting in a general election. They were particularly concerned about cuts to education, LGBT+ rights and of course, how BREXIT would impact on their rights and their future. It was great to see the posters around the school encouraging young people to register to vote.

I also attended a community event organised by a local group (FACE) who aim to bring faiths and cultures together. They had a family fun day to encourage residents to say what they loved about St Albans and find out how to get involved in local community and volunteering groups. I talked to residents who, like me, are passionate about their community but also have grave concerns about cuts to community organisation that support some of our most vulnerable residents.

Every evening, I have been hitting the doorsteps alongside local councillors and my canvassing volunteers. Local residents have questions about the impact of BREXIT, and the state of our fragile NHS. The schools funding crisis is also a big issue in St Albans with 95% of our schools set to suffer under the real term cuts and new National Funding Formula.

During the week I represented my party on Radio 4’s The World at One in a discussion about how all political parties are trying to improve the diversity of their candidates. I was pleased to report that around 50% of the Lib Dems target seat candidates are women, and that 40% of the spaces on internal federal party committees are also now reserved for women.

I also attended a fundraiser in aid of Syria and Palestine, which was organised by the local Muslim women at the Islamic Centre in St. Albans. I talked to female members of the community about the Liberal Democrats track record of campaigning for the UK to accept more refugees. We also discussed their local concerns about parking.

Some supporters have also invited me to their homes, to meet their friends and neighbours to answer questions in a more informal setting. At one particular meeting a couple who work in the NHS announced they were resigning their membership of the Labour Party over BREXIT, in order that they could campaign for me. I’ve also had my daily planning meetings and weekly campaign meetings to review progress and priorities, and amongst all this I had a fleeting visit to Sussex to attend a very good friend’s wedding!

WEEK TWO: As we get closer to the election, we cram more and more into each week. Last week, I met with a number of community groups to see their amazing work. The Saheli Tiffin Club is a luncheon club for Muslim women of all ages. A number of them have assistance from English tutors, while others are translators themselves. They meet once a week to eat cake and tend to their community garden. I was delighted officially to open their rose garden, and take their questions (sometimes through translation), about everything from pot-holes and school places to helping refugees.

I also attended a school fete and a Parents and Tots group run by a local church. While the children were occupied making cakes and cooking vegetables in the toy kitchen, I talked to parents about the costs of childcare, childcare places and the daily struggle of taking children to different schools because of the schools places shortage. Another two schools took up my offer to speak to their sixth formers. Students asked about Brexit, the scope for a Progressive Alliance and the legalisation of cannabis.

We also held a social night at one of our local pubs to thank all of our wonderful volunteers. Last week, they delivered tens of thousands of leaflets and put up more than 200 garden posters.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury visited St. Albans this week. She is a member of the House of Lords and the Liberal Democrats spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport. I was keen to show her the old Town Hall, which is being renovated to become an exciting and interactive museum and cultural centre. We had a tour around the inside with the site manager – it’s an incredibly impressive project that deserves regional and national status.

I was interviewed by BBC London (the local TV news we receive in St Albans, despite being in Hertfordshire!) and another local paper, the St Albans Review, which is publishing profiles of all the candidates.

On Wednesday the Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto, so I travelled down to London to speak at the launch, and introduce our party leader Tim Farron. It was great to see supporters from St Albans attending, including some school sixth form students, who were inspired by Tim’s speech.

I don’t tend to give fashion advice to fellow women candidates, but I can strongly recommend wearing a jacket with pockets or wearing a belt for such events….. otherwise, you might find yourself in the ladies’ loos asking a Peer of the Realm to stuff audio wires and transmission equipment down the back of your dress and into your undergarments…..!

And of course - I was also out on the doorsteps talking to residents on four of the seven last days. There are just 16 days left of the campaign but postal votes have now arrived, so people have already started to vote… 

Week three: In a week where the dreadful events in Manchester dominated the headlines and campaigning was suspended for a few days out of respect, the week was quieter and more low key.

At the beginning of the week, before the Manchester attacks, Nick Clegg visited St Albans. We visited a local pre-school to chat to the staff and parents about the challenges of child-care and Liberal Democrat plans to extend it.

I was interviewed by a journalist who works for the Nordic media, who had travelled to St. Albans for research in to an article about the General Election and the impact of Brexit. In St. Albans, 63% of voters voted for the UK to remain but the current MP is a BREXITEER so Brexit is a very hot topic.

‘City Superwoman’ Nicola Horlick, who is a city investment fund manager, also visited. She has joined the Liberal Democrats’ because of our strong stance against Brexit. I was really pleased to introduce her to some local business-women and hear her talk through her concerns about the impact of Brexit on the British economy. Nicola also talked about the problems engulfing the NHS and social care, the impact of greater caring responsibilities on working parents, and the need for an integrated health and social care system.

