The Next Five Years: Getting Involved. A Women2Win panel event at the Conservative Party Conference, hosted by ConservativeHome
Cllr Philippa Roe
Katy Bourne PCC
Victoria Ford MEP
Vicky Atkins MP
Wendy Morton MP
Amanda Sater, Chair
Stephen Gilbert, Introduction
At our morning panel event at the Conservative Party Conference, we invited women in different public positions to talk about their experiences and what prospective candidates should do in the preparation for upcoming elections. Amanda Sater of Women2Win, formerly Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for Women, acted as chair, and emphasised the many different ways that women can get involved in political life. Though Women2Win’s primary goal is to help women get elected to Parliament, we are keen to assist those who aspire to be MEPs, PCCs, Councillors, or to take roles in Public Appointments. Our panel serve as a fantastic testimony to the different routes ambitious women might take, and we encourage women to ask us anything about these pathways.
Stephen Gilbert, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party (Campaigning), opened with some introductory words, thanking Women2Win for bringing so many excellent women into the party. “It's really helped the party politics and is a very important and valuable form of public service. Thank you all for the contribution you make to your local community, thank you to all on the candidates list who did so much for the party and to help us win. It was invaluable. Talking on the doorstep is more important than it has ever been before. We would not have won some of those marginal seats without your help. The candidate is now the leader of the campaign and fundamental for the work we do in the party. Thank you all for working so hard. Women2Win do lots of important things but their help in getting you selected is critical. You've got to get organised. Selections are competitive. Motivate people to support your campaign – it’s not as difficult as it sounds. Women2Win will help you with that.” Stephen also explained the run up to 2020: “the boundary review will start in December and initial proposals will come at end of 2016, start of 2017. We had fantastic success against Labour in the 2015 General Election and we will do the same in 2020. We will have lots of seats to fight for next time, and we want good, strong, community-involved candidates, so come and talk to us about what seats you should get involved with. Women2Win can help you work on your long term plan so start thinking about your political future now & work towards that."
Katy Bourne kicked off with her experience as a Police and Crime Commissioner; a position perfectly suited to a high-achieving woman. She explained, “I'm responsible for policing across Sussex, and control a £250 million budget. This is a new role, and I myself was on the Parliamentary candidates list. Yes, I was disappointed not to get a seat in 2010, but actually this role fits me better. I got hooked on politics after campaigning in a general election and then life got in the way for a bit. I wanted to make a difference; I went on the candidates list and got stuck in locally - the best way to learn is bottom up. Women2Win and the Conservative Women’s Organisation were so helpful and I couldn't have done it without them. We're lucky in this party - we have some fantastic support. Now, I get to set strategy for policing in the county, appoint the Chief Constable, and make sure that the police deliver my strategy. I straddle the Ministry of Justice & the Home Office. If you want to be a PCC, come and see me. You'll have 4 years to prepare.”
MEP Victoria Ford praised Women2Win: “Baroness Jenkin did a presentation after 2005 about why we needed more women, and she was right. When I was elected in 2009, there was only one MEP and she was retiring. Women2Win really supported us. We have lots of brilliant female MEPs who are leading in arguing for Britain to have a better deal in Europe. For example, lots of the female MEPs are pressuring the European Parliament to only put in international regulations where we really need it.” To the large numbers of women in the room, she said “my first message is that yes, you can do it. Talk to us about standing for something. Use all platforms to get your message out, and do what interests you. You will achieve when you do something that interests you. Don't underestimate what you can do locally: just look at Binita Mehta who stood to be a Councillor in Watford. She was the only woman and now she's leader of the group with five more elected.” With regard to Europe, she commented that “the rest of Europe does want to negotiate with the PM. They understand we don't want an ever closer union. But think carefully when you vote, as we do need to have a British voice and to stand up for our interests in Europe."
