Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan.
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The MP Interview: Lisa Nandy

On legal aid, getting out of the Westminster bubble, and karaoke classics.

What made you go into politics?
Margaret Thatcher and the feeling that government wasn’t just not sticking up for people in the north-west, it was actively working against them.

What job did you do before you became an MP?
I worked at Centrepoint, the youth homelessness charity, and then at The Children’s Society for five years.

Which law would you scrap?
If I had to choose one I’d reverse the restrictions on legal aid in the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill. We’ve made huge strides in housing and employment law over several decades, and at one stroke the government has made those rights virtually unenforceable.    

And if you could pass one law, what would it be?
A right to universal, free childcare. It’s good for the economy, good for children, and would stop women being barred from the workplace if they choose to have children.

Do politics and religion mix?
Not in the pub.

Who is your favourite prime minister from history, and why?
Can I have a foreign Prime Minister? I’d choose Pierre Trudeau, the former Canadian PM. Of course I don’t agree with every choice he made, but he was genuinely progressive before his time. For a British PM surely it has to be Attlee?

Name three dream dinner-party guests.
John Stuart Mill, Britney Spears and my friend Pete.

Which politician from a different party do you most admire?
Shirley Williams because she speaks for what she thinks is right, not just what she thinks is popular. I don’t always agree with her, but I like that she takes on difficult issues like immigration with a sense of humanity. I admire any politician who sees their role as an educator and shaper of public opinion and doesn’t just follow opinion polls or parrot their party line.

What’s your karaoke song of choice?
"Never Forget" by Take That. The choir bit is hard though.

What’s the last film you saw?
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I watched it on a plane on a screen about the size of my BlackBerry. Not the best idea if you want to have a clue what’s going on.

What’s the last work of fiction you read?
Michael Gove’s evidence to the Education Select Committee in January. I’ve also just finished The Pearl by John Steinbeck which was a better read.

Newsnight or Question Time?
Neither. West Wing beats both hands down.

Humphrys or Paxman?
Paxman because just occasionally he lets his interviewee get a word in edgeways.

Who is your favourite blogger?
Charlie Brooker although I’m not sure he qualifies. Is he more of a columnist? If I can’t have him I’ll take Iain Dale because I gather he gave me an award, albeit for being the most out of touch MP.

Who is your favourite newspaper columnist?
Michael Skapinker at the FT. His business and society column is seriously brilliant – fair, expert, original and passionate.

If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
I’d spend more time with the people I represent and less time in the Westminster bubble. I think if we spent more time outside we’d talk more about the things people care about – social care, housing, low pay, agency work - and less about things that obsess a small group of people in London.

What’s the funniest or saddest thing you’ve ever heard at a surgery?
Most of the cases are heartbreaking but occasionally things tickle you. There was one man who’d been taking anger management classes but when he was refused a gun licence it made him furious and he "lost his head". He wanted the decision reversed. On balance it didn’t seem like the best idea.
    
What was your worst doorstep campaigning moment?
A guy who asked me out on a date after he’d refused to sign my petition to save the NHS because he didn’t trust politicians. And it was raining.

Who is the most important person in your life, and why?
My researcher appears to have typed her own name in here (Louise Haigh).

Do you think you will ever be prime minister – and if not, why not?
There is no way to come off well from this, so can I just say I’m enjoying being the MP for Wigan. That’s all you’re getting!

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times