Caroline Walsh, former Labour & Co-operative election candidate, shares her experience of standing in the May 2018 local elections.

Never in my wildest dreams did the 4 year old me, a disabled child, campaigning to go to mainstream school before the 1981 Education Act, in an era when it was illegal for disabled to be on the buses and underground, believe that the day would come…..After a lifetime of campaigning in various guises, I never thought I would be given the opportunity to make my case to stand for local public office.

Neither did I think I would have the surreal experience of having been diagnosed and treated with depression leading up to candidate panel selections, brought on after being in New Zealand during the Nov 2016 Earthquake. In the two minutes that ensued during that earthquake, the shakes rapidly brought to the surface very vividly some of those deeply suppressed lifelong experiences of disability discrimination. I then, unfortunately, got sepsis resulting from insect bites immediately leading up to ward selection in September 2017, and then again during the campaign in January 2018.

It therefore felt an emotional and physical miracle to get to the point of being on the ballot paper. Accumulation of all those months of tireless canvassing, campaigning and preparing by so, so many people. I owe mountain of thanks and gratitude to so many brilliant volunteers, not least our team of co-candidates and our hard-working agent who was there every step of the way,  as every twist and turn unfolded.

I have also been able to reflect on my experience and here a few lessons that I have learnt:

  • A candidate’s journey starts even before they realise, it starts the moment they join the party, even if they don’t know they are destined to be a candidate. Our systems, processes, structures and infrastructure have to be inclusive and accessible; benchmarked against the best practice of some of the voluntary sector and volunteer organisations.

  • Win or lose, a candidate’s journey, although defined by count, including how accessible it is or isn’t, doesn’t end there. Winners will have the next part of their transformative journey defined by their ability to do their jobs, access the chamber, meetings and surgeries and so much more defined by the barriers they encounter.

  • Those still striving to be elected, have an equally important responsibility to feedback experiences to inform and shape the future candidate’s journey. That’s why I hope sharing this experience, can help local parties reflect on and improve that journey.

  • We need to lay the groundwork years in advance internally for disabled candidates. Our infrastructure, physical support structures, culture and practices internally are not, unintentionally favourable to those with visible and invisible disabilities. More investment, time and energy needs to be put into focusing efforts at strategic levels. The opportunity to share my experience at a disability forum at the Co-op Party National Conference, gave that focus of bringing grass roots activists positively on board with change.

I am looking forward to the next part of my journey and playing a small part to collectively help the next generation of disabled candidates to succeed in every way.

Not everyone will have such an eventful candidate journey. However, I do hope every candidate gets the opportunity to experience the real and genuine support, labour and co-operative friendships, solidarity and enjoyment that is part of serving as a candidate.

On reflection,  five months on, it was the very best thing I have every chosen to put myself forward for.  An experience only made such by the people I served as a candidate with and running our campaign. This is a big thank you as well as a constructive reflection.

 

If you are a candidate with a disability standing in the May 2019 Local Elections, or May 2020 Police and Crime Commissioner Elections, then the government has launched a fund to cover the extra costs of standing for office. The Fund can cover the cost of the reasonable adjustments required to enable someone to stand for elected office. This could include items such as BSL interpreters, Assistive Technology, a Personal Assistant to assist with specific tasks, or taxi fares where other modes of transport are not appropriate.