Liz Kendall speaks at a Labour party hustings. Photo: Getty Images
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I'm not a Tory, and I won't be called one

Different people in the Labour party might disagree about how we beat the Conservatives, but none of us want to become them, says Alison McGovern MP.

‘It’s welfare.’ She said it with such a sneer, I felt my insides turn over.  As I looked over at the Tory MP sat on the Treasury bench, I knew exactly what was happening. That old Tory tune was on repeat: stigmatise getting help, tell a tale that those with success got it on their own, let those with less fall, and then unwind the structures that make life a bit more fair.

We were talking about tax credits in the House of Commons. These ‘credits’ are based on the idea that in time when life costs a lot  more – when you’ve got kids for example – you should pay negative tax on the grounds that otherwise work might not pay very well. It is a simple principle.  Yet there’s clearly many in the Tory ranks that don’t get it. As far as this particular MP was concerned, condemning millions of ordinary families by labelling them as ‘on welfare’ was fair game. Never mind that you can’t get tax credits without also possessing the dignity of employment.  She felt entitled to look down her nose at them, from the height of the Treasury bench.  No such thing as solidarity from there.
Opposing this lot is not just going to be frustrating like the last five years, it’s going to be hard work. But, never whinge. That’s my first rule in politics. Never, ever whinge.
The reason why IPSA are so heinously wrong about MPs’ pay (and why I’ll be donating my payrise to charity) is because there are loads of people in a much worse position than us. To whinge about anything is to ignore this nakedly obvious fact. To complain about my lot is to turn inward and ignore the distress of others.

So it goes against my habit and nature to raise any grievance about the allegations made in my direction during the leadership election. If people want to disagree with me, then great. I am in the debating business, after all.

There is, however, a line.
My comrades and I just fought a gruelling election campaign.  I watched a young volunteer in Wirral refuse again and again to stop campaigning even when it was clear she was unwell. I had to row with her to get her to go home to bed.  Another experienced volunteer would mislead me saying that he was going home (for a rest) then actually stay up half the night to enter data and crunch numbers. He was exhausted, like many in our party, but utterly determined to put his own comfort on the line, day after day after day, for the sake of Labour’s cause and Labour’s values.
Winning for me has always been hard. I have always fought battles it was not certain Labour could win. My friends and comrades in our movement put their own lives and families second in order that I might represent our home town in Wirral in Parliament, and stand up for our principles.

So the notion that I would want a leader of our party who stood for anything other than those principles is abhorrent. That would truly be a betrayal.
I am not a Tory and I won’t be called one.

So, to the deficit. At a recent hustings where I was representing one of the leadership candidates, I was asked why the deficit mattered. Isn’t it just a Tory line? Shouldn’t we just change the narrative, and maybe talk about jobs and growth instead?

My first thought when I heard the question was, ‘interesting, but I can’t see that one is a like for like swap for the other’. After all, I’ve heard Osborne talk about both jobs and growth himself.
And, as I answered, the fact is, if our idea is to tell the public “No, no, the deficit doesn’t matter,” it’s just a free hit for the Tories. They will point across the room and say, “There you go, Labour’s only prescription once again: spend, spend, spend.” Of course the budget deficit matters.  Without dealing with it, we are beholden to our creditors.  Our strength to deal with risks and challenges is diminished. And far better to invest in changing our country, rather than increasing debt repayments.
And if you think sound public finances matter at all, to look away whilst Osborne yet again breaks his own promises on the deficit is not just fail as a potential government, it’s to fail as an opposition.
At the same hustings, one of the others representing a candidate said that their chosen one represented the ‘moral’ choice.
I winced.  Hackles raised, I said we all had our moral reasons for the choice we had made.  In my case, because I know from the lives of those I really care about what it means to have a Labour government or not.

From older loved ones making the hardest of choices, friends whose parents lost their home in 1992, and the many people who were forced to leave the city they loved during my youth because there weren’t enough chances there, these were all wounds that had to be healed.
And in large part, they were.  Not least in instituting a system of the national minimum wage and tax credits that would ensure that Merseyside (and places like it) didn’t any more fall behind as the rest of the economy grew.  

Now our job is to make sure everyone in our country has the chance of a decent, fulfilling life.  And because we believe in solidarity, we don’t just want that for ourselves, but for everybody together.  That’s our moral stance; it’s what I believe, it’s what Liz believes. 

Alison McGovern is Labour MP for Wirral South and the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group Friends of Syria. 

