Natasha Asghar is best known for her television work but has left all of that behind to represent the Conservatives for the seat in Newport East during the general election.

Natasha Asghar

Natasha Asghar

As well as campaigning hard for cancer treatment and improved facilities for those suffering from mental health issues, Asghar is passionate about getting more women and more women from ethnic minorities into politics over the next few years.

We caught up with her to chat about her campaign in Newport East, why there is a severe lack of women in politics at the moment, and what needs to be done to get more women into the profession.

- The 2015 election campaign officially got underway yesterday and you are the Conservative candidate for Newport East. Firstly, what do you aim to achieve if you win the vote on May 7th?

If I do win the vote there are many things that I plan to do, particularly in relation to encouraging more women; women are my focus in my campaign. We have problems with cancer drugs; unfortunately, they are not easily and readily available due to the cost. If I am elected, I will be doing everything that I can to make sure that cancer patients in Wales are given the necessary drugs for survival. If not, then I will make sure that there last moments in life are the best and most comfortable that they can possible have. I also have a huge interest in mental illness and will be wholeheartedly supporting organisations that help those with mental illness and depression.

Coming back to the point on women, I want to encourage more women from ethic minorities - men, women, and children - to get involved in politics. I feel that there is a huge barrier for people who want to get into politics, they don't know what it is, they are not sure of the repercussions if they win, lose or draw. Perhaps that they are not aware of the political structure in this country; you have council elections, European elections and the general election as well.

Getting into politics is very important for every person, regardless what party you are from, and that is something that I want to do; I want to mentor young people and give them the opportunity to come forward in politics and hopefully have a brighter future - not just for the ethnic minorities, but for people in Britain at large.

- We are going to go on and talk about women in politics in a moment, but what was it that drew you into politics in the first place?

Honestly? I love to talk (laughs) I love to talk and I wanted to do a job where… I am not cut out to be a medic as I cannot stand the sight of blood and if I see vomit I will start vomiting with them. I can't deal with that kind of stuff. However, I wanted to be able to help people, but not in a way that makes me physically ill at the same time, and having seen my family in politics I knew that it was the one way where I could make a difference.

You can help others by being in a certain position of power and ensuring that the law is upheld, make a difference to the legal system, make a difference with local issues, issues that you are passionate about, and ultimately do something for the greater good.

- Sadly, women are grossly under represented in politics - of the 650 members of parliament that have sat in the commons over the last five years, only 148 of them were women. Why do you think there are so few women in politics at the moment?

I was having this conversation with a few people the other day and I think there are a number of reasons. Politics is one of those careers that is not very stable, if you are a doctor, a dentist or a journalist, you often get a job in our industry or in a similar industry. Whereas politics is something that is not guaranteed. It is a five-year job but there is no guarantee that you are going to last five months or be successful at the next election. Some people feel that it is not very female friendly because of the hours that are required by a parliamentarian don't really fit into with family life.

I am here to say that that is not the case at all. Particularly in the Welsh assembly, they have launched allowances for women who want to get into politics and are perhaps single parents or have children. Many people aren't aware that Parliament actually runs on term time. At the moment, most people are on Easter holiday and Parliament would be on an Easter holiday - this year Parliament has been dissolved because of the election - but parliamentarians get a Christmas holiday, summer holiday, the same as children. I am not saying that they don't have to work during that time, but generally, they do get a similar sort of time schedule to children that are in school. I am here to say that politics is female friendly.

Unfortunately, I think that political parties, not just Conservative, Labour, or Lib Dem but all of them, need to drive forward this, encourage more woman to come forward and give them winnable seats; I think that is another frustration that a lot of women have.

- How much do think or expect those numbers to change by the end of the election campaign? Do you think we will see more women in the commons after the election in May?

I hope you are going to see me there in May (laughs). I think a lot more women have come forward, particularly in the Conservatives. They have encouraged more women - not ethnic minorities - but they do have the highest of women who have come forward in this election. I think you will definitely see a tilt in the balance when it comes to women involved in politics - if not in this election, definitely by the next, as there are a lot more women coming in now.

- There are quite a few hurdles for women to overcome when they are getting into politics, so did you face any difficulties yourself?

Prior to this, I worked in TV in what many people would call a 'dream job.' I have my own TV shows, I had a stable salary, and a beautiful home but I have literally uprooted by life and packed up my job to fight this campaign. That really was a very big thing for me. I am quite literally fighting for a seat and my future is unknown at the moment and for the next six weeks. I don't know what is going to happen after six weeks but for now, I plan on giving this election my full support and my full drive. I hope that I do win it so I can not only make a difference in my own life, but to help other people out there who are perhaps a little reluctant to get into politics.

When I joined politics, I was very fortunate as I was supported a lot and I can't say there was any reluctance or any hurdles for me to overcome to get into politics. However, I have met people - not just on the Conservative Party but in other parties as well - who felt that there were elements of racism and difficulties getting into politics. If you don't know about the area, you want to stand in or if you don't know particular policies or people, then it can be hard. I have to honest with you, I have not seen that happen and I have been very fortunate, as the Conservatives have welcomed me with open arms. I am delighted to be standing in this seat.

- Things are slowly starting to change with Natalie Bennett leader of the Green Party and Nicola Sturgeon is leader of the SNP. How great an impact are they and could they have on getting more and more women into politics?

