What inspired you to get involved in politics?
I have always had an interest in politics at both a national and local level but didn’t become actively involved until 2007, aged 53, when I joined the Liberal Democrats. I first stood as a candidate for Upwey and Broadway in the May election (Weymouth & Portland Borough Council). My decision to stand was related to my support for construction of a Weymouth Relief Road, which at the time was facing opposition from groups outside the local area. After my first taste, I became keen to stand as a candidate again in future elections.
I left the Liberal Democrats in 2009 and was a member of the Conservative Party for a short period before becoming independent. I believe that decisions should be made in the best interests of the local community, rather than be dictated by party politics. I first stood as an independent candidate for the Portland Tophill East (Weymouth & Portland Borough Council) in May 2010. I later stood in the 2011 local elections as an independent candidate for the Upper Hale ward (Waverley Borough Council and Farnham Town Council), where I was successfully elected to Farnham Town Council. With the assistance of the Access to Elected Office Fund I was an independent candidate in the May 2013 elections for Wrecclesham and Rowledge ward, Waverley Borough Council and Farnham South, Surrey County Council.
What is the reality for disabled people working as politicians?
Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s I have difficulty walking for any length of time and I am generally vulnerable to falling. This makes door-to-door campaigning and delivering leaflets to establish a real presence very difficult. I need significant local help for this and it is better if I am always accompanied while I am out campaigning.
As an Independent, I have the added problem of having no party machine or financial resources to help me. The provision of a financial grant from the Access to Elected Office Fund to cover the cost of a carer to accompany me whilst campaigning has, therefore, been of great help. It has allowed me to undertake more door-to-door campaigning than I otherwise would have been able to achieve, and closer to the levels any other candidate would be undertaking. Provision of the grant has enabled my partner to accompany me when canvassing.
What are your future plans for your political career?
I am currently considering standing for the next round of local elections in May 2015 to defend my position as Independent Member for Upper Hale. I will not, however, make a final decision until nearer the time as it may well be influenced by the fact that they are likely to be held on the same day as a General Election, making it harder, I believe, for an independent candidate to be elected. In the interim period, I will also consider standing as an independent candidate in any by-election that might arise in Waverley Borough Council or Surrey County Council.
How can candidate offices use the Access to Elected Office fund to attract more disabled candidates and diversify local and national politics?
Every opportunity needs to be taken to spread the word to make people aware of the availability of the fund. Apart from “word of mouth”, which tends to be the most effective means of communication, presentations to disabled and political party groups at both national and local levels, as well as presence at political conferences and events might be helpful.
What advice would you give to other disabled people who want to play a role in politics?
Be persistent and never give up. In my situation, my Parkinson’s, which is under control with medication, does not make me immediately recognisable as disabled, so I do not necessarily face the same problems as other people who have a disability. Indeed, people do not always appreciate or understand the mobility difficulties that I face.
All the resources being made available through the Access to Elected Office Strategy are obviously helpful, although this needs to be accompanied by the development of more training schemes. Apart from allowing information to be more widely disseminated, such training sessions would also provide the opportunity for people with disabilities to network to share and learn from the experiences of others. Consideration should also be given to short and longer-term placements with Leaders of local authorities in addition to Parliamentary placements.