“People feel forgotten. We have to be a voice for them.” Emma Burnell interviews Rosie Duffield MP

by: Emma Burnell on 09.02.18 | In: General
by: Emma Burnell on: 09.02.18 in: General

Poor Rosie Duffield has had to put up with me drunkenly explaining how much her win in Canterbury meant to me more than once over the months she’s been their MP. It was where I voted for the first time in 1997. While Labour won big that night, we didn’t quite sweep Canterbury along with the nation. She’s always listened and responded with perfect charm and I don’t think I’m the only person so have articulated how important her victory felt last June.

Canterbury is changing

As Duffield explains as we sit down together (this time without wine), Canterbury is changing. It’s becoming more diverse and with Europe on its doorstep and its universities expanding (there are now more than 50,000 students in the city) its outlook is not as provincial as it might once have been. This was – after all – a constituency that voted 53% remain, even if the area as a whole voted leave.

“[Canterbury] is a really caring, kind sort of place. People discuss ideas and politics… the last MP wasn’t really in tune with how people are more interested in politics – especially since the referendum. They’re discussing things more, knowing there’s another way, another possibility. I think he was kind of out of step with that.” Says Duffield.

The last MP, who held the seat for 30 years, was Sir Julian Brazier. A hard-line, socially conservative Brexiteer, he couldn’t be more different from former teaching assistant and comedy writer Rosie Duffield. She may be wearing a neat grey suit, but the much talked about gold glitter strands are still in her hair. She says they’re part of what keeps her who she’s always been. “I’m really ordinary” she laughs “and I don’t want to change. We need more ordinary people in Parliament. We shouldn’t be here at all if we get complacent about how weird it all is.”

Staying close to the EU

Duffield is clear that she is in parliament and politics to change lives. “There’s a lot of people who feel forgotten, left out, let down and I think our job is to be a voice for them.”

She’s proud of the work the Party has done holding the government to account over Universal Credit, which will roll out in Canterbury in April this year. She’s joined the APPG on this issue and is extremely concerned about how it will impact her constituents.

It is clear she is particularly concerned about the effect of Brexit on her constituency. “A lot of Kent lecturers and students come from Europe and they feel very insecure about the future. Most people [in Canterbury] recognise the importance of staying as close as we can to the EU because of our physical proximity to Europe and because of the universities and the hospital.”

Zero Tolerance is Important

We met up before she was appointed PPS to Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities but it was clear that this topic important to her. Her first response when I ask about the difference she wants to make is “Put women and equalities at the forefront of everything we do.”

She is also aware that it is all too easy to talk the talk “we need to make sure we’re actually doing something not just talking about it. Taking action and not tolerating anything.”

On policy terms she’s particularly interested in women’s health issues, mentioning the campaign on vaginal meshes spearheaded by Owen Smith MP. But she is also particularly keen to tackle issues around sexual harassment in politics for staff as well as women in Parliament and those considering it.

“If we can encourage more women, that it’s safe, that it’s going to be OK, that they’ll be taken seriously, that they’re protected, that’s really vital. We have to have codes of conduct, independent helplines, experts people can go to anonymously.”

This is obviously a cross-party issue, but Duffield has a few things to say about how the Labour Party must handle these issues. “Zero tolerance is important. If you threaten women, if you intimidate them – you’re out. We’re getting it badly wrong if we’re letting down people like Bex [Bailey – a Labour activist who has made a complaint of being raped at a Party event, and then being told not to report it].”

Guido’d

Duffield has also been a particular target of the more extreme end of the right-wing attack machine. She says she’s been “Guido’d” about seven times. “They’re obviously very desperate to get Canterbury back as a Tory seat. They target me [and Emma Dent Coad] as they think we’re in their ‘rightful seats’.”

One of the joys of coming to Parliament for Duffield has been to work alongside people she’s admired as long as she can remember. She particularly namechecks Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman and Diane Abbott. She is especially scathing of the treatment the latter receives on social media:

“The appalling treatment of Diane Abbott stands out. That’s not just politically motivated. It’s often obscene and rarely about her politics.”

Despite the challenges, Duffield remains incredibly upbeat. She is cheery as she describes having to run from her Select Committee to PMQs, her exhaustion at votes that go on until the small hours and the difficulty of being ‘on’ all the time.

As she finishes the packed lunch she’s been eating while we chat (she’s clearly a master at multitasking) she gets ready to race off to her next meeting. Rosie Duffield has kept the sense of humour that took her to the brink of a comedy sketch TV pilot. She’s also kept that sense of ordinary wonder at being in Parliament.

It’s that sense of the ordinary and twinkle in her eyes that has made her so popular with members. And not just those of us drunkenly telling her tales of 1997.

Comments

  • Great to read this interview. I was delighted to see Rosie elected last year. I was at the count in Margate waiting for the North and South Thanet declarations and at about 4am heard that there was a recount in Canterbury. I thought could it be possible that we (Labour) would win in Canterbury? Rosie has made a great start and has been really impressive in parliament. She picks up on the crucial issues that impact on constituents and on women’s issues. She is a great local MP and a breath of freah air in Kent.

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