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My grandfather was a politician in Kenya throughout the 1950s. At various times he was a minister for finance, local government and education. My childhood was peppered with his visits to London, and we used to walk to Heathrow, straight across the tarmac, and meet him on the plane.
Neither of my parents were political, but my uncle was religious – he was on the Church of England Synod – and a first class challenger of the status quo.
My mother was Church of Scotland and a lot of my family were Jewish, but I ended up going to a Roman Catholic Convent School until the age of 11. I then went to a state girls’ grammar school, before doing my A-levels at a private school. I didn’t make the most of my education, despite these fantastic opportunities, and I could have enjoyed it more.
When I was at Sutton High, a few MPs came to speak to us. I remember thinking that being an MP was the job I wanted to do. I kept my ambition quiet, but I kept that goal in mind during every job I did.
My career has been hugely varied. I spent a year at Midland Bank International – I wasn’t cut out for banking in any way – and then I went to work for a firm of solicitors in my home town. From there I went to work for the hotel next door. I changed job every single year with that company as opportunities came along, and after two years or so I went to live in East Anglia, doing sales and marketing and then personnel and training. I ended up with 51 hotels and working in the international division doing quality customer care training.
I met my husband during that time, and started to work for Childline and the Environmental Investigation Agency as a volunteer. I then went to Southend College, first of all on the admin side and then the teaching. After that I moved to work in social services, working with adults with learning difficulties, before moving to London to work as a personal assistant to Phil Edmonds, the former England left-arm spin bowler. He is a great character, with so many different business interests. I then went to work for his solicitor, after a year moving with one of the partners to another firm and then finally to a firm called Forsters. They were fantastic, and always let me take time off to pursue my political ambitions.
I was catapulted into local politics in Suffolk. The local council was trying to pull down a Victorian school to create 17 extra car parking spaces, while at the same time planning to build a new community centre. It seemed ridiculous, and I ended up working with a lot of local people.
Among them was Andrew Phillips, now a Lib Dem peer. By 1999 he had beaten me into submission, and I joined the party. Funnily enough, both Andrew and I had been members of the Labour Party. I left just after they were elected in 1997. I couldn’t stand the programme of centralisation, and as an ordinary member I found it very attractive that the Lib Dems allow their members to shape their policy. Three weeks after joining I met Norman Lamb at a conference, and a few days later a party information pack arrived on the doorstep.
I stood in South Suffolk in 2001, and I stood in the by-election in Ipswich that autumn, after the death of Jamie Cann. We held our storming third position, but we didn’t get squished. Two days after that, a local councillor in Glastonbury asked me to put myself forward as a candidate for Wells. My father lived there, and he was very keen that I returned, and so I went home.
Since then I have separated from my husband – I suspect that is down to the strain of political life – but we have a completely amicable arrangement and our children flit between our homes.
I fought Wells in 2005. I thought I had a chance of letting people know who I was – it was a warm-up. We did well, and by 2006 I thought I could win the seat.
I gave up my job, sold my part of the house, and I have spent that money living, not excessively, for the last four years. I was always out campaigning – I have bags of energy – and I appreciated having the opportunity to tell people what a really active constituency MP would be like.
Expenses were an issue in the campaign, but it was one of many things. It wasn’t a negative campaign. David Heathcoat-Amory, my opponent, might perceive it like that, but my campaign was ruthlessly truthful. I didn’t bang on about stuff, I just put it in front of people so that they understood their choice. I’m entitled to do that, and he [Heathcoat-Amory] is entitled to have sued me if anything was incorrect – but it wasn’t. It came to me on a plate.
It was only on April 15 that he realised he was in trouble. He wrote to his members that day, asking for £15,000 to fight his campaign. That was too late; if he’d been there earlier, then he would have known that – I had spent years getting involved. People have put their faith in me, and my ambition now is to let people know what a local MP can do.
I’m sure the party could learn from my campaign. We did it on very little money, but it was accurate and effective. It’s about being present in your constituency and living in your community. Winning wasn’t a surprise, though it was a close result.
The other side asked for a recount at 4.30am, and the result was announced a few hours later. I did the press interviews, and then went to a constituency meeting with matchsticks holding my eyes open.
I’d spent my whole life opposing the Conservatives, so what has happened feels weird, just extraordinary. However, I’ve had to work with many different individuals in my life in trying to get things done, and the Conservatives are slightly different from how they used to be. A lot of the people I have met are hugely reasonable, which is pretty distressing to find out!
If your lifetime ambition is to play for Fulham, and you have done your absolute best, but then Chelsea come along and ask you to play for them, do you tell them you only want to play for Fulham? No. You play for Chelsea and hope you get spotted. I see this as a stepping stone to prove that Lib Dems can be true to their word and can work for other people, even if it’s a pretty bitter pill for some of us. We can do it, and we can produce results. There will be people on both sides you upset, but we can’t be too stubborn and we have to compromise. I hope it will last the five years.
I take the optimist’s view: in my constituency, maybe all the people who voted for me, and all the people who voted for the Conservative candidate, are broadly happy. The people who voted Labour are happy too, because they got rid of an old-style Conservative.
I’ve now got the opportunity to do a lot of pointing and jumping up and down. I want to bring a bit of common sense, straight-talking and logic into politics, and get a really good deal for the people of Wells. I want them to understand that this is their Parliament, not mine.
I went to Glastonbury last weekend. I’m so disappointed that U2 weren’t there, but it is just fantastic that Stevie Wonder played. I’ve seen some great bands there – Michael Eavis is awesome in the way that he can bring the generations together.
I don’t really relax – I’m a bit full-bounce really – but I love spending time with my children. They’re fantastic and entertaining, and huge fun to be around.