This was evident in the meeting I attended this week for the St. Albans and Harpenden Patients Group (SAPG). Here I heard about personal experiences of patients and their families and the impact of years of underfunding for the NHS, including the closure of local convalescence wards.

I visited one of our local mosques, where one of our local council candidates introduced me to his friends and neighbours, and other key figures in the Muslim community. They raised concerns about BREXIT, pot-holes, parking and the competition from London-based Uber taxi drivers to locally licensed taxi drivers. In light of the Manchester attacks, a number of people reinforce to me just how much they condemned the attacks – just like everyone else – but they were also worried about the possibility of a rise in hate crimes and islamophobia.

I recorded some short video content for social media thanks to Dave at Business Film Booth. We produced six succinct videos on six of our policies, to ensure our message is heard through the social media stream.

One of our local Liberal Democrat councillors, Iqbal Zia, was formally elected as Mayor of St Albans City and District on Wednesday night. It was wonderful to attend the mayor-making ceremony. Iqbal has adopted the theme ‘Your Community – Our Community’ for his year in office to promote community engagement and cohesion within the St. Albans District. He has also nominated the mental health group “Youth Talk” as the charity for which he will fundraise during the year.

By the bank holiday weekend, full campaigning had recommenced. Residents were pleased to see us back out on the streets, but inevitably, some wanted to discuss recent events, their anxieties about safety (especially for their children) and our policies on tackling terrorism at home and abroad.

We now have teams out canvassing from 10am to 8pm every day. I popped out on two occasions – once to appear as a guest bar tender at The Mermaid’s Cider and Perry Festival, and then to judge a Chilli competition at the Hare and Hounds – two great community events hosted by two of our wonderful pubs.

Harini Iyengar, WOMENS EQUALITY PARTY, VAUXHALL, LONDON

I'm standing for election as the MP for Vauxhall for the Women's Equality Party.  I'm neither a career politician nor a party apparatchik.  I'm an activist for equality and my politics grow from peace, love, family and respect for Mother Earth.

I grew up in Manchester, where my immigrant parents were both NHS doctors. I studied at Oxford University before moving to London, where I was called to the Bar in 1999, seven months pregnant.  Today, I’m ranked as a leading barrister in Employment, Equality and Education, gave expert legal evidence to the House of Commons Inquiry into high heels and workplace dress codes, and have been described in the Times as “a leading campaigner for diversity in the legal profession.”

I work full-time and raise three children as their lone parent.  I find my experience of standing for Parliament very different from the experience portrayed in the media.  During my campaign, I’m incurring extra childcare expenses for evening and weekend campaigning at the rate of around £150 a week.  I can afford to stand for Parliament only because the Women’s Equality Party is reimbursing my extra childcare costs.  As far as I’m aware, no other political party shares our practice. 

Having examined the myriad election expenses rules, I find that politics are so out of touch with women’s needs that caps on election expenditure completely ignore childcare expenses.  There is, therefore, no election expense limit stopping the richer parties from funding their candidates’ childcare expenses as part of their projects claiming to encourage women candidates: they simply choose not to.  I raise my voice loudly on the issue of childcare because women’s needs have not been heard by the other parties, despite all their talk of all-women shortlists and putting women into safe seats.  WE are the only party promising 40 hours’ free universal childcare a week, in a fully-costed Manifesto pledge.

I stood for the Women’s Equality Party in the Greater London Assembly elections in May 2016, and at our first party conference in November 2016 I was elected to Policy Committee as Spokesperson on Equal Representation. During the EU Referendum campaign, I campaigned for remaining, including speaking in a public debate at Sadler’s Wells, and I also organised and chaired a popular panel discussion “Black Women’s Voices on Brexit.” 

A fortnight ago, WE launched our Vauxhall Campaign with a party in a local pub, since when my team has been out canvassing on the doorsteps of Vauxhall every single day, sometimes twice a day.  Voters in Vauxhall are looking for a meaningful alternative, are delighted to hear I’m standing, and want to vote for me.  

In my first week:

  • I signed the Women's Equality Party up to the Clean Air Pledge at a school carnival,
  • I saw my speech broadcast on the BBC “Sunday Politics” show.
  • I attended Action Aid Hustings.
  • I went to an informative Women's Budget Group meeting on Brexit.
  • I studied a 48-page paper on gender equality and international trade agreements.
  • I read Rape Crisis's paper on Brexit and the EU Victims Directive.
  • I consented on my nomination papers to stand for Parliament for Vauxhall.
  • I received formal confirmation of my nomination from the Returning Officer.
  • I helped launch our first ever General Election Manifesto.
  • I saw my Candidacy mentioned and depicted in the Independent, the Telegraph, the Mirror and the Evening Standard.
  • I had my election article published by the Huffington Post.

