When I was younger I took a great interest in two incredible ladies, writes Cllr Liz Harsant in Waterfront Life. Jennie Churchill (the mother of Winston), who was the cornerstone of high society, and behind the scenes a political dynamo when women were afforded few freedoms; the other was Nancy Astor – the first woman to sit in Parliament. Her campaigning spirit and enthusiasm for politics was formidable and she championed many causes on behalf of underprivileged women and children. Strangely, they were both American, but I felt their lives were something I would love to emulate.
I became leader of Ipswich Borough Council in 2004 – the first female ever to hold that position, and at the moment; the last! It was a great privilege albeit rather daunting, and a realisation that I was often the only female in the room. To fight my corner and that of Ipswich I had to toughen up. However, the friendships and interests I formed during those 6 ½ years will always remain with me. I couldn’t write this article without mentioning Margaret Thatcher, who I was privileged to meet, and when you read her biography you realise what a hard time she had to achieve what she did. Every obstacle was put in her way but her determination shone through. Mrs May, our present Prime Minister, has more than a hard job on her plate. I sometimes wonder how differently her negotiations would be if she was a man!
People ask ‘what are the advantages of being in local politics and what do you actually get out of it?’ Well, it goes back to my two heroines’ love of politics and the desire to help wherever I can and the great satisfaction that brings. What I have discovered over my years in politics is, although times are changing, we need more women to take part in local
politics and aspire to go further. I also realise that it is never easy to enter this world when you have young children, but local government recognises this now and tries very hard to accommodate young mothers. If you love politics then don’t leave it too long: us girls are breaking through the glass ceiling, so just go for it. I would be very happy to help.