Margaret Hodge Q&A: “All politicians are failed actors and actresses”

The Labour MP talks Audrey Hepburn, Rosa Parks and Dennis Healy.

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Margaret Hodge was born in 1944 in Cairo, Egypt, to Jewish refugee parents. The family settled in Orpington, south London, in 1948. She has served as the Labour MP for Barking since 1994, and fought off Nick Griffin of the BNP in the 2010 election. Her time chairing the public accounts committee led to a book about government waste, “Called to Account”.

What’s your earliest memory?

Coming here to the UK as an immigrant from Egypt and being allowed to go into the cockpit of this tiny little aeroplane, which had to land to refuel in Rome. It was a traumatic event in my life: I remember it being really squashed and the plane wobbling.

Who was your childhood hero?

Audrey Hepburn – I thought she was quite gorgeous and a little bit of an outsider. And Rosa Parks, who was modest and brave and changed the world.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Philippe Sands’s East West Street. It resonated with my own history and my own family.

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

Denis Healey. I went with him when he led a very small group to Russia in 1992. He was an incredibly impressive man. We went to a library in Moscow, where he spoke for an hour without notes about the impact of his love of poetry on his politics.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Tax avoidance or Schubert. I play lots of Schubert – and I’d like to take on the tax professionals to show that I understand it just as well as they do.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d love to be around the brilliant composers of the late 18th century: Mozart onwards.

What TV show could you not live without?

I never watch telly! I’m a Radio 4 listener – that’s how I consume most of my news. I watched The Handmaid’s Tale, though, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

Who would paint your portrait?

Gillian Ayres. She’s in her eighties and she paints in very, very strong, vivid colours. She’s incredibly optimistic. I met her when I was arts minister and I never tire of looking at her work.

What’s your theme tune?

I love Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, which reminds me of my husband. The piece I play the most often when I’m working is Beethoven’s third piano concerto: the second, slow movement. It’s very simple and utterly beautiful.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. The decisions I took, how I balanced my life – I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been able to do lots of things, as time has moved on.

What’s currently bugging you?

Brexit and the Labour Party. I’m not going to expand on that.

When were you happiest?

On holiday with my husband and four children. The oldest was ten and the youngest was one. I was pushing the buggy through the airport. I remember thinking, “God, this is utterly great.” I wished the clock could stop there.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

All politicians are failed actors and actresses in my view.

Are we all doomed?

No. I’m always glass-half-full about the future. Things can only get better. 

This article appears in the 26 January 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How women took power