Highlights of my second week included when:

  • A special guest came to canvass with me in Vauxhall, WEP volunteer, Manon Bradley, who is a world champion powerlifter and donated my £500 deposit to stand for Parliament.
  • During another canvassing session, a passerby stopped me, saying, “I know exactly who you are! Can I have a poster?”
  • WEP President, Catherine Mayer, and my running mate Nimco Ali who is standing in Hornsey and Wood Green came to Vauxhall to canvass in front of French television cameras.
  • At the request of many constituents, I was delighted to sign the Refugee Pledge, which accords with my own campaign to value the contribution migrants make to our community and to build a new immigration system that sees women and values their paid and unpaid work.
  • My interview with the BBC “Election Wrap” show was broadcast, on the importance of equal representation of women in Parliament.

Low points this week came when:

  • I got soaked leading my canvass team around Vauxhall in the pouring rain.
  • I was informed that election anti-bribery rules mean that I can’t even give my dedicated canvassers a home-cooked meal to thank them for their hard work.
  • The local Green Candidate (another BAME woman) and I were continually and publicly asked to stand down by the Liberal Democrats in favour of their white male Candidate, despite having already made it clear that neither of us will do so and there are many policy differences separating each of us from him.

This afternoon, I’m heading over to WEP Headquarters for another briefing, then meeting the giant feminist legal scholar, Catharine MacKinnon, followed by more canvassing.

Debra Pickering, SCOTTISH GREEN PARTY, FALKIRK, SCOTLAND

"I’m Debra Pickering, originally from West Cumbria. The daughter of a shop worker and a miner and fully grounded in socialist principles. I have lived in Scotland for 20 years and in Falkirk for 12 of those. I live with my husband Alan and West Highland Terrier called Sookie. I have 2 grown up daughters and one recent granddaughter.  I am a trained psychotherapist with particular interest and experience in the field of addictions.

15TH MAY:

I'm standing as a Scottish Green Candidate in the General Election! If you haven't read that with a sense of amazement then read it again and imagine me grinning from ear to ear. I was encouraged to stand by my Party as the Women's Network I belong to suggested standing all female candidates and locally there was only two males interested in standing, so I thought "What the hell, let's get some woman on the job" and realised it might have to be me. The men gladly stepped aside and there I was front and centre. I did however expect to be amongst a huge pack of brilliant women rather than the two of us, Lorna (Slater) and I.

I'm no stranger to politics I joined the Labour Party at 16 and was one of the youngest councillors elected in Copeland at the age of 21. Labour subsequently left me and my ideals and went a strange, centrist route so I went into a political wilderness for years. During this time I moved to Scotland from Cumbria and returned to politics after the amazingly charged times of the referendum for independence, finding a natural home in the Scottish Green Party. 

My exploits with the Greens have had me standing at a street stall in all of the weathers, canvassing, leafleting and very recently standing as a candidate in the local government elections. This week I'm going to see a film called The Bentley Effect a movie about a community in New South Wales, that spawned a social movement defying unconventional gas mining. We face this threat in Falkirk as we are poised to have our land, water and air poisoned by fracking and the Scottish Government refuse to ban it outright and this is my reason for standing, I want to protect the land I live on.”

MAY 30TH:

Here’s the thing about this high fallutin’ parliamentary nonsense. Life keeps happening. During my, albeit low key campaign, my eldest daughter and her partner had their first child, Lola, baptised.

So a journey down to Cumbria ensued, the land of my birth and what a land. The Lake District is heavenly, apt that although an atheist I was attending a Church to be a witness to my Granddaughters indoctrination into the Catholic Faith. Lola’s father is a Catholic and he wants her to have the type of upbringing he had with access to the Catholic community and Schools.

This of course sent me off on a wonder about how I got to be in the Greens, and their policies on faith schools. The Scottish Greens ideas are that all schools in the future should be inclusive of all and no faiths, echoing the diversity of our communities, healing division and ignorance by creating schools and places of education where questions can be asked and differences be acknowledged and celebrated.

Hopefully, as the campaigning draws to an end, I’ll be looking down to getting back to normal. There’s no miracle going to happen whereby I become an MP. Politics in Scotland still has a huge way to go to be inclusive and welcoming to women, well to anyone really that isn’t male and over 45. The current way Party politics can be played out is a game that I don’t enjoy and one I and my fellow Greens get frustrated with. The Scottish Greens aim is not for power or control but for a rainbow parliament representing all the peoples of Scotland, working together on making a better future for children like my wee granddaughter Lola.

