London 'Becoming an MP' workshop November 2016

For decades, female MPs have made up less than 5% of the total seats in Parliament. Today, only 191 of the total 650 seats are taken by women, and though progress has certainly been made, it is clear to see why many women approach the idea of running for political office with slight hesitation. Surely, many of us who entered the London workshop were speculative about the male-focused game, wondering whether the unforgivable crime of having a uterus or not being mates with Boris Johnson would prevent us from being represented fairly in politics. From the atmosphere in the room, however, it was clear that every single woman left the workshop feeling so inspired that she may have been inclined to wage war on the political patriarchy there and then. The Parliament Project is so imperative when it comes to motivating and empowering women from all backgrounds to participate in politics, and in short, I would recommend any of these workshops to all women, irrespective of their political leaning. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP began and set the tone for the night by detailing how she balanced a degree and brief career in law, the raising of her four children, and her role as an MP. 

She depicted the difficulties of being a female in Parliament (upset a few male MPs only slightly and get ready to be accused of having a wandering womb), but also described the great satisfaction that accompanies being a female voice in the House of Commons. When asked whether women should worry about the restrictions placed upon constituencies by existing members,

Tasmina replied that being passionate enough about change is key to breaking the mould, and called for greater representation to accommodate all genders, ethnicities and ages. She also expressed her desire to ensure that there are more disabled MPs; so many laws are passed that affect disabled people, yet they also lack substantial Parliamentary representation. She went on to explain how to secure a winning seat, and told us how forging relationships with people in your constituency creates the vital link between the ordinary person on the street, and the laws made in Parliament.

Lee Chalmers and Vicky Booth continued the night by discussing the practicalities – financial and personal – of such political careers. We reflected on what may have prevented us from following such paths, and concluded (amongst other issues such as money and family commitments) that the fear of being a public figure, a lack of understanding of political lingo and perhaps, even, that it may be unattractive to men, were reasons why we may doubt our abilities. The conclusion was – on most of the issues above, but particularly on the perceived lack of sex appeal – that we should ‘give no f*cks’. The gender pay gap, a shortfall in female representation, and the oppression of minority groups are, we seemed to conclude, more important than the upset of those offended by successful women. We went on to discuss the various routes to Parliamentary roles, from Mhairi Black’s liberation from the fish and chip shop, to those who took a more conventional course. 

It opened our minds to the reality that politics is accessible whenever you are ready – no matter how old you are or what your family situation may be – and thus there is no set path that we all must follow, leaving our burning bras behind us.

Personally, the workshop inspired me to get more involved in my own constituency and ensure that I don’t take a backseat role in my party. It not only demonstrated that there is a greater need for female representation in Parliament, but also that there are so many women who are exceptionally passionate about making a change and standing up for what they believe in. I believe that the Parliament Project is an invaluable medium for those women and girls who want to create a more progressive and diverse political landscape, but are unsure of where to begin.

Emily O'Sullivan