Niina Tamura
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“Anyone can do it, I promise you!”: meet the BBC’s astronaut-ballerina

Why science needs to be more open to women, minorities - and ballet.

Whether dancing on stage with the English National Ballet or conducting an experiment for her PhD in quantum physics, 29 year-old Merritt Moore often appears a model of composure. But in last Sunday's opening episode of BBC2's Astronauts: do you have what it takes? we got to see what happens when high-achievers like Merritt hit breaking point.

Merritt is one of 12 candidates attempting to win the approval of Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station. Along with her fellow competitors, who include mountaineers and fighter pilots, the dancer has had to face a series of gruelling tasks designed to measure her potential to operate well in space; from flying a helicopter, to performing a blood test on her own arm.

Many of these tasks left Merritt far outside her comfort zone. “I’ve only failed my driving test three times and crashed every car I’ve gotten into - but I think helicopters are different?!” she joked nervously before setting off to perform her first-ever helicopter-hover. Yet after a shaky start, her tenacious personality seemed to pull her through. “I’m good at being incredibly persistent and I don’t give up,” she told the space psychologist when asked to name her strengths.

Merritt also believes it is persistence (and hours of practice) that have allowed her to excel in two disciplines which are typically seen as requiring opposite traits: ballet and science. While studying for her PhD at Oxford, she has continued to perform as a professional dancer around the world. It's a stunning feat by any measure, and when I talk to her on the phone this weekend I ask whether it’s only possible because she’s some kind of genius? “No!” she exclaims, with a winning mix of genuine shock and self-deprecation. “I’m as far from a genius or a natural dancer as you can get - everyday I just feel like flailing mess! My thought process is that if I can do it anyone can do it, I promise you!”

But there is one thing that Merritt thinks might be holding back others from pursuing a mixed career like hers – and that’s the way the scientific world is run.

“They kind of self-select themselves,” she says of many science-professionals she’s met. "You get some people who are not incredibly understanding of those who perhaps approach [physics] in a different way, or who need a different type of schedule," she says. "They look down on people who are different from themselves, which is really difficult; I think that’s why women have difficulties, and I think that's why minorities have difficulties."

A report from the Royal Society on Diversity in Science would appear to support Merritt’s conclusions. It showed that women are significantly underrepresented in senior scientific roles, and that black and minority ethnic graduates are less likely to go on to work in science than their white peers.

So how can these trends be reversed? For Merritt the answer lies as much in schools as it does with targeted scholarships and support groups. Science education needs to be re-branded, she says, so that thinking creatively is actively encouraged from a young age; “It makes no sense to divide it up and say everyone either has an analytic mind or a creative mind." Simply leaning a set of very technical facts from a textbook drives her “bonkers” - but “when there’s passion behind something then anything is possible.”

If she could one thing about physics education, Merritt says she would switch things up so that the “exciting bits” get taught first - such as the latest thoughts on quantum computing or DNA repair. Then if students do choose to continue, they’ll know why they need to study the boring, rigorous parts too. “You’re like right, I need to learn about a harmonic oscillator because that’s how I’m going to understand this quantum computer.”

More cross-fertilisation between science and arts could also help the ballet world, she believes. “I can visualise my centre of mass, how gravity is working on different parts of my body, and how the torque effects my turns – and I think that’s a massive help,” Merritt says of her dancing.

But that’s far from all. When performing she often finds herself thinking about the more bizarre and “mind boggling” sides to physics: “Why is there all this dark matter in the Universe? What is that?! - when that’s going on in my mind, my legs become free because it means I’m not thinking about whether I look bad, or if something is right or not. I’m just inspired - and I want my dancing to be inspiring rather than self-critical all the time.”

Focusing on actions rather than self-image was definitely something Merritt's parents encouraged from a young age. Her dad’s work as an entertainment lawyer in LA meant he was particularly alert to the stereotypes that were being laid on young girls. And, as a result, Merritt and her sister grew up without TV or fashion magazines. Her dad was even initially worried about the mirrors in ballet classrooms

But self-criticism is also very hard to avoid when your antics are being broadcast to the nation on Sunday night TV.

“When you see yourself on screen you just feel incredibly vulnerable,” she says, “they are getting the raw emotions of how you’re reacting to stuff that you’ve never done before in your life!”. What Merritt’s episode one journey showed however, is that knowing yourself makes it easier to bouceback from nerves and self-doubt. And that perhaps more of us should be encouraged to believe that you don't have to choose between the stars on stage or the ones in space. 

The next episode of BBC2's Astronauts: have you got what it takes? will air on Sunday 27th August at 9pm.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.