Kirsty Finlayson CONSERVATIVES, EAST HAM, LONDON

Kirsty Finlayson is a trainee solicitor in the City of London and has lived in East London since 2015. She was inspired to stand for parliament when she worked for Anne Milton (former MP until parliament was dissolved).

“Nine years ago, I was on a sixth form trip to the Houses of Parliament and we were attending a “female leaders” event. I summoned up the courage to go up to Anne afterwards and ask her for a week’s work experience. She said yes and following that she asked me back to complete a summer internship as parliamentary assistant. I saw first-hand how much responsibility an MP has, but also at the same time what a privilege it is to help people, often when they have exhausted all other avenues, such as local organisations, charities and councillors. I was also inspired by her influence on policy as then Shadow Health Minister and how she put her direct experience of the NHS (being a former nurse) to use to influence change.”

Kirsty has degrees in Politics and Law and is currently Deputy Chairman of Vincent Square Conservatives and Bethnal Green & Bow Conservatives. Her interests outside of local politics are justice, mental health and the environment.

My week: Monday 29 May - Sunday 4 June

I spent 7 days out of 7 campaigning this week. 

I am now on 2 weeks of annual leave to focus on my campaign. It is good to have an understanding boss and to have been able to take holiday at short notice. It also allows me to speak to more residents who are busy in the evenings and at weekends. 

My father was in the UK this week visiting me from Kenya and so I introduced him to canvassing - he had never done any campaigning before. He enjoyed learning about the "behind the scenes" part of grassroots activism, although I think he preferred running the board than talking to people at the door! My dog adventure of the week was when I ran away down a drive from a running, barking dog and the lady ran out after the dog trying to catch him, but locking herself out of the door in the process! A fellow volunteer managed to remedy the situation and get a neighbour to let her back into the house via his garden, so hopefully it didn't lose us any votes! 

On Wednesday Boris attended one of our canvassing sessions in Dagenham and Rainham. The high street was completely transformed - people were running up asking for selfies, shaking his hand and Boris even had a request for a photograph holding a baby. My highlight was when he went into a local barber shop. He put a smile on everyone's faces; whenever I see Boris I always admire how he resonates with people who aren't normally interested in politics. I think that is so important and something I hope to achieve with younger voters in particular. 

On Thursday I attended my first ever Facebook Live hustings with East Ham's local newspaper the Newham Recorder. I met the Labour and Green candidates and we had a great discussion about the issue of fly tipping in East Ham which is something that really concerns me. One of my key pledges in my #planforeastham is to tackle anti-social behaviour, including litter and fly tipping. I want to put pressure on the Labour council to enforce fines prior to legal action; one recent case in Newham which ended up in court resulted in a fine which equated to an eighth of the costs the council had spent removing the fly tipping. The Green candidate and I were able to agree on a number of proposals, most importantly enforcing fines at an earlier point in the process to save on legal fees later down the line. 

I then went to my first ever live radio interview at Ramadan FM which was such a great experience. I was debating toe-to-toe with Stephen Timms, the Labour candidate who has been the MP for over twenty years and the discussion lasted almost an hour. Although I knew how much experience Stephen had on live radio, I ended up really enjoying the debate and I have been invited to attend further shows with the presenter in the future.  

On Friday, I visited a local Londis store with the Association of Convenience Stores and spoke at length with the owners Mr and Mrs Patel. They were concerned with some parties' plans to have a bottle collection at local shops which would have a big impact on their store, which has very little storage. It was really fascinating to listen to how economic policy can have very specific unexpected (and unintended) effects on small businesses. The summer sunshine took a break during thunder and lightning storms and we spent the rest of the day planning the "plan to vote" map routes. It's not all media appearances or pounding the streets - sometimes it is about colouring in maps and bundling leaflets! I enjoyed the break from walking and used the opportunity to chat to other Conservative activists. 

I spend my evenings updating my followers on social media and answering emails from constituents. There are nationwide campaigns which I respond to, as well as specific questions on local East Ham issues. I really enjoy responding to residents on Conservative manifesto proposals and my views on local issues; it's so important to outline my opinion on all matters of concern and give people the opportunity to organise a telephone call or visit to their home or local business. 

The weekend was spent asking voters on their plan to vote in Dagenham & Rainham and speaking to residents in East Ham, avoiding sunburn! I'm really looking forward to the last week of campaigning and getting out the vote in East London. 

