CategoryPolitics

Profile: Liz Parsons, Labour Councillor, Children’s Centre Manager and Activist

I meet up with Liz for a canvass session in the Liverpool constituency where she lives. The Metro Mayor election is coming up, as is a council by-election in Wavertree ward, the one next to Childwall where Liz is a Councillor.

At the start of the session our group is assigned a round. “It’s a bit rough,” says one of the organisers, “Watch out for the rats.” But Liz is undeterred. “It’s fine!” she asserts. “It’s just on the edge of my children’s centre catchment”. Off we go.

It’s not that ‘rough’, at least not to my eyes. There’s a lot of Labour voters and we meet several very friendly people who care deeply about where they live and want to have a chat about it. Liz is easy on the doorstep, happy to have conversations about everything from the Tory government to the local litter clearing strategy. I knock a door and speak to a young man who, on seeing Liz passing behind me, waves her over. He’s one of the parents from her children’s centre. His partner pops out for a chat too, clearly thrilled to see Liz on their doorstep.

LizParsons1And who wouldn’t be? Liz is one of those ‘Liverpool people’. She knows it, referring to herself as ‘gobby’ – an endearing term, not a negative, for a scouse lass. You can tell within minutes that she brings a smile and enthusiasm to every room and situation she’s in, especially when there’s someone to help and a difference to make. “Give me an underdog, and I’ll stand up for them,” she says when I ask about her motivations.

Liz has been an activist all her life, but is the first to admit that she didn’t realise there was a name for it until recently. Growing up through the 70s and 80s, with Chilean refugees sleeping on her parents floor, and being sent out with a tin to collect change for the children of striking miners before she could have her own presents at Christmas, it’s easy to see how she became passionate about helping people. Her first job after leaving school at 16 was at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station and she quickly became the station’s union rep. After this, a series of jobs from fostering to childminding led her to her current role managing a children’s centre.

It was after the 2010 general election, when the coalition government set about dismantling public services, that Liz joined the Labour Party because she wanted to do more than just vote. The new government’s cuts also threatened Liverpool’s children centres, leading Liz to spearhead the campaign to save them. She’s still leading this campaign today.

Starting with the centre at which she was working, Liz arranged a protest event, inviting parents and children to join hands and form a human wall around the centre, symbolising the ring-fencing of funding for children’s centres. After this, Hands Around Liverpool saw the same thing happen at every centre across the city, and a similar demonstration around the mayor’s office in the Cunard Building on Liverpool’s world-famous waterfront. This already sounds impressive, and then Liz casually adds that the campaign also saw her presenting a petition at Downing Street and meeting with the shadow minister responsible.

This tenacious spirit is evidently what drives Liz’s attitude right through her life. Not content with raising a daughter, she also agreed to stand for council when a vacancy came up, winning her seat in 2016, while at the same time completing a Masters degree in Lancaster. It sounds like there’s never a dull minute at home. On polling days the family – Liz, her partner and teenage daughter – host a committee room and provide butties for lunch for every canvasser in the constituency. While I’m there they are preparing for an epic extended family camping trip the next day, which the three of them seem to be in charge of organising too.

Liz’s partner suggests I ask her how often they celebrate Christmas. Intrigued, I oblige. Turns out the answer is 3 or 4 times a year. Liz loves Christmas, and declares that if you enjoy something you should do it as often as you like. Why wait for December? You might not make it until tomorrow. It seems like a fantastic idea, I agree. Easter Christmas, Summer Christmas, each time with crackers, turkey, presents and inevitably quite a party.

The campaign to save Liverpool’s children’s centres is still ongoing, and having worked together with the her colleagues in Liverpool’s Labour Council, and the cabinet member for Schools and Education Liz has managed to secure the future of the city’s children’s centres for another three years.

There’s a catch, though: because she’s on a temporary promotion as a manager, when the centres are combined and rationalised, she’ll automatically go back to her previous assistant role, losing some of her income in the process. That must be a tough outcome to swallow. “You can’t let personal circumstances stop you doing the right thing,” she says. Quite.

Liz is the Labour Councillor for Childwall ward and a member of the first cohort of the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme.


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Labour Women’s Network Committee

I’m standing to be a member of the Labour Women’s Network management committee.

Why I’m standing:

As one of the first Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme trainees I know first-hand the value of LWN training and support. A large part of the success of this programme is the diversity of the trainees – inspirational women from every background, age and region of the UK.

