GUEST BLOG: Helen McDonald on why she is standing for Kursaal ward


Helen McDonald blog

This is a guest post, written by Helen McDonald, Southend Labour’s candidate for Kursaal ward at the 2016 local elections. As such, the views and opinions expressed may differ radically from your blogger’s own. Some of them may even make sense…

This is the moment where I’m supposed to tell you all that I wanted to stand as a candidate for Labour in Southend because all my family are staunch trade unionists, all my life I have been primed for a life in local politics and they gave a rousing cheer when it was announced I had been selected by the residents of Kursaal ward. So here goes… I come from a very long line of Tory voting, Daily Mail readers and the only time I’ve ever heard any of them talk about trade unions was when my Mum once claimed she worked with a man who had been ‘turned’ by the Russians and that’s why she went on strike so much in the 1970s. In fact, my Dad is still hoping this is a phase I’ll grow out of and insistently refers to me as a Champagne socialist (which is grossly unfair because I don’t even like Champagne).

So, how am I here right now? Well, I think my parents should consider themselves at least partly to blame because they instilled in me a very strong sense of what is fair and unfair and that a person’s circumstances are not necessarily a reflection of their abilities or ‘hard work’. That is why, after 15 years as a secondary school teacher, I have decided to move into local politics.

Of course, there’s more to it than that though. I complain. A lot. To anyone who will listen and some who won’t. It’s time to stop complaining and start doing.

Admittedly, I’ve already done quite a lot around the things that I complain about: I left teaching in mainstream secondary schools because I didn’t like the way the system had changed so that my students were not individual, amazing human beings anymore but rather target grades on a data collection sheet and now I teach students who are unable to be in mainstream education for whatever reason, plus I am doing a PhD that focuses on the impact of social class and school closure on young people’s experiences of secondary school. I do voluntary work with Southend-on-Sea Rape Crisis as a Youth Practitioner so that young survivors of sexual violence have a support network to access, I was an Appropriate Adult and I am now on the Youth Offender Referral Panel to support young people in making reparation for wrong doing. I am the representative in South Essex for Supporting Sisters, a group that collects donations of sanitary products and distributes them to organisations who work with homeless women and those using food banks. In addition, I am part of Supporting Our Sisters in Calais, which aims to improve the everyday circumstances of women and children in ‘the jungle’ camp. I’ve also campaigned with 50:50 Parliament for a year trying to get a debate and action in central government to achieve gender balance in the House of Commons and I am a Soroptimist with Southend-on-sea and District branch (Google that one if your Latin is rusty). Oh, and I’m an elected member of the Equality and Diversity Committee of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. I like to get involved.

All in all, I have a pretty good life and I know I have benefited from opportunities and privileges that others do not have so I’ve always tried to give something back.

I’ve lived in Essex most of my life (apart from a brief spell in Stoke-on-Trent which will always have a special place in my heart) but I only moved to Southend just over a year ago. I live in Thorpe Bay (so maybe my Dad does have a point about that Champagne socialism thing…) and I can honestly say Southend-on-Sea is the most community-centred place I have ever lived: I love it here! There is so much passion, enthusiasm and energy to make the world a better place for everyone and I love being a part of that.

All of these things combined have led me to where I am right now: Labour candidate for Kursaal ward for the Council elections in May 2016. Moving into local politics is a logical next step for me in trying to affect real change for local people and it’s a very exciting time for me. I am well aware I stand on the shoulders of giants and I hope I can follow in the footsteps of Cllr Anne Jones and Cllr Judith McMahon in representing residents of Kursaal ward by building on the firm foundations they have set and continue to develop.

So, the fight is ahead to get elected and I hope I can count on some of you reading this to support me in achieving that. If you’d like to get involved, I would very much like to hear from you and you can email me at helen.mcdonald@southendlabour.com.

Other than that, I’ll end with a very poignant quote that sums up my general attitude to life from the great thinker and philosopher, James Dalton (Patrick Swayze’s character in Roadhouse):

“All you have to do is follow three simple rules. One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.”

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