Meet the Political Newcomer Who’s Shaking Things Up:
A Q&A with Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate Barbara Gibson
Barbara Gibson, County Councillor for Haldens Division, was selected in February 2018 as the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate, for Welwyn Hatfield. Read on to find out more about what drives her.
You’re relatively new to politics, and to the Liberal Democrats, aren’t you? How did you get here?
Yes, I’m definitely not a career politician, and certainly never imagined I would stand for Parliament. But to put it simply, I just became fed up with what was happening in politics in this country, and around the world.
I hated what I saw politicians doing, and even more, I hated that voters seemed to shrug it off -- the lying, the fiddling of expenses, the naked personal ambition, the complete lack of integrity -- as if it’s a given that all politicians are like that, so there’s no choice but to keep electing the same ones.
I looked around and said to myself, "If these are the people running our world, it’s time for some of the rest of us to step up."
But at that point, you weren’t even a member of a political party. How did you end up with the Lib Dems?
That’s right. I didn’t have any particular party loyalties. And truthfully, I didn’t really know enough about any of the parties to be sure where I belonged. So I had to do my own research.
So what did you look at, were there specific policies, or did you identify as left or right?
For me it was about values. I’ve always had liberal values, especially related to social issues. And coming from a business background, I have more of a tendency towards fiscal conservatism. So there are elements in the policies of all the parties that I could agree with. But what I saw at the time -- and it’s actually getting worse lately -- was that the two major parties were becoming more and more controlled by their extreme factions. Extremism in politics is simply not healthy, and not sustainable. I didn’t want to be a part of a party that is ruled by fanatical ideology.
The closer I looked at the Lib Dems, the clearer it was that they shared my values, liberal values, human values. They are the values I think of as traditional British values. They’re not extreme, most of the people I talk with share these values, no matter what party they have voted for in the past. Things like fairness, equality, tolerance, the moral requirement to take care of the vulnerable, a belief that health care is a human right, that we must protect the environment, that government at every level should be transparent and that power should rest with the people, with more participatory decision-making at the community level, giving individuals more control over their own lives.
For me, when I’m campaigning, it’s not for a party, or for my own personal interests, it’s for those values. Or it’s against things I think are simply bad for our country, damaging to society, wrong for the world.
You first got involved in 2016, was the Brexit referendum result a part of that?
It definitely played a part. But as disappointed as I was with the result, what motivated me more was the absolute debacle of a referendum. It was so poorly designed in the first place, clearly called for the wrong reasons -- to settle internal disputes within the Conservative Party, and then badly handled from start to finish, resulting in huge divisions in the country, and complete lack of accountability, since those who campaigned for it were not responsible for implementing it. Frankly, I will never forgive David Cameron for his total lack of strategic thinking and leadership. But then I watched as it got worse from there, with mistake after mistake being made by Theresa May. And it absolutely enrages me that in the name of ‘taking back sovereignty’ they actually took sovereignty away from Parliament, and then made it a party-political issue, forcing MPs to support something they absolutely know is bad for the country.
The referendum was fundamentally flawed, forcing an over-simplified question on a complex problem, with no plan, no consensus even in the cabinet, for the next steps. And since then it’s been a nightmare of incompetence. Immediately after May took office, she had an opportunity to turn things around.
She could have declared that the referendum outcome was advisory, and that it was now up to her Government and Parliament to make the decisions about our role in Europe. At that point she could have put it in her back pocket and gone back to the EU with real negotiating power, gathered allies from other countries that also wanted to see reform, and the UK could have been a leader of change. Instead, she was controlled by the extremists in her own party, and is leading us off the cliff.
So yes, the continuing saga has become one of my main motivators.
Whew! That was a live one. Let’s go for something a bit lighter. By your accent, I can tell you’re not originally from around here, What’s your background?
The accent is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? You can take the girl out of Oklahoma, but it’s hard to get the Oklahoma out of the girl.
I grew up in a family of six children, where both my parents worked hard and barely made ends meet. I left home at 17 and worked several jobs at a time to support myself and put myself through university. Most of my career was in corporate communication, and it took me all over the US, as well as around the world.
I moved to the UK in 2002, married my husband, Andrew, in the summer of 2004. He’s from St Albans originally, and we settled first in Knebworth, then in the Oaklands neighbourhood of Welwyn, so I’ve lived in Welwyn Hatfield for nearly 15 years. I very proudly became a UK citizen in 2011.
My work continued to focus on business communication, and I worked mostly with global companies, and had the opportunity of serving as the international chair of the International Association of Business Communicators, which gave me exposure so many cultures around the world and the challenges of working across cultures, that I developed an interest in learning more. So I went back to do a PhD in intercultural communication, completing that in 2014, and then worked as a Lecturer for a number of universities, as well as continuing consulting with global companies.
On the personal side, in addition to my husband, my family includes my two dogs (both Westies), and my father-in-law, who lives just around the corner from us and is still going strong at 94.
So you won a long-held Conservative seat to become a County Councillor in 2017, and now you’ve also been selected as the next Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate. Do you see any potential conflicts with doing both those things?
In fact, I think it’s a perfect fit. Being a County Councillor is the best possible preparation for being an MP, because it offers the chance to get to know the constituency inside and out, and understand the impact that central government decisions have on a local level. I can see the need for much closer cooperation between all levels. What we need is an MP who is focused on truly representing us in Parliament, focused on the things that matter the most to us, not spending time building a future career for himself by focusing on topics like crypto-currency, or plotting to bring down his own party’s leader.
As a County Councillor, I’m here in the constituency every single day, speaking with local residents, solving problems, dealing with the consequences of Government policies and funding cuts. I see the crumbling infrastructure. I see the impact on schools, and health care, and social care for the elderly. And as far as the people of Welwyn Hatfield are concerned, there’s no distinction between national issues and local issues. If all affects us at a local level.
The next General Election is scheduled for 2022, but there are predictions that it could come even as early as this year. Whenever it happens, why should we vote for Barbara Gibson?
Not everyone should vote for me. If you’re actually happy with politics as usual in this country, if you’re content with a bi-polar system where we’re all voting tactically for the least-worst party, or if you vote strictly on party lines rather than the quality and integrity of the candidate, then you shouldn’t vote for me. Stick with the status quo, and you’ll get more of the same.
But if, like me, you’re fed up with those things, and you want change, I’m your girl. I’m doing this to make a difference, not to build a political career. I will work full-time for Welwyn Hatfield, and be a champion for the things that matter right here in our community. I’ll fight for those traditional liberal British values, the things that make us the best we can be.