Do you ever ask yourself the question 'what now?'. Well I do, a lot. In fact, I love this question when campaigning because it pushes me to think, what are we actually going to do now? How are we going to make things better? How are we going to put talk into action? These questions are the driving forces behind 50:50 Parliament - the cross-party campaign that inspires, encourages and actively supports women to run for Parliament to achieve a roughly representative ratio of men to women running our country. We're not about chit chat and nice ideas of equal representation. We are about diving into communities around Britain, speaking directly to women interested in affecting positive change about how to get involved in party politics, and literally asking them 'will you stand for election?'. If yes, here's how to do it and here's how we'll help.
We launched the #AskHerToStand campaign earlier this year to support this outreach programme and so far, we've had loads of women step forward to begin the process of becoming a Parliamentary candidate, and many other people who have asked outstanding women they know if they would consider running next election. Personally, I have committed to helping at least 100 new women become approved candidates by next year. Because if we are going to achieve parity in Parliament, we need excellent women to stand in seats, be selected as candidates and be voted for by you.
So, what does it take to become an MP? Well, the short answer is there is no set route. Everyone's story is different. The good thing about that is almost anyone from any background can try, as long as they are serious about it (trust me, it's a tough job and requires serious commitment, resilience and passion). The process is slightly different for each party, but to be eligible there are a few things to check - i.e. you need to be 18 years old or older at the time of the election, you must be a British citizen, from a commonwealth country or the Republic of Ireland (you also don't need to have been born in Britain), and you must seek authorisation from the party you wish to stand on behalf of (For full eligibility criteria visit http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/elections/standing/).
If you are eligible, then your journey can begin. We call this part 'building your political footprint', and everyone's footprint is different. However, it usually starts with joining the party you wish to represent (if you haven't already done so), volunteering for your local party association and campaigning regularly (e.g. leafleting, canvassing residents about local issues, running community events), speaking to MPs and councillors about what it's like to be elected and generally getting stuck into things like charity work or becoming a governor of a local school. People find out pretty quickly what they enjoy doing, and then focus on doing that really well. Whether it's being a trustee of a charity, running community street stalls, knocking on doors and chatting to residents, or fundraising for important causes. It all matters and it's what being an MP is about: Helping people and communities to get stuff done.
So, why become an MP? Well that part is up to you. I can only really answer for myself. I want to be an MP one day because I genuinely believe in politicians' ability to affect change - both good and bad. I work for a think tank and see it happen regularly. I also love people. Whether that's bringing people together, working with people, helping people or simply spending time with people. I just love people. I also have been supported by a lot of superb people in my life and feel it's my duty to do the same for those who haven't had the same opportunities as me. I didn't come from a political family (my parents are centre-left architects who I basically had to 'come out' to when I told them I was a Tory) and so I knew very little about what being an MP meant in my early teens. It was only when I first got involved near my state school in Camden, that key people along the way nurtured my curiosity in politics, showed me the ropes and gave me opportunities, even at a young age, to be part of amazing campaigns that I am still so proud of years later. When politics works well, it's because people help each other.
And so I write to you reflecting on International Women's Day to say that 50:50 Parliament is here to support and elevate you and any phenomenal women you know to become MPs. Come and start your own political journey, and you never know, in a few year's time we could be on the green benches working together to ensure that our country is a place of true opportunity, collaboration and diversity.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org