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Why I didn’t Go into Politics

Women & PoliticsToday there are fewer women MPS who have EVER sat in the UK parliament than men MPs who are currently sitting! (check it out). I am a mother, so according to some, I am eminently qualified to steer the country through its difficulties.

So why aren’t I an MP or running the country?

In the early 1980s, I was approached by a group working with Lady Peacock who was encouraging more women to go into Parliament. This was a cross party initiative and many of my friends were actively encouraged to stand up, put themselves forward, get engaged in party politics and stand as candidates.

Political debate and argument is in my DNA on my father and brother’s side, so for one brief moment I thought – why not? I had one small child (later two) and I was running a business based in central London. One quick look at the MPs hours (when Parliament sits) made me realise that I would need not only day-care for my children, but an evening nanny as the hours would be long and go well into the night. I also couldn’t see how I could run my own business whilst doing this. I had no desire to become a ‘career politician’.

I am quite good at arguing.

I have spent my life arguing in employment tribunals, and everywhere else you find me. The despatch box and question time held no terrors for me. But I didn’t have any desire to behave in such an appalling fashion. Then there was the little problem of hypocrisy in British public life. I grew up in the 60s and 70s. Not to put too fine a point on it – I had the sense to inhale! I couldn’t imagine standing on a public platform lying about that. I had a mis-spent youth and I am glad I did. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. At a time of massive intrusion and scrutiny into politicians lives, I felt unable to lie, and unwilling to be pilloried. I wasn’t willing to lie about who I am or where I come from.

Nor was I willing to be that ‘groomed woman in a suit’ that politics required of us then.

Maggie was in full flow – and amazing and strong as she was – she was not my role model. From time to time I have stirred myself and got involved in local campaigns and even online campaigns – knowing that at best I am that hated creature – the armchair activist! My biggest political achievement this decade was to get the council to put a roof on a block of flats that needed it. I have even managed to get them to empty the rubbish. Not very grand, but my vision of democracy has been rooted in community building.

Getting 13 Londoners to agree about one thing is about the limit of my leadership skills. I must say I feel a great sense of achievement that I did that!.

Yet the big issues of the day, from climate, to resources, to our relationship with Europe, are mostly left to men who don’t seem able to clean up their own bedrooms, never mind run the country with any sensible plan.

The party political system is broken and it is really hard to identify with any one party vision. From rehashed Marxism to laissez-faire economic theory, I had read it all and considered it all. Children squabbling over who gets to tidy up when the bedroom has been trashed – at least that’s how it has always struck me.

So many of us feel alienated from politics.

Those that don’t seem happy to be anti this and anti that. Put up a petition against almost anything and thousands of people will sign. Yet I don’t see many petitions that are for something. The media whips everyone into a state of fear and frenzy and even the most rational of neighbours spout hateful things they would not normally have said.

I’d like to participate in building a better future for my children (who are now grown) and the grandchildren I may one day have. I don’t want to spend my time with a megaphone shouting outside the town hall or parliament and I certainly don’t want to be shouting inside parliament in the embarrassing bear pit that has come to characterise our nation’s democracy.

I have run my own business for 36 years and raised two boys who have not (yet!) gone to jail. I feel I know something of life and of the world. I am not cynical, but hopeful, that out of the punch and judy show of the two party system, we might arrive at something more rounded, more inclusive, and more useful.

Let’s hope I might be able to turn on the TV one day to see our national leaders behaving like grown-ups. Meanwhile, there is rubbish to be cleared away in my neighbourhood, small and thriving businesses to be supported and encouraged, young people to be greeted and encouraged. We might even yet sort out the five-year long argument about parking on the shopping parade.

I can’t do much about global terrorism, the cruel way we demonise and treat various citizens and groups. But I can slowly move towards resolving the parking issue and work with the lovely British-Asian European and old school Londoners of every kind who make up our local community. I am not into politics me – but it does get into me!

Annabel Kaye

Head Honcho at Koffee Klatch
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