No woman is an island

It seems fitting that this year on 21 November we celebrate #AskHerToStand Day at the same time as Kamala Harris makes history as the first female Vice President elect in the USA.

Whilst the world and our lives have changed so dramatically since our own Parliamentary Election 12 months ago, for me the memories are still very fresh (or is it raw?) as I remember my experience as a first-time candidate.

Deciding to stand wasn’t an easy decision – not only was I standing for election for the first time in the middle of a very wet, cold winter, but I was changing jobs and in the early stages of pregnancy with my second child. I had to weigh up the physical and emotional demands that come with growing a human alongside my desire to stand up for the issues I believe in.

In truth, this isn’t something men have to deal with – even when they do have young families, it isn’t quite the same physical impact and Mummy Guilt is pretty powerful at the best of times! Early on, I enlisted the support of my family, who helped in numerous ways – from cooking meals and doing nursery pick-ups to delivering leaflets and being my test audience for hustings. My partner rallied me when I was feeling unsure or overwhelmed and stepped in to take on my share of our domestic life. It left me feeling loved and incredibly lucky.

My experience is neatly captured in this short documentary, following my eager enthusiasm and the ups and downs of a winter election where the national picture is going against you.

I stood in Walthamstow, one of the safest Labour seats in the country with a high-profile local MP. When there was so much else going on in my life, standing in a safe seat felt like the right thing for me. It gave me a chance to see what campaigning was like without the pressure, learn a lot and decide whether I wanted to take a bigger leap. It also enabled me to spend more time in target seats watching their campaigns and learning for the future.

In fact, I was completely energised by getting out in the community, inspired by the fresh voices and sharp questions at school hustings, grateful for the time and commitment of volunteers, and humbled by the support and love of my family.

Locally our aims were to take at least 5% of the vote – which we hadn’t done since 2010 – build our brand and engage a local network of volunteers for the future, with an eye on upcoming London and local elections.

Whilst the end result nationally wasn’t where we wanted it, I doubled our vote share to 6%, found new activists and raised our profile.

Overall it was a huge learning experience and whilst I can’t deny it was exhausting, I found it largely a positive one. I take great memories, new friends, immense pride and greater resilience into the next stage of my life.

If you ever are considering standing, my advice is to manage your expectations, manage the expectations of those around you and be shameless about asking for support. No-one can do it alone. There will never be a perfect time to stand but whenever you decide to do it you will gain so much from the experience.

* Meera Chadha is Vice Chair of the Waltham Forest Liberal Democrats, and was a Parliamentary candidate in the 2019 General Election

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7 Comments

  • Thanks so much for sharing your very interesting experiences Meera. It’s quite eye-opening.

    And well done on doubling the vote share and keeping the deposit in a tough constituency. I hope you will consider standing again when the time comes, and that it’s a bit warmer.

  • I, too, wish Meera good luck in her future ambitions, though with two riders :

    1. Stella Creasy over the years has proved to be an excellent M.P. with an excellent ‘liberal’ record on, for example, pay day loans. I’m sure many former Liberal Democrat voters felt comfortable when they voted for her in recent years….. there is much for the present Lib Dem Party to ponder on that. Kneejerk unthinking right wing anti-socialism almost killed this party in the 1920/30’s.

    2. It’s a mere ten years since the Liberal Democrats came second and polled nearly 30% in Walthamstow. To be pleased with only 5% now begs many questions. What in depth study has party HQ done into why the vote is only 1/6th of what it was….. or is it too obvious ?

    Lib Dem supporters and defenders of the Coalition and its policies should take a good hard look at it. They should ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ about the impact of what they did to the party’s reputation. ‘The people’ made their choice. It’s not just ‘smelling’ it’s about ‘listening’, ‘seeing’, ‘thinking’ and responding too.

    However, I repeat : Good luck to you personally, Meera – please try to re-awake the party to a radical progressive agenda before it becomes a mere spec of dust in history.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Nov '20 - 12:13pm

    When Mike Pence and Kamala Harris debated as potential VPs the standard of debate and decorum were much better than had happened in the loud debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. If Joe stands aside in his first term she will make a good President, also if she stands for President in 2024. There is too much talk about what Donald Trump et famille will do in 2024. My advice would be to keep winning elections, starting with both Kansas Senate seats.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Nov '20 - 4:23pm

    I trust you made the most of being pregnant during the campaign and didn’t brush the fact under the carpet. We should do more to attract those who don’t normally vote and interesting life circumstances stand out against a panoply of policies and promises. Of course there will be those who will think you shouldn’t be standing though I doubt they would vote for us anyway.

  • @ Peter Hirst “I trust you made the most of being pregnant during the campaign and didn’t brush the fact under the carpet”.

    It may have slipped your notice Peter, but Stella Creasy MP was also pregnant at the time. She not only won the seat by a landslide, but also got to the delivery room ahead of Meera.

    I’m afraid Lib Dems will have to discover much more unique and compelling reasons to vote Lib Dem than that.

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