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Beginners guide to becoming a UK Member of Parliament

Many people have asked how to get the information necessary to start to think about becoming an MP. Here is a start at answering some of the most frequesntly asked questions.

What exactly is an MP?

The UK public elects Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent their interests and concerns in the House of Commons. MPs are involved in considering and proposing new laws, and can use their position to ask government ministers questions about current issues.

MPs split their time between working in Parliament itself, working in the constituency that elected them, and working for their political party. Some MPs from the ruling party become government ministers with specific responsibilities in certain areas, such as Health or Defence.

When Parliament is sitting (meeting), MPs generally spend their time working in the House of Commons. This can include raising issues affecting their constituents, attending debates and voting on new laws. Most MPs are also members of committees, which look at issues in detail, from government policy and new laws, to wider topics like human rights.

In their constituency, MPs often hold a 'surgery' in their office, where local people can come along to discuss any matters that concern them. MPs also attend functions, visit schools and businesses and generally try to meet as many people as possible. This gives MPs further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster. (More info, parliament.uk)


How do I find out about my current local MP and my local council?

A very comprehensive and useful site is theyworkforyou.com. Just enter in your postcode and it will tell you which parliamentary constituency you are in as well as providing a host of information about your local MP, their voting history and even, controversially, their full expense details. To find out about your local council go to direct.gov and enter your postcode. For Scotland and Wales, you can search through a list from this page too.


What do I have to do to become an MP?

This is a serious topic but lets first start with a light-hearted answer pulled off a blog:

“In practical terms, to actually become an MP, you would have to be selected by one of the major parties, which means you'd first have to be a member of one of those parties, and you'd have to have worked for them for a while - by financially supporting them, campaigning, supporting campaigns, being active on a local level. There is no hard and fast rule - having connections in the hierarchy of the party (whether that means, say, trade union connections, friendships from university and so on) doesn't half help, I'm betting. Not having too many skeletons in one's closet is an advantage - you might want to start clearing the really dodgy pictures off your social networking profiles and so on.”

This is pretty much spot on. But don’t worry everyone has a chance. Broadly speaking, there are a number of clear steps to take.

Step 1: Make sure you're eligible to apply

You can apply to stand as an MP if you are at least 18 years old, a citizen of a Commonwealth Country or the Republic of Ireland, are nominated by 10 electors from your constituency and have the £500 deposit. People disqualified from becoming an MP are convicted prisoners, peers in the House of Lords, Bishops, civil servants and serving members of the armed forces. (More info, Electoral Commission.pdf)
Step 2: Choose and join a political party

Three parties dominate politics in the UK. The Labour Party, (355 seats in the House of Commons), the Conservative Party, (197 seats) and the Liberal Democrats, (63 seats). The official party websites can be found at Labour (http://www.labour.org.uk/), Conservatives (http://www.conservatives.com) and Liberal Democrats (http://www.libdems.org.uk/)

How do I choose which one to support? The best answer someone gave to me when I asked this question was to pick the areas of politics you are most interested in, be that education, defense, the economy, health, etc and see which parties policies that issue most fit your own views. Also, being a member of a political party is a bit like being a member of a tribe. Go to a few local meetings and see which group of people seems to feel like the best fit for you. Often joining a political party is a choice for life so choose the people that feel like your tribe.

Could I get involved as an independent? You can stand as an independent MP as long as you are eligible, as per the criteria above. Usually, independent MPs are not elected. There are only 2 in parliament at the moment. This is partly due to the nature of party politics. The voters are essentially electing a party to government, rather than individuals so standing as an independent does not serve that end. Also, candidates usually need the support of volunteers to help them run their campaign, envelope stuffing, knocking on doors, etc so being an independent is time consuming and lonely. Being part of a party gives you support, a team and access to funds to help you run your campaign. Take a look at Esther Rantzens campaign in Luton where she is standing as an independent MP for an ides of what this route takes.


Step 3: Figure out how to stand for that party

Each party has a slightly different process.

Conservatives:

“The first step in the application process to join the Approved List of candidates is to write to the Candidates' Department at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (30 Millbank, London, SW1P 4DP) setting out why you would like to be a candidate, and enclose a copy of your CV. 

It will be helpful if you set out any work you have done in your local community, and achievements in your work or your personal life which you think would make you an effective MP. If you are chosen to proceed to the next stage, you will also need to provide details of three referees. 

Once your application has been received by CCHQ they will take up references before considering you for a Parliamentary Assessment Board (PAB): This is a day long assessment by MPs and senior Party volunteers who will make the final decision about whether to add your name to the Approved List of candidates. (Please note there is a £250 fee for attending a PAB and you must have been a member of the Party for at least 3 months before you can attend.)

Preparation:
- If you have not already done so, make contact with your local Conservative Association.
- If there are any elections in the offing, be sure to volunteer to help during the campaign.
- Consider becoming a Council candidate.
- Consider your commitments to local voluntary community organisations and charities. Your involvement in these areas indicates a commitment to public service.
- Think realistically about the role of a candidate. Is it the right time for you as far as your professional and private life is concerned? Are you prepared to travel to a far flung constituency and how much time can you devote to fighting a seat?
- Understand the role and job of an MP. Browse the CWO Bookshop: MPs and Parliament.
- Consider any training needs you have as many of the skills needed by an MP can be taught, i.e. public speaking and presentation.”

