Occupation: Chief Officer
Political leanings – “I always voted Conservative and never really gave it much thought, until the last bi-election we had. Both the Labour and Conservative candidates had no affinity to the area. The Lib Dem did. And for the first time in my life, I voted Lib Dem.”
Big Idea – To boost local government. She would like to focus funding away from central government and towards local government so that changes you care about can happen.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Trustworthy, competent, caring.
Why are you interested in politics?
I don’t know that I am interested in politics. I make a distinction between politics and local government. I’m interested in local government. Where does it stem from? It stems from living most of my life in a rural community and seeing how much difference a parish or town council can make in a local community. I really wanted to be more involved in that. But I do make the distinction between local democracy and politics. It may be semantic, but in my mind it makes sense.
How would you describe your political leanings? Do you identify with a particular party?
That’s a very timely question. Like many young people, I grew up voting the way my parents voted – my parents always voted Conservative, I always voted Conservative and never really gave it much thought, until the last bi-election we had. At the last bi-election, in Shropshire, I looked at the candidates, and both the Labour and Conservative candidates had no affinity to the area. The Lib Dem did. And for the first time in my life, I voted Lib Dem.
Who is your political hero?
I’ve been asked this so many times, and I still can’t give a good answer to it. I don’t think any of them are particularly heroic.
If you were in parliament, who would be the opponent you’d particularly like to take down?
The only opponent worth taking down would be the one in power!
Do you have any experience in a political role?
Not directly. I don’t have any direct political engagement, but I watch it. It’s something that happens round about me. Parish councils themselves are not political, but some of them do, in fact, have political groupings within them. And, of course, at principal authority level, which we have to work with very closely, they are most definitely political. So there has to be political engagement, but I don’t see it as party political engagement.
What would your strengths be in the role of Prime Minister?
That seems timely.
It does seem timely, but then again, it’s a long time in coming. And I’m not specifically talking about Boris Johnson. I think, when you talk to people, what comes across quite strongly, is how people were resigned. They say “Yes, he lied, but you expect that.” Really?
What about your weaknesses?
Lack of focus. What I often feel, particularly if there are so many things that need your attention at once, is that it’s easy to get distracted, and focus on one thing.
If you were PM what is the first law you would pass?
If only it were that simple.
Let’s take out the rather complex legislative system.
Okay, with my magic wand, I would do some of the things that we’ve been promised. I think we’ve been promised a lot of things through levelling up, and I think there are lots of opportunities in levelling up, if you are honest about it, and stop wittering on about the potential for money. Because there is no money, let’s be clear about that. Let’s be sure that we do, in fact, really energise people in what the old Conservative policies were about – localism and make that work. We have an army of talented parish and town councillors that do enormous work within their communities, unpaid and largely unseen, and it’s the kind of things they do that make a huge difference to the quality of life of people in the community. And time and time again, the things that would help promote that, or make their lives easier are just dropped. A good example of that is the code of conduct, where, in my opinion, the government just whitewashed the report from the Committee for Standards in Public Life, stating the current arrangements are fine for people who behave badly. Now come on, if we want to genuinely encourage people to get involved in democracy, then surely one thing we have to be able to do is say to them “You will be able to work in a safe environment.” And yet we cannot guarantee that. My zoom meeting that went viral is, I would like to say, unique, but if I was under oath, I couldn’t. And the effect that it has, not just on that council, but the community it serves, is devastating. And if we’re honest, and we’re keen to get people from more diverse backgrounds involved, then the minimum we should be able to do is say “You’ll be safe if you join the council.” And we are not backing that up.
Based on your experience of the parish council, and we’ve all seen the video you referred to, do you feel that would prepare you for the rough and tumble of national politics?
My argument is that national politics should not involve the rough and tumble that it currently does. There is absolutely no reason for us to have, for example, the House of Commons set up in a way that has been designed by Big Brother to be as adversarial as it possibly could be, and to say that that is a demonstration of how we expect people to behave in a council chamber. Come on! That’s not what we’re aiming for.
How have you found being in the spotlight yourself?
Amazing and weird in equal proportions. For me, the amazing part is that the celebrity bit has allowed me to talk to more people than I could ever have reached as Jackie Weaver, Chief Officer of ChALC. I get invitations to all sorts of organisations that have an interest in local democracy but are not currently engaging properly with it. The downside of it? People in the supermarket are a bit weird. Somebody comes up do you in a supermarket waving their arms wildly, it’s really strange! I’m thinking “What do you want?” They’ve recognised me, and now it’s over to me to “do my thing”. And I haven’t quite worked out what “my thing” is yet.
How many selfies have you had to be part of in the last year?
I really don’t know. It’s been a really interesting experience, being able to interact with the media, in all its forms, a little. I’m in a very privileged position, I’m able to dip in and out of it. It’s not my day job, so I’m able to walk away from it. I guess one of the things I learned very early on is how unreal it is. I don’t get it. I have never, in my whole life, asked for an autograph or a selfie, or a picture of somebody. It would never occur to me. What would I do with it? So when I have people desperate to take a picture with me, I want to say to them “Why? What are you going to do with it?” I don’t mean because I’m worried about it, I’m just interested.
According to Theresa May, the naughtiest thing she ever did was run through a field of wheat. What is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?
That I’m prepared to own up to? I don’t know. Give me an example of something naughty.
Have you ever gone on a crack-fuelled murder rampage?
Certainly not over the last 18 months. For me, I’m very guilt-orientated. I could be Catholic, although I’m not. So for me, parking in a disabled parking space would fill me with shame.
What specific aspects of the show are you looking forward to, and what are you nervous about?
I’m actually looking forward to listening to the debates. I’m interested in what other people have to say. I have strong opinions, don’t get me wrong, and some of them are opinions that I’ve held for a long time and are quite entrenched, but I like to hear what other people’s views are, because they might change mine. So I think the debates will be interesting. I’m so not looking forward to the bit where somebody goes home. I imagine that relationships will develop quite quickly in this environment, so when someone you like goes, that won’t be nice. And I’ll like it even less if it’s me.
If the chance arose in real life, would you consider standing for parliament?
No. I think, for me, one of the issues is that if you go into politics as an independent, then my impression is that you’ll just spend the next four years travelling backwards and forwards to London and enjoying the tea. You’re not going to count for anything. But the point at which you join a party, your views are not relevant.
How do you feel about working with Sayeeda Warsi and Alastair Campbell?
I’ve never met them. I don’t know. I just hope they’re on their best behaviour. I don’t think I’m intimidated by them. It’ll be interesting to see how they appear. And particularly with Alastair Campbell, I think it’s incredibly easy to decide you know him because of what you’ve read.
As you are about to embark on this experience, how are you feeling?
Nervous, apprehensive, a little lost. Out of my comfort zone. I guess one of the reasons I believe I’m successful in what I do is that I’m quite organised. And this is something that I’m not organising, and I have no control over it whatsoever. So I am obviously not going to be comfortable. It’s like, I’m terrified of flying, and the only way I can talk myself into it is by explaining to myself that I have no control over it, and it’s about letting go of the control. I could knock on the cockpit door and give the pilot some advice, but I suspect he doesn’t need it.