I'm a normal mum of two, who wants to make sure we are listened to in Parliament

February 15, 2014 4:12 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

An interview with Justine Baker, Lib Dem candidate for Bridgwater.

In the space of just three years, Justine Baker has won district and county elections in Somerset and has been selected as the Liberal Democrat PPC for Bridgwater. Here Justine tells Laura Archer about her political ambitions and why Liberal Democrats should be shouting from the rooftops, as well as knocking on doors.

For Justine, it's been a fast uphill journey into the world of politics. It was while working in Jeremy Browne's constituency office, managing the Taunton MP's press operations that Justine first got the election bug. She said: "In 2010, I asked a colleague what I needed to do to become a councillor. The next day there was an application form on my desk."

Although her target seat was deemed unwinnable for the Lib Dems, Justine was not deterred in her campaigning. And her efforts were rewarded, with Justine successfully converting that "unwinnable" seat to a landslide victory.

Spurred on by her debut success and passion for her local community Justine then decided to run for county elections in 2013.

Again she was battling for another tough seat, and again her hard work and relentless campaigning were rewarded with victory.

But beneath her jubilation was a sense of dismay at the lack of diversity among candidates. "I was frustrated by the lack of women and young people involved in elections. I was one of the youngest candidates and one of the few female voices in the room."

Determined to address the ailing representation of women in politics, Justine decided to sign up to the party's Leadership Programme in a bid to run for Parliament.

"I decided to give it a go. I thought 'nothing ventured, nothing gained,' so I was absolutely delighted to be accepted. The networking and training we are given is fantastic. For me the Leadership Programme has given me this amazing opportunity to be able to run for election, and I am loving every minute of it."

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Justine's work as a councillor and a PPC goes beyond campaigning; she is also on a mission to increase the number of women standing for election.

"There is a perception that that politics is very much male and pale. People think that it's only for retired men, and I am delighted that as a candidate I can blow that myth out of the water."

Her meteoric rise to selection is a testament to her hard work, dedication and enthusiasm. With her eye set firmly on selection, Justine put her heart and soul into her campaign and went on to win it in the first round.

"It was 100% hard work, it was exhausting, but nothing can beat that feeling of winning that selection. I was absolutely astounded. If someone had said to me when I was first elected that in three years' time I'd be running for Parliament, I would have laughed. I am a normal mum of two, who wants to make sure we are listened to in Parliament."

Justine has a vision of greater political engagement at a younger age. In her role as shadow cabinet member for children and families, Justine has met teenagers who can't name the three main political parties and she is passionate about addressing this cultural indifference.

"We need to do more to catch the younger generation - to get them actively involve and talking about issues. Key to that is making politics accessible to all. That's where the Leadership Programme helps. It proves that you don't have to be from a prescribed background to be involved and that is something we should be really proud of. "

For Justine, political engagement begins at home. As a councillor she has campaigned to save Bridgwater's food bank and is working closely in the community around the development of the Hinkley Point power plant. And it's not only Justine who likes to get hands-on. Her nine-year-old daughter Iris has campaigned against the closure of the local theatre, regularly fundraises and even took to the stage to speak during the rally at last year's spring conference.

"I was so incredibly proud of her, she got up on that stage and wasn't daunted at all."

Speaking to Justine, it seems a case of like mother like daughter. On the election trail Justine faces her own set of challenges, but like Iris, Justine does not appear fazed by the journey ahead. In her own campaign, Justine is passionate about making the national issue local. "It's all about putting into context, showing how these pledges from our manifesto have become real policy and how they can relate to you on a day-to-day basis. The Liberal Democrats are the only party that cares about individuals being able to get on in life and that is something we should be shouting from the rooftops."

Whether Justine is shouting from the rooftops, or knocking on doors, her message is always very clear.

"What we have done as a party is cover a whole spectrum of someone's life. Our policies are like a life map: there is something for everyone at each stage of their life. From education to healthcare, from free school meals to triple lock pensions and of course not forgetting raising the income tax threshold, something which has benefited so many people."

Looking to 2015, Justine relishes the impending electioneering and the challenges facing the party as a whole. "It's going to be hard. As a country, we are not used to coalition government and I think some people still find it hard to stomach and that's a challenge. But I think we as Lib Dems can stand on doorsteps and tell people what we have achieved in Government, what we have stopped the Tories from doing, and how we can go further to ensure everyone is treated fairly."

Justine is pragmatic and realistic in her approach to the election and the work that needs to be done. "Somerset is very much Lib Dem country, and Bridgwater is missing out on that. I'm not naïve about the hard work to be done, but I say 'Bring it on!' I don't believe in saying a seat is unwinnable. Every seat has the potential to be won and I'm going to give it my best shot."