If you've ever considered a career in politics but never knew where to start, this article is for you.
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There are few jobs more important than being one of the UK's 650 Members of Parliament (MPs). Although it is a multifaceted job, an MP's primary responsibility is to represent the interests and concerns of those who have voted for them.
Unfortunately, women are less likely than men to consider entering the workforce, with only one-third of UK MPs currently being women.
Among them is Taiwo Owatemi. In 2019, she was elected as the Labour MP for Coventry North West. Taiwo was a pharmacist before entering politics, and she has some advice for women interested in a career in politics, whether they are fresh out of university or have spent their entire working life in a completely different field.
She tells The Curiosity Academy how to get started as an MP and how to leverage your unique life experience to make it a success.
Why Taiwo Owatemi's viral speech is so important for free school meals
Learn about the role of a Member of Parliament.
MPs divide their time between working in Parliament, working in their home constituency, and working for their political party. Some MPs become ministers with specific responsibilities in areas such as health or education, but working for their constituents remains central to their role.
"My family always told me that politics is a form of community service," Taiwo says. "The job of any politician, whether at the local or national level, is to listen and truly hear people's experiences." ”
Consider how your distinct experience might set you apart in Parliament.
Parliament has traditionally been dominated by white men from affluent backgrounds, but it is becoming more diverse, with more people from diverse professional and personal backgrounds becoming Members of Parliament with each election.
"I agree that parliament can be an old boys club," Taiwo says, "and I can say that as the only woman on the International Trade Committee." "[Women] make up 52% of the population but account for only one-third of MPs." ”
"I genuinely believe that whatever background you come from, you've got something to give," Taiwo says of diversity in parliament. In fact, your unique perspectives and lived experience are what you have to offer Parliament. That, in my opinion, should not be a barrier. ”
Taiwo cites Nadia Whittome, the youngest Member of Parliament, as an example of the value of diversity. "Before coming to Parliament, she worked as a caregiver and decided not to attend university." She's made a lot of changes and influenced a lot of policies since she's been here - she's been incredible. ”
Define your role as a legislator.
Taiwo says the most important thing to figure out if you want to run for parliament is why you want to stand. "You must understand what you are passionate about." What are the issues you want to address? And you must remain committed to your vision. ”
According to Taiwo, being an MP can be a difficult job, but having a strong ethos will make it worthwhile. "When you're knocking on doors on a rainy day, when things are tough, when you have setbacks, that's what will give you the motivation and energy to keep going." ”
"It's critical that you have a supportive environment to help numb that voice in your head when it tells you you can't do it."
Select a political party and create a supportive network.
"The next step is to decide which political party you want to join," says Taiwo. Labour was an obvious choice for her because she had attended Labour Party meetings before considering running for MP and was also a member of the Fabian Society.
If you’re not already associated with or invested in a particular political party, Taiwo suggests doing some research online, attending meetings and becoming involved with organisations like The Parliament Project, a non-partisan campaign working to motivate, support and equip women to run for political office in the UK, focusing on practical hands-on instruction and assistance Taiwo also suggests getting involved with 50:50, a campaign that works to get more women elected to parliament.
The Labour Women's Network also provides training for women interested in running for Parliament or becoming more politically active. Angela Rayner, Preet Gill, and Emily Thornberry, for example, used the network to help them get elected.
Taiwo advises that once you've decided why you want to run for MP and which political party you want to represent, you should work on building a supportive network. "Politics is all about collaboration." It is about working together to effect the necessary change. It's critical that you have a supportive environment to help numb that voice in your head when it tells you you can't do it. ”
Get some hands-on experience by volunteering.
If you do not work in politics, volunteering is essential if you want to become an MP. However, Taiwo explains that this does not have to be time-consuming and that it can be done by anyone. Taiwo took the traditional route of spending a lot of time with community members, but there are other options that don't require you to give up too much of your time or money.
"For instance, if you're an accountant, you could assist a charity with some of their accounting," Taiwo suggests. "It's just a matter of deciding where you want to make an impact and determining what you can do to improve it." ”
Consider what you've learned from previous jobs.
You should also consider how your current job has provided you with experience that could be useful in your political career. "As a pharmacist working in NHS hospitals every day, treating cancer patients, I would go to work and see the effects of government cuts on our NHS patients," Taiwo says. "It became clear that those making decisions about health policies and NHS funding had very little understanding of what was actually going on inside the NHS." ”
Taiwo used her experience working in the NHS as part of her manifesto when running for Labour candidate for Coventry North West and later as an MP. She has been appointed to the Health and Social Care Committee.
Be prepared to go through a rigorous application process.