Nicola Sturgeon has only bee in her role for a short time, while Natalie Bennett has been there a little longer. In relation to their own parties, I haven't seen them move mountains in terms of them recruiting women to get into politics. However, you never know. There are many women… I met Theresa May a few days ago and she is certainly a woman who has inspired so many women - particularly in the Conservative party - to get involved.

Many people don't feel that political parties are made for women and women can be in a position of power - the Conservatives have been the only party to have a female Prime Minister. No other party has ever done that and no other party has even given us a leader who is female; Lib Dems haven't and Labour haven't as they have both all men so far. Therefore, the Conservatives have been quite advanced in their thinking and their methodology, as well as the results that they have provided when it comes to proving that women can be in a position of power. Theresa May is the longest serving Home Secretary in this country, as a woman, that is a very big achievement.

- What are the major steps that you think now need to be taken to get more women in politics and running for seats? How much is it about targeting the young?

In relation to getting women into politics, there need to be a huge drive by the political parties. I am one of those people who says 'as long as you vote.' It doesn't matter if you vote for me or not - of course I would love it if people vote for me - but please vote as it is important to get involved in British politics because you live in this country.

I think every political party need to drive forward the need for women in their party as well as the female vote. I think that a lot of people focus on male voting - men tend to be the head of the house - but that ideology has changed a lot recently and women need to feel like they are included and they need to feel like they can be part of something bigger, greater, something that may not conflict with their day to day routines or their motherly responsibilities and won't take them way from spending time with the families. So, parties really do need to do that.

I think that young people are more politically astute that in the past. I am not saying that when people of my generation when we were at university weren't, because we were, but I think nowadays young people are aware of what is going on around them. I think it is a great opportunity for political parties and individuals to get young people involved in politics so they can go forward - the youth of today are going to be the future of tomorrow.

- What do you think about the argument of lowering the voting age to sixteen?

Although I have just said that younger people are more politically astute, I think the justification of it being eighteen… at that age they are developing their own minds and going off to university and have different needs. Whereas sixteen, I am not saying that they are in any way immature as most sixteen year olds are very streetwise and know what is going on around them, but I am very happy with the voting age being at eighteen.

- However, it is not only women who are under represented in the commons - there are also a lack of ethic minority MPs, MPs with disabilities, and working class MPs. How much do you think politics is a turnoff for people as a career when they see it as a predominately, middle aged, rather well off, white man's club?

I agree with you and I get that a lot from people. A lot of people say to me, as a woman as someone from an ethnic minority background, how can you stand as a Conservative? Two of those issues that you just mentioned I am a contradiction to those. As a woman and from the ethnic minority I am standing as a Conservative in this political government and if I can do it, I don't see why other people can't.

I am sure there are people out there who are from the ethnic minority, men and women who have disabilities and are thinking the same way. It is really about encouraging them, getting them involved, and having them make the first step of getting involved - I can guarantee that there is a place for everyone in politics.

- How do you think the general public view politics and politicians at the moment?

(Laughs) Honestly? I have been campaigning this morning and the people who I have been meeting face to face have been very sweet. Everyone is very open to the election and everyone is very enthusiastic about seeing which way it is going to go - right now, the opinion polls are so close that no one knows who is going to be going into Number 10 as PM. So far, I have had a great response and I can't complain.

However, I know that there is often a distrust of the politicians and people feel that politicians aren't representing them and only coming to get voting at election time. That is very sad because I know that many of the politicians out there who genuinely do a lot of work for their constituents throughout the year - not just when it comes to election time. I think that you can't paint everyone with the same brush; it is about finding the right person for each constituency who is prepared to do the job and deliver for the next five years.

- Many people are calling this one of the most important and unpredictable elections in a generation, what policies do you expect to be the major battleground over the next few weeks?

I agree with you 100%, it is going to be a very close election. I feel that immigration is going to be a big issue that many people are going to bring up; unfortunately, many people are going to jump on the immigration bandwagon and even scaremonger people into statistics that aren't actually right and aren't doing anyone any favours when it comes to building up hype about themselves.

I think health care is also going to be a paramount issue that people are going to be talking about. Europe may be another issue - I think that is very much tied in with immigration - but the stance of British in the EU will be a big issue when it comes to the election. I think these are going to be some of the major issues that we are going to be dealing with over the next few weeks.

- This is the first time that you have campaigned at a general election; this must be a very exciting time for you?

I am not going to lie to you, every day is a different day and no day is the same as the previous. You are literally doing everything that you can. I believe in having a campaign where we don't go in all guns blazing - we need to take it bit by bit and day by day, which is what we are doing. I have packed everything in in order to give this election my all and I have been strategising for the last forty-eight hours as to how and what we are going to be doing over the next few weeks. So fingers and toes crossed that we will give everyone an election to remember here in Newport.

I am meeting people door to door, which is what I have been doing this morning. I am going to be canvassing harder over the next few weeks - we didn't want to be disrespectful over Easter and intrude on people's family time. Aside from that, I will be going to local schools, meeting parents, taking in hustings: I will be taking part in a hustings with women from ethnic minorities in London as well. I will also being doing a few interviews on TV and radio as well.

Whatever the outcome of the election if for me, the one thing I really want to do in this election is ensure that more women do come forward in politics in the future. Whatever happens to me, that is my biggest goal. I will do everything I can to get that message across.

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