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.