Hello Harriet Harman
Last Monday evening, my Town Team colleague rang to tell me that the Labour party councillor who had expressed an interest in joining us on one of our projects, had called her to ask if she was interested in joining him at a meeting with Harriet Harman the next day as part of her visit to Margate. She asked me if I could come too to help promote the Town Team. Ok, I thought, this is interesting. I knew that some of our work was of interest to local councillors and perhaps even local MPs, but was the deputy leader of the Labour party really going to be interested?
I am the first to admit that I’m not overly political, and apart from the very basics, don’t know much about the who’s, why’s and wherefore’s of politics, big or small. Of course I’d heard of Harriet Harman, but was a little vague on who she was exactly. So I googled her (obviously!). And I was actually quite impressed. For anyone who is also as apolitical as I am, she is the Deputy Labour leader, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister as well as the MP for Camberwell and Peckham. She gained her first MP role after a by-election when she was 7 month’s pregnant in 1982 and has campaigned to improve women’s standing and representation in Parliament ever since. She also campaigned for longer maternity leave, increased maternity pay and was key to the introduction of the weekly maternity payment and led a drive within Government to prioritise tackling domestic violence. As a mum that leans towards feminism, I had to admit to feeling a little bit excited to meet this woman in person. I was a little bit disappointed to learn from my googling that she was pro-hunting but up against all the other bits, I forgave her this – after all, one of my best friends is too and we’ve had many a drunken argument about it!
On Tuesday evening, we were led out onto the fantastically sunny balcony of a cocktail bar that has recently opened on Margate High Street and noted the presence of a number of local Labour party councillors as well as the former leader of Margate’s Town Team. We were just discussing drinks’ orders when Harriet arrived. Everyone scrambled to their feet in a rush to be first to meet her. Still a little unclear of our role in this gathering, we hung back and waited for the summons. Eventually, she was brought over to meet us and graciously shook our hands before asking who we were. My colleague jumped at the opportunity and began to tell her about the great work that Town Teams were doing, what wonderful diversity each Thanet town offered and how much work still needed to be done. Before she had a chance to respond, Harriet was called away to meet someone else and our moment was over.
There was another scramble to have photos taken with this political celebrity so I just took a photo of people talking to her. Then someone suggested we went outside to have a group photo taken and we duly took our places around her. As the photo shoot drew to a close, we were asked us if we were ok to be included in a photo that would be in the local Labour paper. It felt a bit odd to think that someone as ignorant as me would be included in what I assume, for the local councillors at least, was quite a momentous occasion in their political careers. Nevertheless, I assented as I wanted a keepsake too! Perhaps that was a little bit shallow, but these things don’t happen often to me!
As she left, she roused her members with a reminder of the European elections next year, then shook more hands in departure, mine included, and was gone!
We headed back inside and I took the opportunity to talk to some of the people there, surprised to discover that none of them had watched Borgen! This is where most of my political knowledge and understanding has come from, so it seems odd that anyone with the faintest interest in politics and government wouldn’t know of it. Next they’ll be telling me they’ve not watched The Thick of It either!
Looking back a week later, my evening on that sunny Margate balcony, hanging out with the local Labour party and their deputy leader, seems just as surreal as it did at the time. However, I have also come to realise that while I might not understand all of the political jargon that I hear, or even the system (I was mighty confused by the coalition fun last election!), I do ‘do’ politics every day of my life. I work in a selective school, I have children, I breastfeed and promote the use of greener living and make choices for me and my children that often go against political agendas or standard thinking. Out of necessity, and as parents, we play the benefits minefield. I am an active member of my local town team. Oh yes, and then there’s the fact that I’m gay: one of the biggest political talking points out there!
Although the meeting was brief to the point of being forgettable (at least for her I’m sure!), it has brought home to me that politics does play a part in our everyday lives, it’s just that sometimes you need to actually come face to face with it to notice.
So I hear that a certain Mr Cameron is heading here this week but I’ve not had any calls yet…! (athough I did almost physically bump into him and his family buying bikes at a local bike store when I lived near Notting Hill once, so I guess that’s our brief encounter covered!)