It’s important to me that as many women as possible are able to access training opportunities like this and participate in the work of LWN.

I live in Wales, and I know from speaking with women from Scotland, the north, the south West and other areas, that it’s difficult to take part if you’re based outside London or can’t afford travel. Labour needs women to win everywhere in the UK.

 

If you elect me, I will:

  • Make sure that LWN offers events and training right across the UK, and that a system of fare-pooling is put in place to help people get there
  • Consult members across the country on what kind of training they want and need, and work to deliver it
  • Lobby for rigorous procedures to ensure that all CLPs and regions follow gender balance policies and deal with abuse according to party rules

 

My experience delivering for women:

I recently set up a Women’s Forum in my CLP which has already led to a number of women becoming more involved and standing as council candidates. I was responsible for local government selection procedures for Cardiff’s 2017 elections, and, despite opposition, increased the number and diversity of women candidates across the city.

I spoke at Welsh Labour Women’s Conference in 2015 about campaigning to win in a marginal seat (I was a key part of the campaign in Cardiff Central in both 2015 and 2017), and at Welsh Labour Conference 2016 I gave a speech representing my CLP as one of the proposers of a motion to the Welsh Executive Committee to produce clear guidance on the implementation of All Women Shortlists.

Following this, at the Women’s Fringe of Welsh Labour Conference 2017 I was part of a panel discussion chaired by Sarah Champion MP on making gender equality a reality.

At Welsh Labour Women’s Conference 2016 I ran a training session on using social media and online tools to campaign. This is something I’m passionate about, and skilled in from my professional background, and it’s inspiring to be able to talk about new ways to campaign with inspiring women from across the Party.

 

My experience within the Labour Party:

  • CLP Women’s Officer 2016-17; set up women’s forum
  • Key part of campaign team for Jo Stevens MP in 2015 and 2017 and Jenny Rathbone AM in 2016, achieving a Labour gain and increased majorities
  • Chair of LGBT Labour Wales 2016-date; increased membership in Wales to almost triple previous level, set up first Wales committee, organised presence at pride events in Wales and campaigned for out LGBT candidates
  • Worked with HQ team on testing for Labour’s doorstep app in 2016
  • Cardiff LCF procedure secretary 2016-17; responsible for process of selections for all-out council elections across the city, delivered increased gender equality and candidate diversity

 

Voting for Labour Women’s Network Management Committee takes place from 1st – 18th September. All members of LWN will receive ballot papers and voting information on 1st September. Please use your vote to support me and I’ll deliver for you.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please email jenthorntonlab@gmail.com

For more information on the management committee elections, visit the Labour Women’s Network website.

Political Women have More in Common

The #MoreInCommon movement, its hashtag, and the phrase itself have come to prominence in the months following the murder of Jo Cox MP. In October, women came together to hear from a range of speakers on the theme of political women have more in common.

Each speaker told a story, or spoke about their work, and then gave the audience a specific, defined call to action. This short, sharp format was very effective, and reminded me that we can discuss these issues all we like, but it’s actions that matter.

You can watch the film of the event here.

The ethos is excellent – that there really is much more in common than that which divides us. This is what Jo Cox said in her maiden speech in the Commons last year.

The event’s speakers include women from the three main UK parties – Labour, The Lib Dems and the Conservatives – and all three have remarkably similar aims. They want to see more women in public life. It seems obvious to us as women that discourse is improved, and leadership more effective, when women are at the table. (Just as it is when those facing other discrimination, such as LGBT, BAME and disabled people are at the table.) The Labour Party’s Labour Women’s Network provides training, but also is acutely aware of the need for structural change in the environment into which women will be stepping.

I have long been an advocate of the need for structural change. Of course we should provide training for women wanting to enter public life, just as we should for men. There are skills that are very useful, and can be taught and practiced. Public speaking, for example, along with media skills and debating. This, however, is nothing without the necessary change in our public-life environments.

Parliament, for example, is hardly a women-friendly place. Not just the sitting hours but the attitudes and traditions of style, which have been created by and controlled by men over hundreds of years. Women are also disadvantaged by the structures of wider society. Stonewall Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, in her speech, reminded the audience that it’s ok to be clever, articulate and express your views. We are so used to being shouted down, interrupted, or ignored that it can take a lot to remember this.

So what can be done? Several of the speakers addressed this in their calls to action: when you see women standing up, don’t allow anyone to shout them down; give up your power to someone not yet at the table; amplify women’s voices; become a mentor. All of these actions involve other people. The key to our fight for equality, which was also highlighted by several of the speakers, is that we can achieve the most change when we work together. It’s not enough to break the glass ceiling, or get a seat at the decision-making table, you must make sure others are coming with you.

