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Tracy Brabin Q&A: "I’d like to be part of Boudicca’s tribe. In my version, we’d win"

The Labour MP and former actor talks female empowerment, The Partridge Family and remembering her predecessor Jo Cox.

What’s your earliest memory?

Being pushed into the street in front of speeding cars by my sister Maxine. She was a minx and loved the screams of delight I made every time she saved me from certain death. A neighbour had to come and get my mum to take me back inside.

Who are your heroes?

Don’t judge me but my childhood hero was David Cassidy, star of The Partridge Family. I had a poster and I’d tell it my secret thoughts, hoping he’d wait for me so we could get married. Today my hero is Michelle Obama. Her campaigns for female empowerment are elegant and impactful. I stole “When they go low, we go high” as my campaign motto.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Everywoman by Jess Phillips. It’s frank, spirited and angry and it encouraged me to be braver in voicing opinions.

What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Jo Cox is my inspiration. She was a passionate advocate for women in politics. It was while I was campaigning in 2015 for her election in Batley and Spen, and later against local library closures, that she said I should think about a career in politics. Seeing Jo charm a hall full of people was a masterclass in how to do it. And her desire for cross-party solutions to the bigger political issues makes total sense.

What would be your Mastermind special subject?

Soap. Having written on Doctors, Family Affairs, Crossroads and Hollyoaks and acted in Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders, I reckon I might know a bit more than most.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?

I’d be part of the Iceni tribe, led by the magnificent warrior Boudicca, taking down the occupying Romans. She lost, but in my version we’d win.

What TV show could you not live without?

At the moment, it’s the rolling news. To relax, any drama with a strong female protagonist. It’s still a struggle to get parity of portrayal for female actors and writers.

Who would paint your portrait?

Paula Rego. Her grotesque, bawdy, angry and sometimes painful portrayals of women are brilliant and visceral.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Have you followed it?

I’m not sure where it comes from but my mantra has always been “Walk through every open door”. It will always be the things you don’t do that you regret, rather than the things you do.

What’s currently bugging you?

The stories my constituents bring into my surgeries. With Citizens Advice closing and legal aid no longer available, people use their MPs more and more. A man who’s been sanctioned five times in a row, the young mum being sexually harassed by her landlord, or the family desperate for help with the care of their gran – all of these people need a strong, caring MP.

What single thing would make your life better?

A live-in hairdresser. Women are forever critiqued on their appearance. Any woman with shoulder-length hair will understand.

When were you happiest?

Being sworn in to parliament as the representative for my community, with my family up in the gallery. It was in tragic circumstances, but I still felt pride in my journey from council flat to seat of power.

Are we all doomed?

Only if you vote Conservative. 

Tracy Brabin is the MP (Labour) for Batley and Spen in Yorkshire

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

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You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

What's wrong with hard-working public servants enforcing perfectly sensible regulations?

Who could fail to be moved by the widely shared tears of a five year old whose innocent lemonade stall was brutally shut down by evil bureaucrats? What sort of monster would not have their heartstrings tugged by the plaintive “I've done a bad thing” from a girl whose father tells us she “just wanted to put a smile on people's faces”?

Well me, actually.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t. If the council is handing out apologies, it likely should be issuing one to its officers as well.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

And rarely is ignorance an excuse. Speed limits and parking regulations are posted clearly. In the case of the now famous lemonade stand, the father in question is even quoted as saying “I thought that they would just tell us to pack up and go home.” So he knew he was breaking the rules. He just didn’t think the consequences should apply to him.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain. It is demonstrated in many different ways, from the driver telling the cyclist that she has no right to be on the road because she doesn’t pay road tax (I know), to the father holding up his daughter’s tears to get out of a fine.

I know, I’m a monster. But hooray for the enforcers, I say.

Duncan Hothersall is the editor of Labour Hame