“I have nothing against privileged people”: Josie Long on class, Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn

“People say Corbyn should stand up to Brexit. But the Lib Dems poll at 5 per cent.”

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Are you a champagne socialist? Josie Long is tickled, if unsurprised, by the question. “Ha! Well I’m a socialist, and I love champagne so…” Clearly, it’s not the first time she’s been asked. 

Long is known for her invariably left-wing stand-up routines, but went to the highly selective Newstead Wood School, followed by Oxford University, and when it comes to class she feels conflicted. “I did grow up in the home counties. I was in Kent – I was a grammar school girl. But I describe my upbringing as a bit of a roller-coaster because after my parents’ divorce, if I were to properly analyse the class system, I wouldn’t say we were very far up it. 

“We were lower, lower middle-class. My parents went to university, they were employed and they’d bought a house. But after the divorce, they both had very wildly varied lives with lots of difficulties and that changed.”

Does it really matter what class you are? Long doesn’t think it should, but “weaponised identity politics” on the internet makes the issue hard to ignore. She adds: “I don’t give a fuck if someone thinks I’m a champagne socialist. 

“In between the terms [at Oxford], it’s not like I had loads of money. I just don’t care. I still rent even now. I don’t have any financial security beyond what I’ve been able to earn myself. 

“The only people who don’t get hassled about their class are people who are already so shrouded in wealth that it doesn’t matter to them.”

A failure to recognise inherent advantages afforded by race, gender or class, according to Long, usually lays the foundations for “these idiots you get online”. And she is painstakingly aware of what she’s had. “The older I get, the more aware I become of what privileges I did have growing up. 

“Look, I have nothing against privileged people. Of course there are plenty of people who come from privilege who do amazing things and are talented, but the problem with this country is a lack of perspective and also a lack of equal opportunities in the first place.”

The Daily Telegraph once asked of Long: “Does she ever stop grumbling?” Long supported Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the Labour leadership and off the back of the party’s biggest increase in vote share since 1945 (from 30.4 per cent to 40.0 per cent) in this summer’s snap general election, the 35-year-old insists that she has plenty to be optimistic about. Jez can we, then? “Ha! I think that since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, I’ve got the impression that the left was in no way supported by mainstream journalism. 

“When Corbyn became leader, lots of people who were more centrist, were saying: ‘No! Don’t do it! Don’t campaign as a socialist; it’s going to be awful.’ But if they’d actually got behind him, who knows?”

She says that the Labour manifesto “with real socialist policies” helped to unite voters as much as the figure of Corbyn himself, and the election performance vindicated these ideas. The Labour Party, though, is still out of government. “Yeah, but it’s a process.”

Long backed Remain in the EU referendum, but Labour under Corbyn has accepted Brexit and maintained a vague message about many of its positions on Brexit negotiations. Is Euroscepticism alright if it’s left-wing Euroscepticism? Long takes a deep breath. “Ah mate. Brexit pissed me off but Brexit was an impassable experiment. I sympathise with the hardcore Remain sentiment – because obviously I wanted to remain – but we’ve got to accept that we lost. No one campaigned enough for us to win. 

“People say Corbyn should stand up to Brexit. But the Lib Dems poll at 5 per cent. So if he did, where would Labour be? The north of England would want a Labour Brexit. Brexit has no plus sides and is a full-time disaster, but it’s the Tories’ fault, not his.”

The last general election saw an unprecedented number of female MPs elected. Would Long ever go into politics herself? “I don’t know if I could handle the abuse, if I’m honest,” she says. “It intersects with the fact I’m a white person though, I guess. I get a lot of shit online for being a woman, but it was chilling to hear how often Diane Abbott gets called the N-word. It’s a lot of local pressure too, from your constituency. If you’re doing well, then fine, but heaven forbid you vote to close the wrong fucking car park.”

Is Theresa May helpful or harmful to feminism? Long winces. “I hate it when individual women get used to prop up or bring down feminism; but I suppose, in terms of what she is doing with her government, of course it’s harmful. The cuts in austerity, well, 75 per cent fall on women. As for whether or not we have a woman as prime minister, I just think like… oh great, the Tory Prime Minister is enacting politics of violence, but, hey, at least she’s a woman. There are more female MPs, but what if they’re all Tories? I mean, the Democratic Unionist Party has a female leader. Great, but they’re anti-abortion and against LGBTQ rights.”

Outside of politics, feminism’s fight is still far from over, too. Navel-gazing about Emma Stone’s male co-stars accepting pay cuts on La La Land in order to ensure gender pay equality, Long says, misses the point. “It’s not really the dream, is it? What’s that thing about if you’re privileged then equality feels like a loss? Should feminism celebrate the willingness of men to yield, or bemoan the fact they have to do that in the first place? Should we be grateful for allies? Why should we need them?

“We should be glad of people who behave decently in our imperfect world but at the same time you should say: ‘Man, fuck this imperfect stuff!’” And what does Long make of the furore from some men that Jodie Whitaker has been cast as the latest Doctor Who? “Mate, it’s a time-travelling alien. Why the fuck can’t it be a woman?” That, the Daily Telegraph would do well to note, is less of a grumble, and more just adding a bit of perspective.

Josie Long is on tour with “Lefty Scum – an evening of comedy, music and revolutionary socialism” from 29 October-9 November. Info and dates at josielong.com.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman