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The rapid rise of Laura Pidcock – the Labour MP tipped as a possible successor to Corbyn

The 30-year-old newcomer loathes “the exoticisation of the working class” in politics. “I don’t want to be part of romanticising it.”

As we walk through Consett, a former steel town in North West Durham, Laura Pidcock laughs loudly about her new London life. Since she was elected last year, the Labour MP stays near Westminster during the week, dodging colleagues at the local Tesco. “I don’t want them to see me buying my Super Noodles!” she wails.

Though dressed all in black from her blazer to her backpack, she catches the attention of passersby – “we’re right behind you, Laura!” – and is happier here, about an hour’s drive from the old pit village of New Hartley where she was born, than in the capital.

As a young newcomer, Pidcock, 30, is perhaps best known for her reluctance to charm fellow politicians. In the summer after the election, she made headlines saying she wouldn’t befriend Conservative MPs. “I have absolutely no intention of being friends with any of them,” she told the left-wing site Skwawkbox. “The idea that they’re not the enemy is simply delusional.”

Although this has been Labour MP Dennis Skinner’s approach for nearly 50 years, her words touched a nerve in today’s political atmosphere, and she’s been asked about it ever since – though she hasn’t changed her mind.

“It’s got a bit boring,” she says, over tea in a café around the corner from Consett’s sparse high street. The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” plays over the stereo. Pidcock mimics the heckles she gets from Tory MPs around Parliament of “Will you be my friend?” and “Ohhh, it’s my long-lost friend!”, her green eyes flashing wryly behind tortoiseshell-framed glasses.

“My parents have always told me at the heart of socialism is friendship and relationships, which is quite funny considering all the bloody furore over what I said,” she grins.

Pidcock was brought up in a politically active household by her social worker mother and her father who worked on the riot-stricken North Shields estate of Meadow Well. They took their daughter to anti-Thatcher marches in her buggy, and protested against apartheid. “My brother and sister thought it was all very cringe because they were teenagers, [when my parents] used to take South African goods to the counter and say ‘we’re not buying these’.”

Memories of the Victorian-era Hartley Colliery disaster haunted her birthplace, and she’s angry about the North East’s post-industrial malaise. Her first job at 15 was at McDonald’s (“I did quite enjoy it, though it’s really hard; you get a load of abuse”), and then she moved into mental health care work and anti-racism campaigning.

But not everyone here escapes precarious employment. Decrying benefit cuts and privatisation, Pidcock gives Consett – which fell into commuter town limbo after the steelworks closed in 1980 – as an example. “Thousands of people were made unemployed overnight, and obviously that has a huge impact on a community,” she says. “I think replacing that with a mega Tesco isn’t long-term, sustainable, good quality work.”

In Consett centre, the old, white-fronted sports and social Steel Club sits directly opposite a giant Iceland and Lidl – as if in a stand-off. You alight at the space in between when arriving on the bus from Durham or Newcastle.

Jeremy Corbyn visited last November, when welfare reforms were about to hit the town, and made national headlines having egg and chips at Geraldine’s café (all net curtains and posters of the royals; apparently Geraldine wants to host Theresa May too).

In January of this year, Pidcock was promoted to shadow labour minister, which would be a cabinet position under a Labour government. Having been tipped as Corbyn’s successor, she finds it “impossible” to answer whether she’d like to lead. “If you say ‘no’, which is my natural instinct… people might criticise you for maybe not being loyal enough – ‘if that was asked of you, would you not step up?’ But I genuinely am not interested,” she says, citing other ways to make a difference: “I think the activists at the minute are extremely influential.”

Pidcock supports the newly empowered Labour membership, unlike Corbynsceptic colleagues who fear being ousted by their local parties. “If you have really been convinced that you are right about an analysis on society or on our leadership or whatever it was, and that bears not to be true, there’s going to be a fall-out from that, isn’t there?” asks Pidcock, regarding these tensions.

“And ultimately, I believe in sovereignty of the membership… I just can’t, now I’ve become an MP, with the threat that might happen to me one day, go ‘oh no, I don’t agree with members having the power to do that [deselection] anymore’.”

Yet she would change her mind about leaving the EU – for which she makes a left-wing case – if members officially opposed Labour’s pro-Brexit stance. “I don’t necessarily think they’ve [the Labour leadership] had a direct conversation with members, in the sense we’ve not had an internal referendum recently,” admits Pidcock. “If they were given the choice and decided that, I would have to accept that. I do think it jars though with the democratic will of the rest of the nation.”

Although the North East was a net beneficiary of EU funding, Pidcock found “people were suffering even within that structure”. She asks: “Why would anybody vote for things to stay the same when their life is crap? Or it feels crap?”

