Working Mum of Four Living on Tax Credits and Free School Meals Seeks Labour Candidacy for Tees Valley Metro Mayor

(or Thanks For Nothing Maggie T.)

It was 1987 when she came for a walk up our way. I was seven years old. I don’t remember anything about her visit really, other than seeing her on the telly. She looked so together, she had a nice handbag, personally it wasn’t my kind of get up but damn how did her hair not move? It was always a bit blowy down there. That was some iron hairspray that iron lady had on her.

To me, a girl age seven, caught somewhere between a sea of dreams and the former Head Wrightson yard, I thought she was incredible. She was the boss and she was wearing a skirt. You see, Maggie T had something of ours or so I thought, she was the Iron Lady. Iron came from Teesside, “Born of iron made of steel,” I’m quoting someone there but I don’t know who as it’s just what we were brought up with. That was us. I was an Iron girl. When I was seven, Maggie was my role model.

Give me a chance, ok let me explain…

We didn’t do politics in my house. I still have no idea what my Father’s political persuasion was. My Mum hasn’t ever voted (worth pointing out my Mum joined the Labour Party earlier this year, she is 65, sorry Mum!) I never told anyone I looked up to Maggie, but no one ever told me looking up to Maggie was wrong. Who else exactly were we supposed to look up to as girls growing up in the 1980s? She was the first and is the only elected female British Prime Minister to date. The highest level of British office. And this was the woman who cut the heart out of my beloved Teesside, served it to us cold and forced us to eat our pride and swallow our identity.

You grow, you read, you learn. The paradoxical state I found myself in (age probably about 15). The only female political role model I had ever known was someone whose name I could no longer bring myself to speak. I despised what she had done. We had to live with her mess, yet she was still a she and so was I. Trying to make sense of my position in the world as a girl from Middlesbrough with a political edge was tough. There didn’t seem to be a way forward, so I educated myself, sought out local role models, and found myself living in hopeful tales of the past.

Labour Education not Segregation Campaign October 2016. Canvassing with my son.

I’m sitting on the red sofa today. Its raining out. I’m lucky enough to live in a house my partner owns. He’s currently doing a PhD at Teesside University, I’m an artist and arts professional working in the social realm. I don’t paint pictures. Sometimes I do, but only for fun. I’m a dedicated advocate for the Tees Valley. I may be grassroots but shouldn’t be knocked for that. My work supports the positive empowerment of communities to bring about social change. No it’s not gentrification and I’m not a capitalist foot soldier (come and visit us, please don’t apply the London or Newcastle rules from a distance, there isn’t a comparison). It’s about giving people the power back to put an end to the declinist narrative of our region. Sometimes it’s just about finding a way to give a person an ounce of their self esteem back. Watch, I Daniel Blake.

Choosing the role I have done in life is a challenge, I have four children, I’m self-employed, our household income for six is less than 19,000 a year and is bolstered by Child Tax Credit. My eldest son just started college and for the first time we accepted the offer of free school meals. The extra £2.50 a day goes a long way. I buy most of my clothes in charity or vintage shops, always buy my children new where possible but I never say no to the odd £4 pair of trainers. I don’t own a house, or a car, just a few personal possessions. I have no savings, not even a pension: you wouldn’t be able to tell any of this by looking at me; it’s the way I was raised. Last year I was told to get a job in the local supermarket when my Working Tax Credit was cut and I had to flat out refuse on principal. The principal being that my accepting the job would take it away from somebody else who perhaps needed it more. I’ve managed to hang on to my ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, I knew I would get by. For some, we must recognise that all hope is gone.

An image from my exhibition “The Post-Brexit Paradox” which you can currently see at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.

A few months back, just after we voted to leave the EU actually, I went onto the Conservative party website shop (for research purposes). To my horror, I discovered a babygro with the words “Iron Baby” written on it. It came in pink and blue. Now please know that I respect personal choice. I’m in the Labour party and proud of that but I didn’t expect my kids to wear “Jez We Can” t-shirts. Maggie T. had taken our iron along with our steel and it had become a slogan. A slogan that ridiculed and mocked us as Teesside, Tees Valley, the North East. That was the moment I decided my life of community advocacy needed amping up a bit. Enough was enough: I had to run.

My slogan: Reclaim the Wilderness.

I’m doing this because I believe this is the job for me. I’m doing this because I believe and have faith in our great communities. I’m doing this to prove democracy still exists. I’m doing this because I believe even a girl from the Boro can. I intend to build my political platform, if elected, with the people (friends, neighbours, you, I mean you). We need a long term community and political strategy for this region. Not because it sounds like what politicians say but because I believe in moving away from consultation to collaboration. I believe in the 1 to 1 scale. The creation of an autonomous infrastructure. I look forward to being able to hold a community conference, bringing together party member and non party member, employed and unemployed, small business owner, working mums, community groups, refugees, single dads, union representatives, teachers, everyone to develop that platform. I’m doing this because I believe in the Tees Valley. I’m doing this because it’s not about being a woman, it’s about being the right woman.

We are reclaiming our wilderness Maggie.

The old Town Hall and Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough.

Below is the speech I read at my Labour branch meeting on 2 November, at which I launched my campaign.

“On Wednesday morning I submitted my self-nomination form to stand for election as Labour Party candidate for the role of Tees Valley Combined Authority Mayor. Other good people have also submitted their interests in the role and over the course of November, Labour Party members will vote for the candidate they think is best able to represent them and the region, in the forthcoming race. I wanted to set out here exactly why I have chosen to stand for the candidacy.

Our region is one in which I was born and grew up, one in which I have chosen to make my life and to raise a family. I believe it is a region that can offer great opportunities for those who wish to make it their home. It is also a region that has faced more than its fair share of difficulties: some of these are historic, others are very present today. My late father, though born in Thornaby, felt he needed to leave his home in order to make his career. My ambition for the region is to ensure that no-one else has to feel that way; that home-grown talent can remain in our region benefitting from what we have to offer just as we benefit from them. I want our region to act as a beacon, attracting new people and new families to make their homes here adding to the wealth that is our diverse communities.

The idea of a combined authority represents a new way of working. It brings together towns and people who have not previously shared a political voice. There is much that unites our region: our proud industrial heritage, our welcoming outlook on the world, our sense of innovation and enterprise, our sense of humour. At the same time different parts of the region face some specific challenges and opportunities. It is important that we do not expect a one size fits all set of solutions to work for us. Rather I believe that the Combined Authority, under the leadership of the new mayor, must work collaboratively with the people of our region, wherever they sit on the political spectrum, to understand needs and to empower communities. Every person in our region is a stakeholder in its future and it is only by working together that we can confront our challenges and create the thriving region that we aspire for.

This must not be politics as usual. All my life I have sought to live by the values that are at the heart of the labour movement: equality, fairness and a belief in opportunities for all. These values are as important now as they have ever been. I have not though previously stood for elected office; rather my activism has been directly within the communities, most recently working on a one-to-one basis with over 1,000 people to think about new kinds of industry and enterprise as part of my New Linthorpe project. Amid the gloom that so often dominates news stories, there is hope in the air as people are re-engaging with politics and seeking to take control of their own destinies. It is time to take politics out of the council chamber and the meeting room and on to the streets to make it part of everyone’s lives, to make a difference. This is what I will stand for if I am fortunate enough to win the candidacy and this is my pledge to you.”

Please follow my campaign here: https://www.facebook.com/youforteesvalley/?skip_nax_wizard=true

Community coffee morning — Eritrean style. Making coffee the slow way.