I started out in politics stuffing envelopes at my local Conservative Association before going on to be a councillor in the London Borough of Merton from 1986 to 1994. In 1997 I was elected as MP for Maidenhead. I was a member of the Shadow Cabinet from 1999 to 2010, and from 2002 to 2003 was the first female Chairman of the Conservative Party. In 2010 I was appointed Home Secretary, and during this time oversaw reductions in crime, reform of the police, and the introduction of the landmark Modern Slavery Act.
Following my election as Leader of the Conservative Party, I became Prime Minister in July 2016. As Prime Minister, I oversaw the largest ever cash boost to the NHS and the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation; launched a 25-Year Environment Plan and introduced legislation to end the UK’s contribution to global warming entirely; published a Modern Industrial Strategy to ensure that the jobs of the future are created across the whole country not just in London; and established the first ever Race Disparity Audit to shine a light on injustices.
I have been a member of the Conservative Party since the age of 19, though I never thought about standing for office until I had my first child. I wanted to show her that women can hold public office and make a change. Before entering politics, I had a career in communications. Then, in 2006, I was elected to Westminster City Council, held a number of Cabinet Member roles before becoming Leader in 2017.
I was encouraged to stand for Parliament ahead of the 2019 General Election. Since becoming an MP, I have successfully campaigned on all sorts of issues which affect the everyday lives of my constituents; for example, securing children as officially recognised as victims in domestic abuse households; repealing the 1824 Vagrancy Act, and a pioneering scheme to detect rare diseases in newborn babies.
I champion the rights of women and girls. Recently, I led the Conservative Group at the Council of Europe debate on gender-based violence towards women and girls. I also speak out to break taboos surrounding women’s health. My latest campaign aims to raise awareness around fertility treatment, and encourages employers to sign up to the Fertility Workplace Pledge.
In September 2022, I was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.
I had the satisfaction of building a business from the ground up and selling it to my nearest competitor so, when I was ready for another challenge, I wanted one that would make a real and lasting difference to people’s lives. The role of Police and Crime Commissioner gives a voice to victims of unseen crimes and enables me to help make my county a safer place to live and work.
After being elected for the first time in 2012, it wasn’t long before I became the victim of an obsessive stalker and I was able to see for myself the lack of awareness and understanding of this insidious crime by the criminal justice system. I became very determined to drive a change in Sussex and nationally so that other victims didn’t come up against the same problems I was experiencing.
Now in Sussex we have a police force that is leading the field in understanding and responding to stalking. Sussex was the first force in the country to secure stalking protection orders and we have the most experienced and effective stalking support services for victims.
I have secured funding for ground-breaking behavioural change programmes for stalkers to address their obsessive behaviour and a county-wide campaign (Do The Right Thing) that encourages men to challenge misogyny and abusive behaviour towards women.
Local people want a reassuring visible police presence and Sussex now has 137 more police officers than when I was first elected 10 years ago. I am proud to say that I am now the longest-serving female PCC and it’s seeing these real tangible changes and improvements that continues to drive me forwards.
I joined the Conservative party after my experience of working in the NHS under the last Labour Government with their target driven approach, which looked good on paper but in reality did little to improve patient care. It was when Labour tried to close one of our local hospitals, The Princess Royal in Haywards Heath, that finally got me involved in the party where the local Conservatives were leading the campaign to save the PRH.
Having got the political bug I then stood to be a local councillor and won, a former Labour seat on Brighton & Hove City Council in 2007 with a majority of 1. Being a councillor I learnt what a difference local politicians can make to their community and so in 2015 I stood and won the neighbouring parliamentary seat of Lewes in the General Election which I won from Liberal Democrat, Norman Baker, after an 18 year tenure.
During my time in Parliament I have continued to work as a nurse as I have not only enjoyed it but has given me a valuable insight into how things are on the ground which was particularly useful during the covid pandemic.
Since becoming an MP I have had a number of roles from being the Vice Chair for Women of the Conservative Party through to an Assistant Government Whip, focusing on the work of DCMS and International Trade. I would encourage anyone to stand to represent their community, it is a very demanding role but equally rewarding.
My political journey has taken me from a council estate in Carlisle to a career in law, to becoming the first Black female Conservative MP and Minister, and now the PM’s Special Envoy for Girls Education. Since becoming an MP, I’ve always been inspired by issues that I feel connected to – and have been able to let that drive me to push for important changes along the way. I was one of the ministers responsible for taking the historic ‘Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013’ through Parliament, and as Minister for Sport and Tourism I championed the growth of women and girls’ participation in sport in the UK, driving a similar agenda for people from diverse and under-represented communities.
My Nigerian roots have also helped me to feel a strong personal connection to my recent work as the PM’s Trade Envoy to Nigeria and as Special Envoy for Girls Education. I was able to support the drive for economic growth by building on the UK’s existing relations with Nigeria, the country where my father was born and raised. And I have more recently been able to lead the UK’s efforts internationally to ensure all girls get 12 years of quality education – an issue which is incredibly close to my heart. One of my goals is to drive a global campaign to improve learning and get 40 million more girls into school around the world by 2025. My advice to anyone wishing to do the same? Draw on your own experiences and use them to connect you to the changes you want to make.