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!