Trudy Harrison is Member of Parliament for Copeland. This article is the first in a mini-series in the run-up to International Women’s Day, in which female Conservative MPs share the stories of their journeys into politics.
Me, a politician? It turns out I was more political than I thought.
I suppose my political journey started some 20 years ago, when I gave birth to my first daughter, Gabrielle, not that I knew that then.
Gabrielle’s birth, in May 1998, was the moment I began taking an interest in my community. As our children grew up I discovered, and became part of, a bustling village community and our young family of now four daughters (Gabrielle was soon followed by Savannah, Francesca and Rosemary) became integral and highly valued members of the village, and ultimately of wider society.
My political career started humbly, when our village school was threatened with closure. I joined the Parent-Teacher Association to meet other concerned parents. Like many proactive parents, we formed an action group, which then led me to become a school governor. That role opened my eyes to the work needed to turn around the spiral of decline in our village, and so I became a parish councillor. Our village had seen 20 businesses close in 20 years and our borough, Copeland in West Cumbria, had adopted a culture of dependency rather than self-determination.
By taking an active interest in local issues, I had unwittingly become a local politician, in addition to having young children and a long-suffering husband, Keith. Though challenging, those formative years in community development remain a period that I am very proud of, and this early work shaped my Conservative values of ambition and taking responsibility, to work for change.
As my career developed into a full-time role in economic development at the local council, I embarked on a part-time foundation degree course at the University of Salford. I really wanted to expand my knowledge and capacity to make the difference in our area. I was most definitely the oldest student at Freshers, and quite possibly the only Conservative-minded student in Salford. That culture of ‘someone else’s responsibility’ – a negative outlook on life, an expectation that more money will fix everything – really conflicted with my views. It was this attitude, combined with my newly increased knowledge of the tools and techniques in community development, which gave me just enough confidence to get stuck in.
In our village, we wanted to increase our population, school numbers, and places to go and things to do, so we took control. We sourced land locally for homes to be built, we worked with our teenagers to help them build the first Big Lottery funded BMX track in the Lake District National Park, and we changed planning policies to gain approval for the National Park’s biggest ever mixed-use site. It was my ambitious ‘can-do’ attitude which infected volunteers with positivity, and encouraged others to join together.
I have entered Parliament with that same positive, collaborative attitude. I am passionate about the belief that everyone should be empowered to be the best they can be.
When our former Member of Parliament announced his resignation in December 2016, I waited for a couple of weeks for someone to throw their hat into the ring – someone local, who shared my attitude and ambition for Copeland, the place I have proudly called home all my life.
I’m somewhat saddened to admit that it took two glasses of my favourite prosecco in the company of great friends in our local pub for me to actually pluck up the courage to say “I want to be Copeland’s next MP” out loud. But once said, there was no stopping me. A fierce determination kicked in and, with the support of new Conservative friends from all over Britain, I began my journey into Parliament.
Was I prepared for all that a by-election brings? Absolutely not.
Did I enjoy every minute? No.
Was I naive in thinking I could actually become Copeland’s first Conservative MP for nearly a century and its first female MP ever? Of course not!
Day by day, my confidence grew. My positive attitude and passion for the people, place and the untapped potential of my homeland kept me going during difficult times. My incredibly supportive husband, a long time welder at Sellafield, four teenage daughters, and my wider family and friends, provided my vital support network. CCHQ, MPs and an army of volunteers gave up their time, trailing the streets and lanes, spending weeks in my beautiful, though large, rural (and very cold) constituency, to get me through.
Together, we did it.
I’m often asked whether I enjoy my new role. Most days, I cheerfully state that I am living the dream; combining community development with power and influence is surely the aspiration of so many people in our towns and villages. People with a can-do attitude who volunteer in schools and clubs, on committees and in businesses.
Being an MP isn’t always about having an in-depth knowledge of policy, knowing all the answers, or being the most academic (although I do rather regret not ‘sticking in’ at school), it is about caring about the place where you live and having the energy and drive to change and improve things. Being prepared not to accept the first answer given, and to question more.
We all know someone in our lives who is just that person, just that woman.
In my short time as an MP I have been involved in securing our hospital services, bringing about huge and much needed change in an underperforming school, supporting multi-million pound investments in industry and transport, and speaking with young people about their careers in engineering and the value of apprenticeships. Blessed with a committed team, I’m working with people who share my values and ambition both locally and nationally. It is an incredible privilege and an opportunity to effect positive change each and every day.
My dad would often say: “If you want something done, do it yourself”, and I couldn’t agree more. But then again, I’ve also heard the phrase “If you want something done, ask a busy woman”.
I know there are so many determined, passionate and committed women, who perhaps don’t consider themselves to be ‘political’, but have many of the qualities to become an MP. In the spirit of #AskHerToStand, think about that busy woman you know who you think has what it takes. Ask her (or yourself) if now is the time, to take that step, and use those skills to make a difference.
We need to see more women stepping forward and joining my colleagues and me, on the green benches. Parliament is the most supportive, encouraging environment I have ever experienced – please don’t let an outdated view of politics put you off becoming a fantastic female politician. We’re calling your name – yes, you!