‘They Do Not See a Black Woman as Credible'

Natalie Campbell, a candidate for Mayor of London, on what it's like to run as an outsider in U.K. politics.

‘They Do Not See a Black Woman as Credible'
Art: Natalie Campbell by Natalie Newsome

Natalie Campbell entered the race for Mayor of London last October. But that moment was years in the making. 

Raised in London by her Jamaican grandparents, Campbell, who is 40, launched her first business when she was just 19—an ESG advisory firm. Since then, she has served as the co-CEO of a sustainable drinks business, the chancellor of the University of Westminster and as an advisor to the British royal family (yes, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) on their philanthropic ventures.

Campbell, a political centrist, struggled to find a home in Britain’s major political parties. The left-leaning Liberal Democrat and Labour parties made her feel “othered.” The right-leaning Conservative party, for which she was longlisted as a candidate, was more welcoming, but her association with the party alienated members of the Black community. In the end, she entered the race as an independent. 

Since she launched her campaign, Campbell has spoken openly about the frustrations of running as an independent candidate: She has felt ignored by the media, shunned by the organizations running campaign debates (and the mainstream candidates who were invited, but failed to show up), and frozen out by sectors in which she’d worked for decades. 

This week, new research from the gender equality campaign group the Fawcett Society found that just one-third of local election candidates in England—and just over one-quarter of mayoral candidates—are women. The timing couldn't be better as voters go to the polls this Thursday.

Campbell spoke to The Persistent about running for mayor as a political outsider and what she would say to other women looking to get in on the game. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

You talk about your struggles as a political outsider and of being “frozen out.” In what ways have you been given less of a platform than others?

This is counter to everything I have always believed about success and meritocracy in the U.K., but if I was white and male and had the CV that I have, I would have had donors throwing money at me and the media would have had me commenting, writing articles. They would have found a way to [put me at] the table. 

Articles about [political] candidates are [often] written by young white men: One, in [London’s] Evening Standard rated my likability a 5 out of 10. It [really] said “this is how relatable these candidates are to me as another man.” The folks putting these things together don't see me as credible because they do not see a Black woman as credible—I'm pretty much calling that out. 

What’s the difference between Trump-style outsider rhetoric and what you’re saying about being an outsider?

Trump has heavily funded political campaigns, he was best friends with journalists and  politicians, and he had been in and out of the White House for ages. “I'm a man of the people”? Babes… You’re friends with journalists and politicians. You were never an outsider. 

I don't have politicians as friends, I'm learning on the fly. Yes, I'm successful, but I am very much the everyday person that doesn't have the same political and financial capital that the others who have been in politics for a long time have.

You've pledged to run London like a CEO What does that mean in practice?

It means independence of thought that doesn't have to be driven by “what does the party say” and “what's my next career move within that party?” With a CEO's [point of] view, you can say, what's the right thing for our customers, what's the right thing for Londoners? You don't build a business and separate marketing from finance and finance from operations, it is one holistic view to deliver a product for a customer—in politics that's never the view. 

You are focused on the 58 percent of London voters who didn't go to the polls in the last mayoral elections. How will you reach them?

Ultimately that 58 percent are [largely] female, they're 18 to 35 and they are people of color. They're not voting because none of the politicians that have gone before have ever represented them or looked like them. 

I did a live Q&A at a comedy club. I’m on TikTok. I’m speaking with people on LinkedIn. There's a big demographic and audience on there. That [makes it] a very different conversation for the 58 percent.

How would you encourage more women into politics?

That's a really hard question for me to answer, because right now I would not encourage anyone to join a [political] party. Running as an independent is costly, and safety is an issue: I have to put my address in the [election] booklet…this is my home address going to six million people. How can we encourage more women into the system if they have to [publish] their home address? 

At the moment I won't be encouraging women or women of color into this. Going to a [campaign debate] and having an empty chair in front of me [because] a candidate that was invited did not turn up – do I really want to encourage women into that?

I want to leave people with hope that we can change things. The elements of hope for me are that young women are messaging me and saying for the first time ever “I'm excited to vote.”

Alona Ferber is a senior editor at Prospect Magazine. Her Substack, The Backlash, looks at this moment in the struggle for gender equality.

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