Liz Jarvis – Parliament Project Peer Support Circle alumna, journalist, and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Earlsfield and Approved Parliamentary Candidate – shares her political journey, and the impact of her participation in our Peer Support Circles programme.
By Liz Jarvis
Like the majority of people who decide to go into politics – even those politicians who seem self-serving and that we don’t particularly like – I made the decision to pursue a political career because of an overwhelming feeling that I had to do something to change our country’s trajectory and help make life better for as many people as I can. Although I’d been very active politically in my teens and early 20s, I was slightly derailed by becoming a single parent at the age of 28, and fighting to keep a roof over our heads. Last year, I decided that instead of just talking about wanting to be in politics, I had to finally do something about it.
At the same time, however, I was going through something of a political crisis that had started the day after the EU referendum (you can read about my conversion from Labour to the Lib Dems here). Once I’d finally embraced my true political identity last August, I joined the Lib Dems and immediately became active in my local party, leafleting and talking to voters. Within three months of joining, propelled by the 50/50 Parliament campaign, I had been asked to stand as a candidate for a possible local by-election. Meanwhile, people were also suggesting to me that I should try to become a parliamentary candidate, and I knew it was what I wanted to do. But where to begin?
Through Lib Dem Women I found a mentor from the party’s Campaign for Gender Balance; she was incredibly encouraging and gave me lots of invaluable support and advice for what I needed to do to achieve my goal of becoming an approved parliamentary candidate. She also helped me see that my imagined barriers to standing – my age, the fact I haven’t been a career politician – could actually be turned into positives. I also discovered the Parliament Project via Twitter, and was thrilled when I was accepted on to the 12 week online Peer Support Circles at the start of January.
The sessions were every fortnight, which was manageable, and I loved ‘meeting’ the other women and sharing our political journeys, as well as the assignments we were given, which were fun and challenging. Each session felt as though we were making progress and exchanging ideas and experiences was incredibly rewarding.
One of the most important things that being part of the Parliament Project did for me is to boost my confidence to pursue a political career. An early session involved telling our stories, and I didn’t feel I tackled this particularly well – particularly as one of the other women in my circle gave an incredibly emotive and inspiring speech which had us all in awe. As someone used to being on the radio and occasionally TV, and who has done a lot of public speaking and spent much of her career telling other women’s stories, it frustrated me that when it came to telling my own I couldn’t seem to find my voice. But instead of giving up it made me determined to do better. I threw myself into every session, and what I really enjoyed about it was learning about the experiences of women from other political parties – even those parties that I feel I have nothing in common with. The point is, we are all women in politics, and the experiences we have as we’re going through that process of campaigning and with other people in our parties are often very similar; it has definitely made me more sympathetic and supportive of other women in politics.
We were also encouraged to talk about the women in politics who inspire us – in my case Jess Phillips, Layla Moran, Jo Swinson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
When it came to telling my story to my Peer Support Circle again, I had found my political voice. In March I gave my first speech to new members of the Lib Dems at an informal event, and the day afterwards, my first speech at our party spring conference to nearly 1000 people. I loved every minute of it, and being congratulated by Jo Swinson and Vince Cable afterwards encouraged me that I’m on the right path.
Since the conclusion of this round of Peer Support Circles, I have continued on my journey, campaigning and being as active as I possibly can (admittedly not easy when you work full time), and I’m as confident on the doorstep and phone talking to voters as I am meeting MPs, Lords and Baronesses. I try to encourage as many women as I can to consider standing too, wherever I meet them.
In May, following several sessions with my wonderful party mentor, endless policy revision sessions with my son and an intense day at party HQ, I was absolutely delighted to be approved as a parliamentary candidate. Now I’m on the path to selection as a prospective parliamentary candidate – not easy when you have so many talented people in the party, and there are a lot of sharp elbows, but I’m determined to get there.
My political journey hasn’t been all plain sailing; I learned very early on who you can trust in politics and my public announcement of my decision to stop supporting Labour and join the Lib Dems resulted in some pretty vicious trolling. But by building a support network of strong, fabulous women, I am more than ready to stand.
The next round of Peer Circles will open for registration in September 2019 - be the first to know by signing up for our mailing list.