Reflections of a local council candidate - Women's Equality

Reflections of a local council candidate

Reflections of a local council candidate

I’ve just come out of a third year of election campaigning. For the last three years myself and my team have spent 2-4 months contesting local government seats in Worcester. Each year we have gained in experience, developed our team, increased our supporters and built on our reputation.

This year particularly so.

“It is not about winning. It’s not about losing. It’s about showing up and being seen”. Dr Brene Brown

I’ve just come out of a third year of election campaigning. For the last three years myself and my team have spent 2-4 months contesting local government seats in Worcester. Each year we have gained in experience, developed our team, increased our supporters and built on our reputation.

This year particularly so.

This year we had agreed to stand as a development seat with the primary aim of developing our volunteer base whilst aiming to maintain our percentage of the vote that we earned last year. I say earned because last year it really felt like this as we leafleted every home in the ward and had knocked on all the doors listed on the marked register, we followed up with postal voters and executed a Get Out The Vote campaign - achieving 7.2% of the vote. This year we only leafleted about 10% of the ward and only knocked on the doors where we had met supporters in the previous year. It felt strange to feel quite distant from the campaign as well as have more control - with the purchase of professional design application and canvassing app changing the scope of what we could do in future campaigns. It seemed even stranger to be honouring a prior engagement on the night of the count and ensuring we were represented at the count but not by the candidate. Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation of being able to turn up later to see how it was going.


The Candidate’s Briefing

I just want to roll back a month or so to add context to what follows.

Worcester City Council host an Election Briefing just before an Election. The purpose of this is to provide candidates and agents with all the necessary info for standing in an election - legal do’s and don’ts and key dates and deadlines.

At this year’s briefing one of the incumbents made a sexist comment when he asked the deputy returning officer (the only female in the election team) to ‘give us a twirl’. I don’t believe that she heard the comment but it was loud enough for many of the prospective candidates to hear as well as the ensuing sniggers from his cronies. Imagine standing up in front of a room of people at an official event about to deliver an important message in your official role as council officer and then you hear a comment like this. There was no doubt in my mind that it was aimed to ridicule, undermine, get a cheap laugh and throw her off guard. In the grand scheme of things it was low level sexism but so inappropriate given the situation and the environment, not to mention the fact that the meeting included young female candidates who were new to candidacy. Completely the wrong impression.

The Complaint

I allowed myself a few days of rage before I decided that I needed to make an official complaint about the comment - otherwise what is the point of WEP standing in local council elections if we aren’t willing to challenge these indiscretions? I made the complaint, spoke to the council’s monitoring officer and left it in her capable hands, not expecting much from the process to be honest but happier that I’d made a stand. A few weeks later I used an opportunity whilst talking to a local journalist to highlight the complaint I’d made and of course they were very interested and printed a story about it - you can read that here >. I was reluctant to mention his name as I was trying to make a wider point about the microaggressions we experience and how these create barriers to women’s contributions to a wide range of civic life, not, as is often the case in politics, of slurring and political point scoring.

Following the article I was told by a current female councillor that this guy had form, that he regularly used similar undermining comments to his female colleagues and clearly didn’t respect their contributions and that I was right to make the complaint (WIN 1) I was also warmed by our local male allies weighing in on the readers comments - never read the comments but - it was lovely to see a local Lib Dem candidate pointing out that their comments only served to prove my point and the point of WEP. Also a Worcestershire Pride committee member made great arguments in our corner in the same forum (WIN 2).

At The Count

The night of the count came. When I arrived at the count, a few hours in, my colleagues who were there waiting for me said that they saw the man in question become physically ruffled as I walked into the room (WIN 3).

This year I was moved by the warmth of the other women in the room. Over the past 4 years some of these women, experienced councillors affiliated to party politics as much as their communities, have confided to me that ‘off the record’ they really support the WEP objectives I have always insisted that a party in which you need to be ‘off the record’ about equal rights is not one that will ever get round to taking them seriously. Furthermore it’s probably safe to assume that the group won’t be taking it’s Public Sector
Equality Duty very seriously either.

Several women came up to me during the course of the evening to thank me for making the complaint, it was overdue, one said, but everyone felt powerless to do something about it - particularly the officers (WIN 4). I felt that part of this process has earned us some respect on the local political scene, that the other female councillors, and a few of the male ones, are starting to understand the positive impact we might have on the council at large.

So in this year’s local council elections we didn’t win if the sum of that is an increase in votes, but our wins - and there were more than the ones I’ve listed here - have highlighted how our presence is making a difference, changing the conversation and modelling behaviour that hopefully will give others confidence to speak out.

Leisa Taylor - Branch Lead & Candidate

  
        
  

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