Jackie Weaver shot to stardom following a viral video of an online parish council meeting conducted in December 2020. Since then, she has been in high demand as an interviewee and speaker, gaining admiration for being a “voice of reason” and the “feminist you didn’t know you needed”.
The OU Students Association were delighted to host her at our biennial students conference this month, and to have her chair a debate on our governance reform resolutions earlier in January.
Jackie’s conference session focussed greatly on compassion in politics, and conference delegates were delighted by her wit and conviction. Many fantastic questions were asked and answered, but we didn’t have time to address them all.
Jackie has kindly agreed to share her answers to your surpless questions with The Hoot. Read on for more words of wisdom.
The Hoot: How can society make local politics a better place for students? Whether they are young or mature learners, distancne learners like OU students, or live with different circumstances such as disabilities which affect their studies – why are student voices so important?
Jackie: I am not sure I would argue that student voices are so important – I think all diversity is important and many of the OU students particularly will come from all walks of life (what I mean is that they are not all school leavers for example) and so OU students have a lot to offer – not just in that they are students – in stepping up the diversity agenda.
I don’t think society will change local politics I think the change has to come from within and that means that more of you who do not fit the current mould need to get involved and then affect change.
The Hoot: As a woman, what advice can you give for other women looking to join boards and committees, but who feel intimidated or overlooked?
Jackie: Buy my book!
But seriously, we need to look at ourselves first and build up our confidence. Friends and organisations specifically aimed at supporting women in politics (of any party) are incredibly helpful and enable you to build up that confidence in a safe and supported way.
If you feel confident in yourself then that will show – remember sharks can smell blood in the water so if you present a vulnerable image it may in turn make you vulnerable. And confidence is not the same as aggression – I am not asking you to change your personality but I am asking you to look again at how you see yourself.
The Hoot: In general, UK politics doesn’t have term limits. In your experience, how does people staying in elected roles for a very long time impact their ability to represent people?
Jackie: I try not to be too prescriptive answering a question like this – every 4 years we have all out elections (don’t forget I am talking about local elections) and it is for the community – the public – to decide whether or not they are being well served/represented by their councillor.
I feel that is an important message that we need to get across – to remind people that they have the council (councillors) they deserve – don’t like them? Don’t feel they are fit for purpose? Then VOTE!
The Hoot: How can we (the Association and our elected student representatives) educate our electorate to be compassionate, but at the same time challenge the status quo and making a difference?
Jackie: I have no issue with challenge BUT it is the way in which it is done. I was really pleased to be part of the debate process with regard to your recent proposed constitution changes. The debate was entirely civilised, points were put across in a clear way but the passion of the speakers was not lost.
How do we educate others? I think we lead by example and make it clear that we will not ‘hear’ anyone who is disrespectful or aggressive. The culture of an organisation can change really quickly – for good or for bad – often it is the chairman that sets the tone so if people who are badly behaved are not checked the ‘room’ quickly learns that behaviour.
The Hoot: For some people involved in politics and representation, it’s quite easy to let the job take over all aspects of your life and who you are. Have you managed to avoid this, and what tips would you give to student representatives trying to avoid the same i.e. achieving a healthy work/life balance?
Jackie: Perhaps this starts with why you get involved in the first place. If there is a gap in your life that you don’t know how to fill and you think that a ‘cause’ will fill it you are wrong. You will let it take over your life because you are hiding from whatever made you take it up in the first place.
So before you get involved in something new check in with yourself – do you want this because it will enhance your life or do you want it so that you can escape your life? Oh and make sure that you don’t start to sacrifice things that give you pleasure and happiness in order to spend more time on your cause – that is a slippery slope.
The Hoot: And finally, what has surprised you the most about how your life has changed since the Parish Council video went viral?
Jackie: I wear a lot more makeup!
But seriously – I do tend to feel much more scrutinised than before and I am much more mindful of what I say to people as I sometimes feel that they hold store over what I am saying to them.
I guess the other thing is that I realise that the glamour of tv and the media is rather smoke and mirrors and those who really work in that industry (as opposed to people like me who are passing through) work incredibly hard. Can you imagine presenting breakfast tv? Respect!