My week: Monday 15 - Sunday 21 May

I spent 7 days out of 7 campaigning this week.  

On Monday, I went to Conservative Campaign Headquarters, which brought back memories of working there over the 2010 election when I was still at university. It is a great way of contacting voters in the marginal seats in a very efficient way. I also managed to speak to Philip May who was “tele-canvassing” at the same time as me. When I told him I was standing in East Ham, he told me a little about Theresa May’s experience standing as a Conservative candidate in east London, during her by-election campaign in Barking in 1994.

On Tuesday, I did a street campaign in East Ham, talking to morning commuters. We also went canvassing with campaigners from all over London in Beckton with lots of support from the Conservative Muslim Forum. Last week I wrote about being scared by dogs at the doorstep; well I can go one step further this week and tell you that I was bitten by a dog on the bum! I had knocked on the door of a house and heard a high pitch yapping which indicated to me that the dog was not terribly large. As the owner of the house (and dog) opened the door, a Chihuahua just went for me, running through my legs and leaping at me and biting me on the bum. Definitely a Labour voter.

On Wednesday, I met Iain Duncan Smith in Newham with my fellow candidate for West Ham, Patrick Spencer. We visited residential areas and discussed Conservative policies which will have a positive impact in Newham itself. As the founder of the Centre of Social Justice, IDS has detailed knowledge on social policy and so it was wonderful to meet him and discuss the impact of government policy on somewhere like Newham. In the afternoon, I was asked to appear on Sky News the next day, which was a first for me and (I admit) rather terrifying.

On Thursday morning, I got up bright and early to do some canvassing in East Ham with fellow campaigners, whilst Sky News filmed us. It was a surreal experience and I am hoping it will get easier the more often it happens! I did not expect to be interviewed whilst walking down the street (something I had not prepared for the night before!) and it is remarkable how difficult it is to walk, look at the interviewer, talk and breathe, all at the same time! Hopefully it will come across as easier on television than it seemed at the time!

At the weekend, I attended two action days for Julie Marson, the candidate for Dagenham & Rainham, as I am supporting other female candidates on the campaign trail. It wasn’t all work though, as I enjoyed a drink after canvassing on Saturday evening and we had a pub lunch on Sunday.

My week: Monday 8 - Sunday 14 May

I spent 6 days out of 7 campaigning this week. It has been just over a week since I found out I was the candidate for East Ham and so it has been amazing to watch how organised both the national and local campaign teams are and how ready volunteers are to spring into action.

I have a full-time job in the City, so I spent four weekday evenings canvassing. Canvassing involves knocking on doors, asking residents if they are going to be voting in the General Election, who they might be voting for and having a conversation about any local issues that concern them. I always make sure that I raise any local problem with the area’s Chairman and Campaign Manager. This week, I canvassed on a road where it seemed every other door had a rather dangerous dog behind it! I am an animal-lover but I am more comfortable with cats (hopefully my preference won’t lose me any votes!); they are less likely to bite my fingers off! I spoke to a lady who was very concerned about anti-social behaviour in East Ham and told her about my #planforeastham to keep young men off the streets.

I attended a careers event this week as part of my day-job, discussing legal training with pupils at a London college. Ongoing training is something I am passionate about, both as someone undergoing training myself and also as a mentor to three law students. Robert Halfon, Minister for Skills & Apprenticeships, was leading the event and so I was able to talk to him about my plans for East Ham; it was a great opportunity to discuss with him how to make apprenticeships more appealing to local businesses with limited resources, which is one of my priorities for my seat in Newham.

At the weekend, I did lots of canvassing on Saturday and Sunday, interspersed with a compulsory pub lunch half-way through! On Sunday afternoon, I had my election launch at East Ham Conservative Social Club which my Chairman Attic kindly organised. It was good to meet more local association members at the event and my election agent John was taking lots of photographs; I wore my “Theresa May” heels for the occasion. We then met with local businesses and residents, discussing issues of concern. I ended the week by attending my neighbouring candidate Patrick Spencer’s election launch in West Ham; it’s good to support each other as we are both first-time candidates.

Now that my election address and leaflets have been sent off to the printers and my election launch is over, I’m going to be focussing my time on talking with as many residents as possible. My favourite part of campaigning is talking to people and explaining the Conservative agenda on the doorstep. You have to be prepared to engage with people, even when they become highly emotional explaining their personal difficulties. In law and in my voluntary work at a mental health charity, I have had some experience in this area, but topics on the doorstep can often take you by surprise!

Follow Kirsty on Twitter @km_finlayson and Facebook www.facebook.com/kirstyforeastham