Guest blog: ‘I’m not a career politician!’

1 June 2017

Ahead of the General Election, the Bar Council is publishing blogs from barristers who are standing for election. Here barrister Isabelle Parasram gives an insight into what it is like to stand for Parliament

Isabelle Parasram

'I'm not a career politician!' is a popular mantra that many political candidates are declaring this General Election. And I'm one of them. After two candidacies though, I feel somewhat 'seasoned', but there is still lots that surprises me about politics.

Until I became involved in politics, I had no idea quite how hard candidates work. Previously, I'd had a career as a barrister in the public, private and charitable sectors. I'd set up and expanded my own Chambers. I had so many roles within school Governorship that I lost count of the Committees I'd chaired, attended and reported to. I was a Trustee of two charities. And, most importantly of all, I gave birth to (and am still raising) four young children. By then, I thought I'd mastered the arts of time management and multi-tasking. It was only when I became a political candidate that I realised how frivolous I'd been to waste the hours between midnight and 5am!

As I've said, I'm not a career politician. When a member of the brand new Women's Equality Party (WEP) suggested that I stand as a General London Assembly (GLA) candidate, politics found me. One rigorous application and selection process later, I found myself duly appointed and then spent the next 5 months going through a baptism of fire, learning about personal branding, dealing with the media and how to be'…wise as a serpent, but gentle as a dove' with political friends and enemies alike. One of my last and fondest memories of that time was watching the Co-Founder of WEP, Sandi Toksvig, put on an impromptu comedy show on election night at City Hall…

So, why am I now standing for the Liberal Democrats? With WEP's support and encouragement, I decided to channel my passion for equality through a 'mainstream' party. With its values of being open, tolerant and united, the Liberal Democrats were the right choice for me. I wanted to fight for the causes of justice, equality, education and poverty from within a Party that genuinely wants to save Britain's future.

My Liberal Democrat journey began at Oxford University, where I was speaking on a panel on politics. Little did I know that I would be sitting next to Daisy Cooper, the Diversity Champion for the Liberal Democrats. We spent hours talking that day and I came to realise that many of the values espoused by the Liberal Democrats were ones that I held subconsciously myself.

As a result of that conversation, I joined the Party, attended its Autumn Conference, was nominated for the Future Leaders and Future Women MPs Groups, took an active role in my Local Party, won an award for phone banking for Sarah Olney and, having been trained and mentored by Julia Cambridge - the Vice Chair of the Campaign for Gender Balance - to within an inch of my life, passed a tough candidate assessment process. 

I was immediately selected as the candidate for Walsall North, which is a key election battleground and, therefore a media hotspot. And I'm right in the middle of it! I was also appointed as a Spokesperson on Brexit for the West Midlands. So the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of TV and radio appearances, as well as 'standard' candidate activities, such as meeting constituents, responding to policy enquiries and visiting special interest groups.

Behind the apparent glamour of it all, I've been amazed by just how much studying I have to do. Almost daily, I spend hours learning the key policies of each party, reviewing what each Party has recently pronounced or researching key constituency issues. This long forgotten ability to 'cram', alongside my deeply hidden capacity to 'speed pack' a suitcase, has been amongst the biggest self-discoveries for me. 

Sometimes, when I'm away from my husband and children, or I'm faced with difficult confrontations (there are many in politics!), I wonder why I'm doing this. But then I remember what drew me to WEP and the Liberal Democrats in the first place. 

I grew up as a child of Indo-Caribbean parents, who'd immigrated to the UK from Trinidad in the 1960s. I lived a life typical of many second generation immigrant children at that time - watching my parents, who'd had a respectable status in their 'homeland', working here in low paid jobs and being treated with contempt. 

During my primary years I lived in the East End. I moved to Trinidad in my early teens, and then moved back to the UK (Essex) a few years later. During these transitions, I lived with friends, relatives and, sometimes, strangers. It wasn't easy. My hope for a better life seemed achievable only through education, so I studied hard. But sometimes, my schoolwork was my only escape from a life too often separated from my parents and siblings.

Through relentless toil, undiminishing persistence and an internal ethic that says, "If I don't work, I won't eat", my 'new life' comes complete with a successful career, fulfilling voluntary work and an 'anchored' family. It's a lovely picture for all to behold, but what lies behind it is the bittersweet reality of what it truly feels like to suffer from inequality, poverty, limited access to education, and little hope of justice. 

When I spoke to Daisy Cooper at Oxford that summer's day, flashes of my childhood sprang before my eyes. I remembered my determination to ensure that, if it was within my power, no person's future should be decided by their postcode, family background or social status. 

So, perhaps I have been political all of my life without knowing it? I started this by saying that I'm not a career politician. But I've ended it by wondering if, maybe, in some small way, I am…

Isabelle Parasram is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Walsall North and a Spokesperson on Brexit for the West Midlands. Professionally, she is the Head of Chambers of a civil law practice. Her volunteer roles include serving as a Foundation Governor, Committee Chair and Trustee. She is also a qualified antenatal teacher, Early Years practitioner and AVA Assessor. Using her skills and experience, she coaches, trains and mentors other women leaders who want to 'change the world through the power of possibility…' Isabelle and her husband have four young children.