The Brighton Summit Blog

Gina Miller: utterly inspirational

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Flo Powell, Joint Managing Director, Midnight Communications

This year’s Brighton Summit was the biggest yet, with 450 delegates, and, in my humble opinion, was the best since it started seven years ago. By the time the final keynote speech came around, everyone seemed to be feeling the same – inspired, but a little tired after a full day of networking and workshopping.

Enter Gina Miller to wake us all up. Introduced as a national icon, recognised for taking on the establishment and winning, Gina got our heads, and hearts, racing.

Gina is a true activist and recently published her memoir ‘Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall and Leading the Way’. Best known for successfully challenging the government’s authority over triggering article 50, her speech only briefly touched on Brexit.

Starting with a quip about the Daily Mail incorrectly naming her a ‘local’ by publishing that she went to school at Roedean, Brighton, when in fact she schooled in Eastbourne, Gina took us on a rollercoaster ride through her life.

Until the age of 11, Gina grew up in British Guiana with parents that loved all things British, including the education system. At the time, the country was going through huge political turmoil. Gina’s father saved his money and put himself through night school to become a lawyer. A huge influence on Gina’s life, her father taught her the importance of standing up for others. By the time she was 10, her father was instrumental in setting up a new political party which sadly came with threats on their lives. To keep them safe, Gina’s parents sent her and her brother to England, to Eastbourne.

It never crossed Gina’s mind that their parents wouldn’t stay with them, but after unpacking they said their goodbyes. Two years later, due to issues with currency restrictions, they had to move out of boarding school and into a tiny flat. Already very independent, Gina decided to help out and get a job. So, for two hours every day before school, at weekends and over the summer holidays, she worked as a chambermaid in the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne.

Deciding to follow in her father’s footsteps, Gina travelled to London to study law, to the Polytechnic of East London (now University of East London). Shockingly, just before taking her finals, she was brutally attacked and couldn’t walk for seven months as a result. The university contacted Gina two years ago to offer her an honorary law degree – 30 years to the month since she should have received it at graduation.

By this point in her speech, Gina had the Brighton Summit audience in the palm of her hand and a gasp rippled through the room when she talked about her attack. Shock quickly turned to…. admiration is not strong enough a word… when Gina said that she wasn’t going to let the men that attacked her win, so she moved on with her life and discovered the world of business.

“My life is the life I’ve chosen to live” explained Gina. Although her next big life experience was taken out of her hands when her daughter was born. At the time, the NHS was on its knees and, with nobody available to deliver her, Gina’s daughter was starved of oxygen and as a result has a mental age of five or six at aged 31.

This experience led to her first experience of campaigning, when she had to fight to keep her daughter by getting her statemented. Describing it as ‘becoming a lioness to fight for my baby’, Gina was involved in getting the Special Education Act through parliament, making statementing accessible for all.

She has been campaigning ever since, for more than 30 years. Speaking of another shocking experience, Gina described how her ex husband turned violent and she ended up living in her car, with her special-needs daughter, for three weeks. Gina backed the recent Domestic Violence Bill but spoke of her dismay that this was delayed due to the prorogation of Government.

Gina and her husband also funded the Modern Slavery Report that lead to the Act for which Theresa May received much of the credit. Every time Gina Miller has come across a situation which she considers fundamentally wrong, she has used her voice, love of the law and experience in policy making to try to change it, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

She implored the audience to find their voice, saying she was fearful about where we go next as a country. We’ve got big challenges ahead for Britain – not just Brexit but an aging population, climate change, pension reform… the list goes on. Gina spoke directly to the businesses in the audience, stating they have an opportunity to be responsible capitalists, looking at success not just with profit in mind, but in giving back to the society which has helped create that success.

Gina’s final rallying cry was: “we can’t just leave it up to the politicians and the people in power. We must take responsibility, collectively and independently, to combat the direction of travel for the world.”

Cue standing ovation.

My heart was in my mouth. I felt shaken and my heart was racing. As I looked around, the rest of the audience had a mixture of expressions of awe, big smiles and more than a few wet eyes. Speaking to a few people afterwards, the phrases ‘spellbound’ and ‘speechless’ were used a lot.

Reading my notes and writing this blog, I can feel the emotion coming back. What a woman. What an inspiration. So, Brighton businesses, what are we going to do? Whether it’s giving back to society or standing up and using our collective voice to fight injustice or even try to enact change… now is the time for action.

Read more about the 2019 Brighton Summit over on the Chamber website here.




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