I am not a political person. And while I am proud of my home country Switzerland’s direct democratic credentials, I am somewhat puzzled by Britain’s shouty and often polemic political system.
My partner came home the other day from Hilly Fields Fair with a leaflet about the Women’s Equality Party in Lewisham and a call to show commitment to my feminist convictions by attending their first birthday party. So, my three month old daughter and I went to our first ever political meeting.
There was cake. There was bubbly (not that I had any as I am breastfeeding). And the event was held in a quirky community venue ‘The Talent Factory’ in Lewisham where a cat strolled across the hall while party leader Sophie Walker was giving her address.
The event was laid back mingling, eating nibbles and a few brief speeches. Sophie Walker, the national Party Leader, described how she tried to influence the other parties to take on their agenda and said ‘it is no coincidence that we now have a female Prime Minister’, alluding to backroom politics to influence the leadership candidates.
I had often wondered why smaller parties fought campaigns for mayoral elections when it was clear that the bigger parties would win, but it suddenly dawned on me: it is to put pressure on the bigger parties to take on some of their party programme. I was impressed by the strategic choice of the Women’s Equality Party to be collaborative and do whatever it takes to further their agenda, even if that means giving their policies to the bigger parties. This is a rare commitment to outcomes rather than party politics.
Being tired with baby keeping me up at night, I asked more than once, ‘so, how old is your party?’ despite this event being publicized as their 1st birthday party. Without sniggering, everyone just explained the age to me and made me very feel welcome.
Oh, and on a practical level, I came away with from the event with an offer of a babysitter, had an interesting conversation with a teacher about how to teach kids gender equality and a better understanding how to shape people’s opinions. According to Sophie Walker, in recent campaigns door knocking and old fashioned conversations have still proven the best way to win votes despite twitter, facebook and co!
Baby friendliness indicator: **** I can’t speak for all events of course but because people want you to support their party they tend to be incredibly friendly and go out of their way to accommodate you – this also counts for international guests like me. Their venues may not be in the most baby friendly venues but if you are flexible to change your baby on the bathroom floor if necessary, you will be able to enjoy the event. And: if the event is boring, the baby gives you the perfect excuse to disappear!
Tips on making the most of it: there are often free drinks and food, so be sure to have space in your stomach for that – the picture above is from the great food spread at the event. And: mingle! It is a fantastic chance to get to know locals and they would not be there if they were not keen to talk to others.
Practicalities: if you are visiting London from abroad, check out some of the local branches and just write to them asking when their next meeting is. You can be a supporter without being British so they will still be delighted if you attend their event even if you can’t vote. The Women’s Equality Party is on facebook (WEP Lewisham branch here) and they will be delighted if you message them with a request to attend one of their meetings (men welcome). I am sure the same will go for other parties, such as for example the Conservatives (Tories) – here the link for their Hackney group on Facebook or the Labour party group in Camden.
Your advice: what activities would you recommend to connect with local people in novel ways in Britain and abroad?
My partner and I have decided to go travelling to the Balkans in Autumn with our five month old baby, and would love advice how to connect to the local population in an unusual way!