The Lib Dems

How To Be A Parliamentary Candidate
If you are interested in becoming a candidate or would like further information with regards to the approvals process please contact the Candidates' Office: candidates@libdems.org.uk
If you would like further information about the selection process please contact your relevant state:
♣ England: the English Candidates' Office (candidates@libdems.org.uk)
♣ Scotland the Scottish Liberal Democrats (candidates@scotlibdems.org.uk)
♣ Wales: the Welsh Liberal Democrats (enquiries@welshlibdems.org.uk)
Our website www.libdems4parliament.org.uk also provides more information and support for our selection process.
The Campaign for Gender Balance exists to promote the election of more female MPs.
The Parliamentary Candidates Association (PCA) is the voice of Liberal Democrat candidates. The PCA aims to equip individuals with the necessary skills to become approved candidates, achieve selection and win elections by providing support, advice and tailored training. More information about the PCA can be found on its website www.libdempca.org.uk or by contactingchair@libdempca.org.uk .


Labour:
Labour Womens Network has an ongoing Training Programme for all women in the Labour Party who are interested in seeking selection to public office. This includes local government, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly, the Greater London Assembly, European Parliament and Westminster Parliament. If you are a LWN subscriber we provide a ‘CV Support Service’ by email. Our subscription for Labour Party women members is still only £15 for waged, and £5 low/unwaged (press the button for JOIN US). We also provide one day events, if enough women are interested in taking part, in public speaking and presentation skills, and writing a speech and, on request, training for other relevant skills. If you are interested, please contact them on contact@lwn.org.uk



Step 4: Get support from inside the party

All the major parties are interested in raising the numbers of female MPs and have support structures for getting more women into Parliament. These groups will give you the low down on how to run a campaign and give you the training necessary to speak in public, fundraise and organize teams of volunteers.

The Lib Dems have The Campaign for Gender Balance, Labour have Labour Womens Network and Emilys List and the Conservatives have Women to Win and the Conservative Women’s Association.

Contact them on:

Lib Dems, Campiagn for Gender Balance, Vicky Booth, vicky.booth@libdems.org.uk
Conservatives, Women 2 Win, email@women2win.com
Labour, Labour Womens Network, contact@lwn.org.uk


What are MP’s actually like?

What drives/motivates people to go into politics? Most people entering politics genuinely want to do a good job and make a difference. However, this does not translate into how the general public see politicians. A recent IPOS MORI poll showed that politicians were the least trusted professional group in the country, replacing journalists, a previous years least trusted profession. Two great books to read about the nature of politicians are Jeremy Paxmans The Political Animal and Boni Sones book about female MPs, Women in Parliament.
At what age do people usually go into politics? After the last General Election the average age of MPs rose, from 49 years in 1997 to 51 years in 2005. Anyone over the age of 18 can stand as an MP. The two youngest MPs currently are Chloe Smith 29 (Conservative) and Jo Swinson 30 (Lib Dem). Many women find it easier to go into politics after raising their families, due to the unfriendly hours involved in the job, with voting sometimes going on into the night. For more information on female MPs through the ages see the Centre for Women and Democracy’s new book, A Great Act of Justice.

Not ready? Support another woman

How can I support a local or favourite candidate?

One way to really understand what is involved in becoming a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) and then an MP, is to help your local PPC run for election this year. You can help in a number of ways, from stuffing envelopes, canvassing, knocking on doors to generally helping your candidate stay sane and positive. Remember, they will probably have a family and a full time job so will be glad of the help you can provide. Understanding what volunteer assistance is useful will help you when you decide to run. Also, helping the local party will enable you to make contacts that will be useful later on.

This year all three parties are fielding a larger than usual number of female candidates. Currently the numbers of female candidates/percentage of the party are: Labour 167/27.9%, Conservatives 126/22.5% and Lib Dems 94/22.1%

The way to do this is to choose the party you want to support and then search for local candidates on their database.

Conservatives, http://www.women2win.com/ppc.aspx, search by name, constituency or postcode.
Labour, http://www.labour.org.uk/ppc/constituencies/, search by name, constituency or enter postcode in box on right titled ‘Labour in your area’ for local details.
Liberal Democrats, http://www.libdems.org.uk/in_your_area.aspx, search by postcode or constituency


Is there a website I can visit to track how parties/ candidates are doing?

The Centre for Women and Democracy has a candidate watch section where it lists how well the parties are doing at standing female candidates in the 2010 election. If you want to follow a particular PPC, find their page through the party website, linked above. If they are one of the candidates with a blog for example, you will be able to stay updated on how they are doing.

What do I do if I want to donate money to a party/ candidate? You can do this from each of the parties main websites and also to the local committee, again through making contact with the local party.

How do I hear about MP/ candidates surgeries /meetings? Go to They work for you where you will see a full list of all the MP’s in the UK. Find yours, click on their personal website, right hand side and that will list their surgeries or provide contact details for you to find out directly.

How else can I get involved? The simplest and yet most useful thing you can do in the next election is to vote and to encourage other people to vote. Do you talk about politics with your friends and family? Read you local paper and find out about the candidates in your area. Press the local party to host a hustings (a public debate) between the candidates so that your local community can hear what the candidates have to say and how it will be useful for your community.

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