Before you run for parliament, you must first secure a position as a candidate for your preferred political party. The application process varies by party, but when Taiwo applied to become a Labour MP, she had to send in what she calls her "master CV," which detailed how each job she had held was relevant to being an MP.
"You then go through a rigorous round of interviews, and the final stage is speaking in front of the local Labour party where you give your speech about why you want to stand and what your vision is for your constituency," Taiwo explains, adding that, for Labour, the final stage is speaking in front of the local Labour party where you give your speech about why you want to stand and what your vision is for your constituency Members of the party make the final decision by voting on whether or not to support you as a candidate.
Consider the abilities you will require as an MP.
"I believe it is critical to have good listening skills," Taiwo says. "It's critical that you listen to people and understand their needs, but you also need good people skills to be able to relate to them and have empathy for them in order for them to feel comfortable enough to open up." ”
Taiwo acknowledges that public speaking skills are important, but that they can be acquired in a variety of ways once elected if you are not comfortable speaking in public.
MPs' social media skills are also becoming increasingly important, as Taiwo discovered when her speech from a Free School Meals debate went viral in October 2020.
Maintain open communication with your employer.
Taiwo was elected as the Labour candidate for her constituency on a Saturday and began campaigning the following Monday, but her circumstances were unusual in that she was running in a snap election.
She had to leave her job as a pharmacist due to a conflict of interest as an NHS employee, but Taiwo says she was fortunate that her organization was supportive and allowed her to do so on short notice.
"I think it's really frustrating that becoming an MP can take a lot of time and money because it does exclude a lot of people," Taiwo admits. "I worked as a pharmacist for the NHS - we don't make that much money." So I didn't have much savings, but having that community support and my friends and family being able to help me went a long way. ”
While running for MP, you do not receive a salary, but Taiwo explains that your political party should be able to financially support you, and you can also hold fundraisers in your community to raise funds. Furthermore, if you are running in a regular General Election rather than a Snap Election, and there are no conflicts of interest with your employer, you should be able to keep your day job until you are elected as an MP.
Once elected, MPs are paid £81,932 per year, with the exception of those in ministerial roles, the Prime Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition, who are all paid an additional salary.
Devote yourself, but remember that rest is essential.
According to research conducted by The Hansard Society, MPs work approximately 69 hours per week, and the work of politicians is frequently emotionally and physically exhausting. "Finding that balance is one of the challenges I face," Taiwo admits. "I work a lot on weekends and evenings, and I always have the news playing in the background." ”
"However, I believe it is critical to prioritize self-care," she adds. "You have to make your own time; no one is going to make it for you." Some days in my diary, I realize that everyone has forgotten that I need to eat. I haven't eaten anything since 7 p.m. ”
"I felt important when I chose to stand, and I knew my worth."
Knowing your worth will help you deal with abuse and self-doubt.
Receiving abuse, particularly online, is an unfortunate part of being an MP, and Taiwo knows this all too well as a Black woman. She emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with a supportive team if you decide to run for parliament, both personally and professionally. "I'm so fortunate to have so many supportive Labour Party MPs and a strong sisterhood who are always supportive and on whom I can lean for advice and ask questions - no question is silly." ”
Taiwo also discusses the significance of self-esteem. "I felt important when I chose to stand, and I knew my worth." I was aware of my vision. I knew I wanted to stand, so I just did it. ”
Remember that becoming an MP is never too late in life.
Although some people know they want to be in politics from a young age, this is becoming increasingly rare for MPs, and it is perfectly fine to decide you want to be in politics later in life. even if you believe you have no relevant prior experience
"The average age of an MP is around 50," Taiwo says. "Some of my colleagues who made the switch later in life felt like they'd had the time and encouragement to use and be encouraged to use their voice." ”
"It's critical that you never doubt yourself," Taiwo advises. "I believe that women's voices have been ignored for far too long, and I would like to see more women in Parliament." ”
The fundamental steps to becoming an MP, summarized
All of that information may seem a little overwhelming, so here are the basic steps you must take to become an MP:
- Choose your political party - if you're unsure, do some online research and attend meetings.
- Join your preferred political party and get involved in local campaigning and volunteering.
- Find a parliamentary seat that hasn't yet been filled - if you're a member of a political party, they should have a newsletter or a website with this information.
- If you are elected as a parliamentary candidate, talk to your employer and political party about your options for continuing to work.
- Then it is time to begin campaigning. If you've made it this far, make sure to take care of yourself by establishing a strong support network in both your personal and professional life.
Recommended resources to help you get started in politics.
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Taiwo Owatemi is the Labour MP for Coventry North West, having been elected on December 12, 2019. She is a member of the International Trade Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, and is well-known for her support of the Free School Meals campaign in 2020, among other things.
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