Pidcock still feels “100 per cent working-class”, but she loathes “the exoticisation of the working class” in politics. “I don’t want to be part of romanticising it,” she says. “People might feel excluded by the use of the word ‘class’, if they [feel] they’ve brought themselves out of that class. I’m talking about most people… on your seventy grands in London, or whatever. Because if they lose their job, they very quickly lose everything that makes their existence appear middle-class.”

From London to Consett, Pidcock is a modern voice selling Corbynism to the country. She admits Labour winning is “not inevitable” and “the people need still to be convinced that socialism should be the majority in power. We’ve got a lot of work to do to strengthen and give confidence to members of the public”. Could she be the one to do it?

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new age of rivalry

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How Martin Lewis’s battle with Facebook could shake online advertising to its core

The consumer advocate is furious that his face is being used to sell scams. 

Facebook simply cannot catch a break – not that many people will feel at that sorry for it. This month the company is in the middle of dealing with the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, while also trying to make its service compliant with strict new EU data protection rules.

And now it’s having to deal with a lawsuit that could, in theory at least, threaten its entire business model. The challenge comes from consumer advocate and financial talking head Martin Lewis – no stranger to publicity – who is suing over the issue of his image in Facebook adverts linked to financial scams.

Adverts for these scams are one of the major sources of fake news across the internet, and Lewis is far from the only person to see his likeness used in them. The adverts are for an extremely high-risk and under-regulated form of trading known as “binary options”, which have seen numerous reports of people losing their life savings.

The extremely high-risk product, though, is often advertised as virtually (or entirely) risk-free, thanks to some formula devised by an expert – often accompanied by a convincing fake write-up by a trusted news network, such as the BBC or CNN. One such site even created a video faking an endorsement from the physicist Stephen Hawking to sell its services.

Lewis, then, has picked a good villain: he has every right to be angry that his image is being used to sell such scams, and a good case to make that it could be damaging to his reputation. He argues that despite the volume of adverts uploaded to Facebook, given their reputation for facial recognition and other technologies, they should easily be able to stop these adverts appearing at all.

This is where Lewis’s argument becomes somewhat simplistic: no level of facial recognition would let Facebook automatically fix the problem of placing adverts. Yes, Lewis may not lend his image to sell any financial product, but what if he was the keynote speaker at a conference? Or if a news outlet did an interview with him and wanted to promote it to help it attract views (a practice some outlets actually do)?

In the case of other public figures it gets trickier still: an environmental group may wish to use a picture of an oil company CEO as part of a Facebook advert, or campaign groups may wish to use pictures of politicians. Preventing all of this would effectively create a huge new right over use of likeness, to the detriment of free speech and free debate.

And yet Facebook’s current response – that it removes any misleading adverts if they are reported to it by users – feels lacklustre to the point of inadequacy. This becomes especially true given the strange plot twist following the publication of stories about Lewis’s legal challenge. In a tweet thanking outlets for the coverage, Lewis alleged that similar adverts were now appearing next to the articles in question, including on Sky News and the Guardian, asking them to “rectify this immediately”.

This highlights a huge issue for any site mainly or partially reliant on advertising – including this one – where many if not most of the adverts you see are determined by algorithm with no prior control or sight by any staff (editorial or commercial) before they’re seen by the public.

Sites can try to rule out adverts for certain types of product or services, or based on certain keywords, but such rules are patchy. The result is often that on numerous high quality journalism sites, the adverts can push dubious products, if not outright scams. At their most harmless, these are very low quality, ad-stuffed, celebrity listicles (‘18 celebrities you never realised were gay’). But then there are questionable sites offering help with PPI refunds – which can be got for far lower fees through official channels – and binary option scams.

Editors can and do try to get such adverts removed when their users alert them, but this needs to be done on an ad-by-ad basis and can be time-consuming. Oddly, thanks to the ad networks upon which they rely, news outlets find themselves facing the same problem as their oft-time rival Facebook

As a result, the high-quality media which is currently railing against, and trying to fight back against, fake news often finds itself at least partially funded by that self-same fake news.

If successful – and it’s likely to be a very long shot – Martin Lewis’s lawsuit could find that it radically breaks and reshapes the way not just Facebook advertising, but all online advertising. That would be a huge, perhaps existential, risk to many sites which rely on it. But given the threats posed by the current business model of the internet, many could be forgiven for feeling the risk might be one worth taking.

James Ball is an award-winning freelance journalist who has previously worked at the Guardian and Buzzfeed. He tweets @jamesrbuk