Stella Creasy: ‘‘The left gives up far too easily sometimes. We get too grumpy’’

The Labour MP answers the NS Centenary Questionnaire.

What is the most important invention of the past 100 years?

Medically, I would say probably IVF and transplant surgery. Our capacity to regenerate ourselves and our capacity not just to fix but to address health problems to give people hope is phenomenal. I guess the internet is the obvious candidate in terms of overall transformative capacity. And it’s still evolving all the time. Can you believe that Tony Blair didn’t send a single text message while he was prime minister?

And scientific invention?

I’d say the Higgs boson and also DNA, as we should recognise the input of Rosalind Franklin. It’s so important to me to understand the fabric of life.

And sporting event?

You could trace back to the 1913 Derby and Emily Wilding Davison. Or perhaps the 1972 Olympics, the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, or the Olympics of 1968 with the Black Power salute. And then, of course, there are the 2012 Olympics.

Which book, film or work of art had the greatest effect on you?

One of my very favourite films of all time is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I love that film. There’s something about it a bit like Some Like It Hot – people get away with things, whereas usually people in films get their comeuppance. There’s a great line from Ferris Bueller that I use too much in politics: “Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive.”

Who is the most influential and significant politician of the past 100 years?

Evan Durbin – a Labour politician who sadly died saving a child from drowning [in 1948], and therefore never had the opportunity to realise his potential. It is a tragedy for us as the left to have lost him. He could have been an amazing character in our history. The left gives up far too easily sometimes, I think. We get too grumpy – well, I mean we get frustrated.

And the most influential writer?

Philip Larkin. That makes me sound like I was a really depressed teenager.

And artist?

Antony Gormley. He has really pushed contemporary art’s boundaries to people in a way that is very accessible. There is a pomposity sometimes about [British] art. His work is very meaningful in a very humble way.

How about anyone in business?

Henry Ford, clearly. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, too, because, within a generation, they revolutionised the world.

And a sportsperson?

Would you count [the skydiver] Felix Baumgartner as a sportsman? That was just amazing; when you look back at somebody training to jump from the edge of space, it is quite overwhelmingly inspiring.

And the most important philanthropist?

George Soros or Bill Gates. I think Soros is very interesting – consciously and ideologically – whereas Gates is well-meaning, but less overtly political about the choices that he makes.

Do you have a favourite quotation?

Apart from the one from Ferris Bueller? I have a lot. There’s Harold Wilson: “We are a moral crusade or nothing.” Or maybe Eleanor Roosevelt’s “Women are like tea bags. We don’t know our true strength until we are in hot water.”

How about a favourite speech?

Keir Hardie and “the sunshine of socialism” is a popular one to say, isn’t it? Keir Hardie was an amazing man in terms of his range and the things he brought together. We sometimes forget that on the left.

What do you think will be the most significant change to our lives in the next 100 years?

We will have to be much more adaptable as a nation and as a world. There is a fantastic [Brazilian] professor, Roberto Unger, who talks about how the challenge of the left isn’t to redistribute resources but to redistribute entrepreneurship. To be able to take advantage of the way that the world is becoming strikes a chord with me.

What is your greatest concern about the future?

That we fracture into fighting the future, rather than shaping it. What we are seeing now in terms of the rise of the far right is, for me, an expression of anger and hatred rather than solidarity. It would be destructive if we allowed people to set themselves against each other and not recognise our mutual interests. We are not going to build a better country and a better world if people sit about like muppets.

What is the top priority for the future well-being of people and our planet?

I worry that we will carry on with the same people and the same mindset. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing but expecting different results. If you do things differently, then you might surprise yourself.

Stella Creasy drawn by Ellie Foreman-Peck

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The North

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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