The MP Interview: Seema Malhotra
On launching Playstation 2, identity theft and dinner with Ally McBeal.
What made you go into politics?
I got involved with a lot of community campaigns and some political campaigns while still at school. So much about being in pressure groups is about influencing decision makers – and it made me realise that as well as influencing, sometimes its also important to be part of the decision making process. That got me interested in how politics works. I met someone in the Labour Party who encouraged me to join and I haven’t looked back since.
What job did you do before you became an MP?
I worked for Accenture and PwC and then as an independent management consultant (which isn’t a career that is well understood!). I have worked with a range of Government departments and with industry (most recently film and games industries) on projects mostly around how you improve business and public services. It’s been a career with a lot of variety. I spent two years as a systems analyst, then worked as part of the set up team for a regional development agency, and even project managed the launch of Playstation 2 in the UK. My four years in the Home Affairs/Justice sector were probably the most lifechanging experiences. I always wanted a career outside politics and am lucky to have had one that taught me so much.
Which law would you scrap?
Not surprisingly I wish I could turn the clock back on the Health and Social Care Bill. We’ve had unnecessary structural change that I believe has weakened the NHS and there is much pain still to come.
And if you could pass one law, what would it be?
I’d make it illegal to fraudulently use someone’s address as your own. Apparently it is not against the law – and it has happened to a few of my constituents. They have had police turn up in the early hours with warrants for the arrest of people they have never heard of. Any form of identity theft is a real invasion of people’s rights and privacy.
Do politics and religion mix?
No, at least not for very long. And not very well.
Who is your favourite prime minister from history, and why?
I’m not sure I’d have one. I’d choose Clem Attlee for his courage setting up our post-war welfare state, and Harold Wilson for his wisdom on social reform and abolition of the death penalty. I also feel very fortunate to have experienced the Labour victory in 1997 – it’s easy to forget quite how much we changed under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Name three dream dinner-party guests.
Ally McBeal (ok she’s fictitional but she’s a big part of my life), Madam Alaska – a refugee from the Russian Revolution who lived in Feltham around 100 years ago. She trained circus animals and used to walk up Feltham High Street with a lion. And finally, Maud Pember Reeves. In 1908 she founded the first Fabian Women’s Group – the forerunner of the Fabian Women’s Network I founded in 2005.
Which politician from a different party do you most admire?
I may not always agree with her, but right now I would say Caroline Lucas. A quite remarkable politician with absolute conviction.
What’s your karaoke song of choice?
Gloria Gaynor’s “I will Survive”. Such a classic. Perfect for a girl’s night out.
What’s the last film you saw?
It was actually The Iron Lady a few weeks after I got elected. Her election scenes and first moments in the House felt eerily familiar.
What’s the last work of fiction you read?
David Lammy’s Out of the Ashes is my book of the month.
Newsnight or Question Time?
Humphrys or Paxman?
Who is your favourite blogger?
Sunny Hundal. He lives and breathes the blog.
Who is your favourite newspaper columnist?
I’ll always stop and read what Mary Riddell has written. Quite a unique blend of head and heart.
If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
I’d change nothing, but an extra day in the week would be great!
What’s the funniest or saddest thing you’ve ever heard at a surgery?
My first house visit – a woman left by her husband to bring up her three children with all of them living in two rooms rented in-house from a private landlord. She had never paid the rent or had sight of the rental agreement before he left. She had to deal with the emotion of him deserting her, find a job and look after the children. Now they are older they rotate between the bed and sofa. She doesn’t have the money to move out. So often women are left picking up the pieces when families break down.
What was your worst doorstep campaigning moment?
I’m afraid I love every doorstep visit.
Who is the most important person in your life, and why?
There’s competition for that! My husband of course – I’m in awe of his intelligence and he’s incredibly supportive. But my parents have always backed me – through all the times I stood in non-winnable local elections – and I doubt I’d have been here without them.
Do you think you will ever be prime minister – and if not, why not?
Not the right question to ask an MP after four months – I’m still working out how to be a backbencher! (Next month’s book: Paul Flynn’s guide!)