Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Inspiring Lib Dem Women

This evening I spent a rare night off from my Council duties to attend a networking event organised by the fantastic Lib Dem Women's Network. This network was set up by my good friend Jo Shaw who stood for Parliament as the Lib Dem candidate for Holborn & St Pancras last year and who is a member of the Party's Federal Executive.
Although the Liberal Democrats have more formal structures in place to support women, and increase the number of women MPs in Parliament, Jo and I agree that it is important to encourage informal networking between women in the Party as a means of supporting women become more involved at all levels of the Party.
As a young woman involved in local politics I try and get along to these events to encourage other women who are interested in getting more involved in the Party. Also as a relatively inexperienced politician myself I also like to go to these events to pick up tips from my more experienced colleagues - for example on policy and more practical matters like public-speaking and campaigning.
Lynne Featherstone MP Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister was the special guest at the event tonight. Lynne is a bit of a mentor to me on the side and I am lucky enough to call her a friend. She is one of the people I respect most in politics and she has inspired me achieve things in politics right from the first moment met her a few years ago.
Lynne's constituency borders the area I grew up in in North London so we have a lot in common. When I go home to visit family and friends no-one has a bad word to say about Lynne (including non-Lib Dem supporters!) . She has an incredibly high profile in her local area because she always gets involved and stuck into local issues.
One of the amazing things about Lynne is she got into politics late - at the age of 41 but despite this she has risen from local councillor in Haringey to Minister, taking her seat in Parliament from third place in 2005.
One of the things I love about Lynne is the fact she speaks her mind and does what she thinks is right, not what she is told to do by others or necessarily what is popular. Take for example her stance on prisoner voting. This quality can mean she gets into trouble sometimes but it also means that she is incredibly well-respected by constituents and colleagues alike.
If you get the chance to speak to Lynne she really doesn't sound like a politician and she is always interested in what other people have to say whatever their role or background. This self-effacing, down to earth quality makes her very easy to talk to and I have been known to bend her ear every now and again!
I also love the fact that Lynne has kept up with blogging despite becoming a minister and that on her blog she gives equal prominence to work she does as a constituency MP as she does as a member of the government. Lynne's Blog was definitely an influence on mine (although I fear mine does not touch hers in terms of readability or popularity!) Lynne has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to communication and social media - and way ahead of most MPs.
Anyway, itt says a lot about Lynne that she found time in her busy diary to speak to a group of female Lib Dem Party Members this evening. That said whenever I have had a reason to contact Lynne about something she always responds which is pretty amazing given the amount of emails and casework she must receive.
Lynne has achieved such a lot in her role as Equality Minister - including recently campaigning to lift the ban on civil partnerships in religious settings.
The event tonight was held at Lib Dem HQ in Cowley Street and it was lovely to catch up with friends, fellow former parliamentary candidates, and activists. Politics can be a tough, unforgiving environment and we all do our best to support and encourage each other. It was really nice to see plenty of young female members there who are getting involved in campaigning and activities right across the Party.
I had a chat with Caroline Pidgeon who is doing great things on the Greater London Assembly, as well as Belinda Brooks-Gordon who as well as being a senior academic and mother is a fantastic Lib Dem campaigner on equality issues. My friend Jo Shaw who set up the group is campaigning both inside and outside the Party on a number of key issues relating to human rights.
Talking to all these talented women reminds me that we have so many bright stars within our Party and I am confident that many of them will go on to achieve great things both inside and outside Parliament.
Locally I think it is very important to lead by example and to encourage and support women who want to get involved in politics. You can never have enough female role models as far as I'm concerned. As a councillor I have developed a strong network of female friends who are councillors - many of whom are much more experienced than me! They include Cllr Erica Kemp from Liverpool, along with the fantastic Hull Lib Dem team, Cllr Sarita Bush and Cllr Abi Bell , and Cllr Marie Jenkins in the West Country - all of whom I met on the Next Generation course run by the Leadership Centre for Local Government.
I spoke on the subject of women in politics last year at Reading University and I am proud to have been able to recruit, promote and support new female activists in Reading - including my friend and colleague Cllr Rebecca Rye who was elected in Katesgrove last May.
Talking about inspirational women this post would not be complete without a mention of Cllr Kirsten Bayes, my esteemed ward colleague, Deputy Leader of the Council, campaigner and close friend - to whom I dedicate this post.

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