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.