Vicky Atkins MP, elected this year, said “to be an MP is the greatest privilege we have in civil society; we need to remember that. Plus the maiden speeches from the female MPs are the best! When you see the standard, quality and diversity of our MPs, it is a real pleasure to be part of that team. There are many ways to become a candidate - I grew up in a political family but didn't think about it for a long time. When I represented a twelve year old in youth court, I thought, one day I want to help children like this, I will become an MP. My tips are to work outside the Westminster bubble. Grab every opportunity you can to work within the party and to make a difference. We have an advantage with having Women2Win and the Conservative Women’s Organisation. Start working now, 2020 is not far off. To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield: that is a line for every candidate in this room."
Philippa Roe is the leader of Westminster Council. She emphasised that “if you want to make a difference to people's lives, there is no better way to do it than as a Councillor. The work we do is so diverse: housing, licensing, helping with special needs, working with the unemployed to name just a few. There is something for everybody on a local authority regardless of your interests. In Westminster, we have a very wealthy local area but four of our wards are some of the poorest in the UK. There is a lot we can do to help people. We have 18,000 unemployed people, and tens of thousands of vacancies; we have a skills gap and have designed programmes to address that. We have the West End, which is under threat from other cities, so I work to keep the West End thriving. We can make a tangible difference. Working on the West End will create 75,000 jobs, one third of which is for low paid or unskilled workers. We've had Councillors passionate about loneliness in older people and helping women in the sex trade, and they've been able to do that.” For Philippa personally, “politics was appealing and got me out of the house for a little time away from nappies - but I could still balance the role with family time. The key is to tell people what you want; women often don't. You can't expect people to guess. Have confidence and put yourself forward. Some of our Councillors have full time jobs and families yet are standing for Parliament. Being a Councillor lets you do other things too. We do need more women in local politics. The statistics are better than most other professions but we still want more. So, if you want to have a political career with a solid grounding that is respected, become a Councillor.”
Next was Wendy Morton, again elected this year to Parliament. She said “I spent twelve years trying to get here and it feels very good. As Vicky said, it is a great privilege. We absolutely must not take our foot off the pedal; we need more women. I still remember when Women2Win started and it's always been a boost: as my mum would say, if at first you don't succeed, persevere. You will get there in the end. Don't think that you can't go for a seat somewhere else in the country. A former MP said to me, when you find the right seat it will gel.” Wendy recounted her experience on the road to politics: “when I first stood as a local Councillor, I didn't know what a pledge was or how to canvas, but I did work hard at speaking to people. I nearly backed out of doing my PAB as I had a wobble, but I got a phone call from Women2Win to boost my confidence. I stood twice before this, and it gave me the confidence and the drive to know that this was what I wanted to do and that indeed I should continue. Opportunities come your way - I became association chairman for William Hague and got involved with Umubano. These were fantastic networking opportunities and a chance to make friends, and it gave me a vast amount of experience. Certainly I would say don't forget the voluntary party. You can't campaign well without a good association – they are our heart and soul. And now, I still go to Parliament and sit on the green benches and tingle. It's a sharp learning curve and a huge honour and privilege.”
At Women2Win we believe you can make a difference by following your passion, and we are here to help facilitate that. Women2Win Director Gillian Keegan, who also serves in the Cabinet at Chichester District Council and stood in the 2015 General Election with the help of the group. She said of her experience, “I sat here last year and didn’t know anybody. I listened to a panel like this one and thought, how can I be like one of these impressive women? It’s easy to get involved! There are so many avenues and ways to do it - our Party have a lot of people who can support you, but you have got to ask them. I'm also involved with politics locally and it's a fantastic way of learning from the bottom up.”
In an audience full of successful and ambitious women, we heard from Chris Emmett, who has been appointed to the Board of HS2: “you will get bashed but keep going. It's a tough journey but it's important to go on. Most public appointments will pay for your childcare whilst you do the job.” Victoria Borwick MP advised “work with Conservative Future and campaign in different areas so that people know who you are and so you have a chance to learn about other areas.” Philippa commented in terms of support that “an Association in a Labour safe seat needs strong members more than anywhere! Get involved and help put boots on the ground.”
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