The keynote speech was given by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She spoke about Jo Cox’s activism and transition to becoming a Parliamentarian. She also unashamedly raised the very real issue that, following Jo’s death, there is a real sense of fear experienced particularly by women. There’s an increased fear for political women putting themselves out there, handing out leaflets in a public place, or knocking doors. This was also reflected by Yvette Cooper, who spoke about the Reclaim the Internet project. These issues also come back to structural change in society. It’s not acceptable to murder someone in the street, of course it isn’t. But it’s also not acceptable to shout abuse, or death and rape threats. Why, then, do we accept it online, and on social media, where some of the worst hate-speech can be found?

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, pointed out that in the week or so following Jo Cox’s death, MPs took onboard her message that working together, rather than being partisan and combative, is the best way to achieve real change for people. It’s always a difficult idea for politicians – of course we need to push for our solutions over those proposed by our opponents, but when there actually is agreement it’s better for the people we want to serve that we work together to achieve things. Of course we will always be faced with opposition from those who propose different solutions to the ones we believe in, but this reminded me that it’s important to come back to our real purpose: serving our communities and making the changes that we need to see in the world.

My final takeaway was about power. In Julia Gillard’s keynote speech she talked about the difference between being a campaigner and being a politician. She used Jo Cox’s story to highlight the relevance of this. Jo was a campaigner – working most prominently at Oxfam – prior to her selection and election as an MP. Why did she make the transition? Julia Gillard pointed out that it’s power that actually gives us the opportunity to change things.

Women are often discouraged from seeking power – think about the overuse of words like ‘bossy’ and ‘b***h’ to describe women who openly seek it. The recent US Presidential campaign threw this into sharp global focus, but Julia also experienced it on her way to become Australia’s first (and still only) female Prime Minister.

It can seem on the surface dismissive, but she is right. You can’t make changes by being a name on a ballot paper, you have to win. The higher up the political system you climb, the more power you have, and the more change you can make.

Her speech served as a very empowering reminder that it is not only acceptable, but essential for women to seek political power, right across the world and at every level. That there should be absolutely no shame in women aspiring to hold the highest political office of the land. As politicians we can actual make changes on issues that are important to us.

As Prime Minister, she said, Julia was able to take action on several issues that mattered to her. As a campaigner with no power this would simply not have been possible. With women’s life experiences being broadly different to men’s, the issues that matter to us are of course going to be different. Again this crosses over into other disadvantaged and minority groups. When these diverse groups of people have political power, issues will be raised and changes made that transcend what just white men alone would come up with. Diversity of experience brings diversity of decision making and in the end this is the only way we can really serve society.

There is Power in a Union

This week is Heart Unions week. The campaign, organised by the TUC, is raising awareness of the importance of union membership and doing so under the black cloud of the UK Government’s nasty Trade Union Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament.

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With the bill, this Tory Government is attempting to reduce workers’ rights, make it near impossible to strike and ultimately take away workers’ ability to campaign for and achieve better, safer and fairer conditions at work.

Sadly in the 21st century this is more important than ever with big corporations wanting more and more from their workers but increasingly showing an unwillingness to treat them as people, rather than just cogs in the machinery of making profits.

What you may be thinking now is ‘yeah, why should I care? I don’t work in one of them union industries’ and this is exactly why I’m writing this. Neither do I.

All the press about unions is to do with train drivers, steel workers, miners – the sort of traditional industries that are sadly not as prominent in the UK as they once were. But here’s the thing – that’s just perception. Unions matter, or should matter, to all of us. Anyone who works.

Look at the journalist who was told she was being offered redundancy and a payout only to have it taken away and be replaced with an ‘equivalent’ job that wasn’t equivalent at all. Who fights for her? Unions.

What about the waiter working in a restaurant who it turned out wasn’t getting the tips that customers thought they were giving to him, because management was taking a cut. Who fights for him? Unions.

And the workers at big warehouses and call centres who have rules so restrictive and untrusting that they hardly feel like people at all. Who fights for them? Unions.

Even if you don’t think you’ll ever need one, you should join a union. The more people that do, the more the Government will have to sit up and listen. As workers we all want rights and the best way to get them is to fight together, united.

