Dolly Theis is the Co-Founder of 50:50 Parliament’s #AskHerToStand Campaign. She is completing her PhD at Cambridge University’s MRC Epidemiology Unit and contested Vauxhall in the 2017 general election.

A guide to standing for election

Step 1. Ask you/her to stand

Hello – in the wake of International Women’s Day, and this ConHome series that follows it.

If you are reading this article, then you are either:

  • A brilliant woman – in which case I am thrilled to ask you to stand for election. “But where do I even begin?!” you ask. Well, this article should help set out exactly that. I know how daunting it can feel first considering standing for election. I did it myself a few years ago.
  • Someone who knows a brilliant woman who would make a superb elected official – i.e: an MP or councillor. Or perhaps you know many such women? In which case, please send them this article and tell them why you think they would be superb.

If the latter, don’t forget to include women you know who are currently living and/or working in the UK, but who may not necessarily always live in the UK.

Many women living and/or working here now may move to another country in the future, where they could stand. Given that only four countries in the world have 50 per cent or more women in Parliament, why not inspire women to stand globally and help as many countries as possible achieve proper representation in politics?

You would be surprised how many women, even those actively engaged in politics, haven’t thought about standing or haven’t been asked, and been told by others why they would be great. You asking them could be the difference that makes them seriously consider it.

Step 2. Consider standing for election, even if you are unlikely to win

I have stood for election twice. Once as the Conservative Party’s parliamentary candidate in Vauxhall, London, during the 2017 general election, and once as the Conservative Party’s city council candidate in Newnham, Cambridge at the 2019 local elections.

Both times, I was one of the least likely to win candidates. Indeed, in Newnham I came last.

But that did not mean I treated the opportunity as a write off. Being a candidate, even if you are unlikely to win, is a powerful opportunity to raise issues you care about, and be listened to by a wider audience.

It is a chance to hold the candidates who are likely to win to account and encourage them to adopt good policies and make commitments to solving certain issues.

It is a chance to engage with, listen to and represent the voices of people locally who perhaps have not felt listened to for a long time.

And it is an exciting opportunity to build up your party’s activity in the area so that, longer term, the chances of your party winning can be increased. Even if only a handful of people vote for you locally, it is still your responsibility to represent them as well as everyone else, and you never know, your ideas and engagement could go a long way.

You will also learn so much simply by standing. Whether that is learning about issues or how our political system works,] you will come away from the experience with a wealth of knowledge, and greater certainty about how you would like to be politically active going forward.

Step 3. Sign up to 50:50 Parliament, even if you are not ready yet or certain you want to

Signing up to stand on the 50:50 Parliament website does not automatically lock you into a commitment. We know that many people who are interested in finding out more may not feel ready to stand yet, or may not be certain they want to stand at all – and that is completely ok.

50:50 Parliament will show you all the different ways you can be politically active in addition to standing for election. By being part of the community, you will be able to learn from others, including from those who are or have been elected, and gain access to all the information you need to understand how things work.

Everyone’s political journey is different. It’s important to know that there is no one set path – so do not spend too much time comparing yourself to others and focus instead on what you have to offer.

Perhaps your life and work experience mean you know about a particular issue in greater detail than others, or you feel particularly strongly about something, and could seek to campaign on that and raise awareness about it, or maybe you bring something entirely new to the table.

Many people think they need to know everything about how politics works in order to stand. You do not! 50:50 Parliament and many other organisations will help to educate you on the bits you don’t know about. All you need to know right now is why you want to be politically active and what issues you care about most.

Step 4. Ask all possible questions (there’s no such thing as a stupid question)

This is critical. Many people are put off by politics because it can seem people know much more about it than you do. Don’t worry – you are not alone.

Always ask questions, even if they sound like the most obvious or “stupid” ones. Whether that is “what is a constituency?” or “what is the difference between an MP and a councillor?”, these are critical questions and too often people skip over them.

50:50 Parliament is the perfect place to ask everything, and know that you will never be judged. We should never stop learning and reflecting – and this includes asking ourselves questions like “why am I a Conservative?” or “why do I think this way about that issue?”. Embrace asking the “obvious”!

Step 5. Enjoy getting stuck in, be kind and bring others with you along the way

I feel strongly that being active in politics and standing for election should be enjoyable, especially given you are likely to be trying to solve tough issues and will deal with many people who do not agree with you.

Politics is sadly considered toxic in many ways. In order to change this, we all must ensure that we engage in it with kindness. Holding others to account and disagreeing with people does not require nastiness, toxicity or aggression.

In fact, the nastier we are to people in politics, the more likely we are to end up with candidates who are less open to put good quality people off entirely. To help improve things, we need to make it enjoyable by being kinder to one another and bringing others with us along the way. If this is the start of your political journey, then welcome and we can’t wait to help you –