The Conservative Councillors' Association Magazine wanted to speak to new MPs with a background in local government to see how that experience influenced their General Election campaigns. I was elected as a councillor in Tower Hamlets in 2014 and provided the following answers to the CCA's questions:
- Did experience campaigning in local council elections help you with the General election campaign? This includes things like knowing what people look for in candidates, as well as being prepared to do the early mornings and late nights that are part of the campaign.
Yes, definitely. As one of only five Conservative councillors in Tower Hamlets, you get into the habit of delivering regular newsletters, keeping up your online communications and responding quickly to people’s concerns. We get elected in that borough through relentless hard work more than anything. A lot of residents are turned off by overt party politics so you get used to speaking one-on-one with people about the issues without hammering them with propaganda.
- How did experience in local government (such as public speaking and meeting people living in your ward) prepare you for parts of the campaign? Was this useful for hustings or speaking with local constituents and addressing their concerns?
Town Hall debates in Tower Hamlets can be very combative and drama-filled. If you can survive the hyperbolic theatrics of politics in East London, you feel pretty well prepared for the rough and tumble of politics elsewhere. You learn to give credence not to the loudest voices but to the people who don’t always feel comfortable speaking up and who nonetheless have valuable insights and opinions that need to be heard too.
- Was knowledge gained from working in local government useful in helping to understand the concerns that constituents had? For instance, was the understanding of local issues helpful in communicating to voters how, precisely, you would be able to make their lives better as their MP?
Very much so. Governing is quite a complex business so it is helpful to have a comprehensive understanding of how power structures operate and how different parts of the system interact with one another. This really matters when it comes to managing expectations about what can be achieved but also in understanding how to build the kinds of productive working relationships and alliances with the politicians and officers who can actually deliver for the residents you are representing.
- Finally, do you see there being a connection between what motivated you to go into local government and what has brought you into Westminster? Did having been part of a council help cement your decision to run for parliament?
Without a doubt. In spite of working in politics, it had never been my intention to stand for elected office myself. I put myself forward because I saw corruption, malpractice and poor governance within my local authority, and I realised I couldn’t just expect others to do the difficult work of clearing it up. Residents in my ward then continued to encourage me in my work and gave me the confidence to realise that what I was doing was of value and that if I kept going, I might be able to use the experience and knowledge I had gained to improve things in our country. After a number of conversations in which residents told me I should consider standing, I decided to go for it!