My plea to you this week, when we’re celebrating how much we #heartunions, is to sign up. Think not ‘can I afford to?’ but ‘can I afford not to?’ You never know what’s round the corner, and even the kindest of employers can leave you high and dry if business changes.

Join your union, join in and even if you don’t need help now why not help others? If every union member recruited one more, the unions would have double the cash to fight for people’s rights. Yes, you may feel you’re paying in loads and haven’t got anything out yet, but that’s how it should be. Standing together, shoulder to shoulder.

Finally, if you still think you don’t love unions enough, here’s a clip of the final scenes of Pride, where in an enormous  show of solidarity, the National Union of Mineworkers joined forces with LGBT campaigners, stood shoulder to shoulder and worked together to improve peoples’ rights. If you haven’t seen the whole film, I definitely recommend watching it.

You can join any general union, or one that’s relevant to the industry you work in. I’m a member of Unite and the NUJ (which you can join if you’re a PR, you don’t have to be a journalist). Look on the TUC website for more information.

Digital Democracy Event

The Speaker of the House of Commons is currently running a commission on digital democracy. It’s looking at the future of democracy (with particular attention to the work of parliament) and the commissioners are looking for views on topics including ‘Making Laws in a Digital Age’, ‘Electronic Voting’ and ‘Representation’.

There have been a number of events around the UK with interested people coming together to discuss, debate and feed ideas into the commission’s report. Many of the round table discussion events have been organised by or for specific groups of people but I wanted to bring together people who didn’t have a particular identity in relation to ‘digital’ or ‘democracy’, but were just interested to have those conversations.

The commission is particularly interesting to me because the questions are fairly open so there are loads of opportunities to feed in new and creative ideas.

Spying my opportunity, I arranged to create a discussion event as a fringe event to Gov Camp Cymru. I worked with the Satori Lab team, who have great ideas and supplies of pens and Lego, and co-ordinated with the commission’s staff in Parliament to bring the event together.

We heard from one of the Commissioners, technology entrepreneur Paul Kane, who told the group about the commission and its role in putting together a report on digital democracy in the UK. Sam Knight, who created YourSenedd, also spoke about his experience with open data and democratic engagement.

We then had space for discussions around the commission’s final topics of Engagement and Facilitating Dialogue between Citizens. We asked questions such as whether or not is it Parliament’s responsibility to facilitate citizen dialogue, the opportunities to increase engagement with the current political system and whether a whole new system will be the most successful way to engage citizens in decision making in the future.

Alongside informal space (and encouragement to use the hotel’s bar) we provided write-on table cloths and a big box of Lego so people could create, think and share in any way they chose. Quite a few little Lego creations and tablecloth thoughts emerged from the evening.

The full report of discussions and ideas will be published on the commission website soon, and you can follow the commission on Twitter @digidemocracyuk.

Photos by Dan Green.

Why do people give?

This morning I went to a workshop session on fundraising and giving. It was mainly focused around strategies for asking people to donate financially to an arts organisation, but included some really interesting psychology and other ideas about encouraging people to give.

One part particularly stood out and was really interesting to me, so I thought it might be interesting to other people too:

There are four different motivations for giving, and people will usually only respond to one of these. They fit into a matrix (below).

Funding

 

Basically, people will either be interested in the future or present, and with a positive or negative approach. This is not to say people are negative themselves, just that the possible negative outcome of not giving will have more effect than promoting the positives.

To explain the categories, the workshop leader used the example of an HIV crisis in an African nation:

Vision: we will put a clinic in every town (positive action, in the future)

Risk: thousands of children will be orphaned if their parents die (what will happen, in the future)

Opportunity: we can buy antiretroviral drugs at a reduced price for a limited time (what can be done right now)

Crisis: people are dying right now, we must help them (the immediate problem)

It’s such a simple concept when it’s spelled out but makes so much difference when thinking about fundraising and giving. Communicating the right need to the right person is likely to increase donations and therefore what charities and organisations can achieve. Obviously I’m a passionate communicator, and I do believe that the way you communicate with someone can have a huge influence on their actions, so it’s great to see that this is part of the development process as well as the consumer marketing one.

The next stage of the workshop was to look at the organisation at hand and work our what our visions, risks, opportunities and crises are – whether it’s ‘we can take engaging theatre to every person in Wales’ or ‘people can’t pay their bills because the cost of living has spiralled out of control’.

I work for an arts organisation, I’m part of a political party and I’m often involved in charitable projects so I’m looking forward to getting better at this by practising great communication!

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