Lewisham has been my home for ten years. I love this unique area of London; I love its sense of community, its diversity and its independent spirit.
I am an activist at heart, and I never really expected to run to be an MP. But this year of all years – a century after the first women got the vote, when the #MeToo movement is showing that women will no longer accept the abuse and harassment that we have had to put up with for so long – I felt I had to put myself forward. And so here I am, the Women’s Equality Party candidate in the Lewisham East by-election.
Like the majority of Lewisham residents, I voted Remain in the Brexit referendum because I believe that leaving the European Union will make our problems worse, not better. Over the last eight years austerity has ripped the heart out of Lewisham. Cuts have closed libraries, squeezed funding for schools, and would have shut down the local hospital if it were not for the amazing activism and solidarity of our community. This has had an impact on everyone in Lewisham, but the cuts have fallen overwhelmingly on women.
We can do better. We can transform Lewisham – and the country – by introducing universal free childcare and a fully-funded shared parental leave system, by restoring funding for domestic violence refuges and scrapping the commissioning model that has introduced unnecessary and damaging competition between organisations that are supporting the most vulnerable women in society. Lewisham has to find 48% more care home beds in the next four years – we can fix this broken system if we commit to spend as much on social infrastructure as we do on physical infrastructure. These are policies and priorities which I think should be on the ballot paper on 14 June and which no other party is putting forward.
One of the core goals of the Women’s Equality Party is to push for balance in a political system where men still outnumber women by two to one in parliament and councils. That is why I am delighted that Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also selected women candidates. Some people argue that progressive women shouldn’t stand against each other. I fundamentally disagree. Democracy is best served when voters have choice – and if that choice is between women, or women of colour, all the better.
One reason it has been so hard to achieve equal representation is the first-past-the-post voting system. Electoral reform is long overdue but, with Labour and the Conservatives still resisting change, the Women’s Equality Party are looking at other ways to open up the system so different voices are heard.
That is why, in a spirit of collaboration that I think is so important – and unfortunately too often missing from politics – I have written to other progressive candidates who have declared that they too are running for the seat. If they are prepared to commit to our core policies and values then we are happy to talk to them about the possibility of a joint ticket, so Lewisham East could choose a joint Women’s Equality Party and, for example, Labour MP. This kind of innovation and collaboration would demonstrate a commitment to putting people before politics.
Many people in the media and the political establishment think they know the result of this by-election already. I think it is a chance to vote for something hopeful and different and new, and for Lewisham to repeat its history of doing things differently.
Mandu Reid is the Women’s Equality Party candidate in the Lewisham East by-election and founder of The Cup Effect