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

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.