A left Q&A with Rebecca Long-Bailey

“I have always believed that a truly honest politician is one who tells the truth, owns up to mistakes, has clarity of beliefs, conviction and the ability to persuade, not simply shift position to what is the most politically advantageous option at the time.”

Simon Fletcher, Modern Left, speaks to Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour MP for Salford and Eccles.

How would you define your politics? In a nutshell I would say that my beliefs are best summarised as “the relentless pursuit of an economic model whose primary purpose is to serve the betterment, fulfilment and decent living standards of the many not the few. An economy where, as we say in Salford: ‘the welfare of the people is the highest law’.”

What book has had the biggest influence on your political outlook?  There is not one single book that acted as a catalyst for my political awakening really but I do remember my parents handing me a copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists as a teenager and then taking me to the Everyman theatre in Liverpool to see it as a play. I remember a little light going on in my head at the time – that inequality and greed were a political choice, a deliberate construct of the economic system and it was up to working people to come together to change the system.

From that book I went on a mission to read all sorts of political classics from across the spectrum such as The Republic – Plato, The Prince – Machiavelli, The Social Contract – Rousseau, The Condition Of The Working Class – Engels (who had a factory in Salford and wrote the book about what he found on his travels in the area). Then I became interested in economic theory so I started reading about the big historic thinkers such as Smith, Keynes, Hayek and Marx and then moved on to more modern theorists.

And what book are you currently reading?  Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World by Peter S Goodman. It’s a take on how ‘Davos Men’ – basically some of the billionaires who go to Davos (the  World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos), and how they exploited the global pandemic to dramatically speed up wealth centralisation across the globe.

Which figure or figures from history do you take inspiration from? There are many:

My mum and dad because they are legends.

Frank Allaun MP because he was not a self-interested MP and worked hard for the people of Salford with a kind soft manner that I wish we had more of in today’s politics.

Sylvia Pankhurst who was a ferocious campaigner against political oppression and promoting worldwide human rights.

Clement Attlee because it is his economic agenda which has undeniably delivered the single greatest period of prolonged improvement in living standards for working people in the UK. Indeed many of the institutions his Government created remain today and the Conservatives have spent nearly 80 years trying to undo the transformational provisions his Government set in motion.

I also agree with him when he said: “I find that the proposition often reduces itself to this – that if the Labour Party would drop its socialism and adopt a Liberal platform, many Liberals would be pleased to support it. I have heard it said more than once that if Labour would only drop its policy of nationalisation everyone would be pleased, and it would soon obtain a majority. I am convinced it would be fatal for the Labour Party.”

He also wrote that there was no point in “watering down Labour’s socialist creed in order to attract new adherents who cannot accept the full socialist faith. On the contrary, I believe that it is only a clear and bold policy that will attract this support.”

Name one issue on which you have changed your mind. Politically I can’t think of one off the top of my head but generally I try not to take a formal position until I have read up on the detail and reached a conclusion.

What one thing do you most dislike about how we do politics (and how would you change it)? There’s more than one sadly but up there at the top is when a politician is serially economical with the truth or lacks integrity and it is simply dismissed as par for the course.

Sadly even though these personalities are in a minority we have seen a lot of this behaviour in the last year during various political scandals. This has been coupled with a growing political discourse that responds to the most popular news coverage (which is sadly often who is fighting who in political parties that week) rather than clarifying what each party actually stands for and how each party will respond to the every day struggles people are facing.

The result of this is a dangerous erosion of trust in politics and ultimately democracy.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK and University College London showed in a recent survey that on assessing a range of characteristics that politicians should have, ‘being honest’ came top, followed by ‘owning up when they make mistakes’. ‘Getting things done’ and ‘being inspiring’ were far behind.

Call me old fashioned but I have always believed that a truly honest politician is one who tells the truth, owns up to mistakes, has clarity of beliefs, conviction and the ability to persuade, not simply shift position to what is the most politically advantageous option at the time.  

I am also dismayed by some of the behaviour at events such as Prime Minster’s Questions which has become a bit of a Punch and Judy show with shouting and barracking which does not show British politics in a very good light at all.

At the very least I would have stronger parliamentary rules about shouting and jeering at people during Parliamentary debates.

What media do you turn to for news and analysis? I try to cover all the angles if I can so I try look at a wide range of news from mainstream media like the BBC, Sky, Channel 4, ITV, the Guardian, Mirror, Huffington Post, Independent, the Times and the FT through to more new and niche media like Tribune, the Morning Star and Novara.

Where do you do your thinking? Everywhere.

Name five songs or pieces of music you couldn’t live without.

  1. Everybody In The Place – The Prodigy
  2. I Am The Resurrection – The Stone Roses
  3. Take The Power Back – Rage Against The Machine
  4. Step On – Happy Mondays
  5. Movin’ On Up – Primal Scream

Is there a building that you love and if so, what is it?

The Working Class Movement library in Salford. It is such a calming and inspirational place. It was the life work of Ruth and Eddie Frow who filled up their house with every single labour movement and left wing document and book they could lay their hands on from historic trade union minute books to political works on every topic imaginable.

When I am having a bad day I have a word with myself and think about all those political activists and trade unionists hidden away in those archives who truly knew the meaning of the word ‘struggle’.

What is your favourite film with a political theme or content? 

I, Daniel Blake  – it always makes me cry no matter how many times I watch it.

Is there an artist or artwork that connects to your political viewpoint? 

Not really political but I love this Salford picture by Robert Lever.

I love this Salford Heroes picture by Sophie McBriarty – she dropped it off at the council anonymously as a present for the people of Salford. After months of searching out who the artist was she was eventually tracked down.

Also I quite like the quirky side of L.S. Lowry that rarely makes it into the mainstream. He is usually known for his matchstick people but he did some more ‘out there’ stuff like this girl picture which looks a bit spooky. I reckon it was inspiration for the horror film The Ring where the girl crawls out of the TV to get people.

If you had a parliamentary majority for a day, what one law would you pass? Early doors I would pass legislation to bring rail, mail, water and energy into public ownership. Then I would increase the minimum wage to at least £15 per hour, ban zero hours contracts and fire and re-hire and then just before the day ended I would amend section 172 of the companies act so that company directors owed a direct duty to their employees and not just shareholders which is the case at present.

If you could choose to witness one moment in history, what would it be? I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the first ever Trade Unions Congress meeting in Manchester. Salford and Manchester Trades councils convened it, they didn’t mess about.

Is there a living political figure or movement that gives you hope? The Trade Union Movement – the secret of power and the betterment of life for all lies in solidarity.


Featured image: Rebecca Long-Bailey visits anti-fracking campaigners at Preston New Road, 8 October 2018. Photo credit: Refracktion

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