There’s something to be said for life experience: Interview with Jo Platt

While Jo Platt is off buying us both a much-needed coffee from the Portcullis House café, her new boss Angela Rayner walks by, stopping for a quick chat. “She’s a bloody superstar,” says the Shadow Secretary of State for Education “she’s keeping us in line”.

It’s unusual to become a PPS (one rung down from a junior shadow minister) so soon after being elected. But it’s quite clear from the passion that Platt shows when discussion education at every level as well as the mutual respect between her and Rayner (who she describes warmly as “an absolute force” and working with her as “the perfect opportunity”) that she’s hit the Parliamentary estate running.

Both women have similar backgrounds. They both left school at 16 and had to find different, less academic ways to thrive in the world. As Jo puts it “I didn’t have a great education, but maybe that’s the point. I know the pitfalls. I know what support young people need.”

Like Rayner, Jo is also fiercely loyal to her constituency and the Greater Manchester area she grew up in. Every policy she discusses, she brings it back to her constituency and their triumphs and challenges. When offered one ‘magic wand’ policy, her answer is for “The renewables industry to take form in Leigh, that would be my dream.” A practical, achievable dream indeed, as she goes on to outline the existing infrastructure that would help make this happen you can see that it’s probably not going to take a magic wand, but a Labour government for Jo to achieve this.

Platt recognises the intrinsic value of a Labour government to families like hers. She has a sister who is 18 years younger than her, and (apart from being jealous of Jo’s times dancing at the Hacienda at the heart of the dance explosion) she benefitted so much more from being educated under Labour. “She had support to go to college, she had a great education. The Same school – but it was a different time. So, you can see all the benefits. I benefitted myself from Surestart with my children.”

Along with education and the environment, local government is a key issue for Jo, unsurprising as this is where she got her start. She – like her predecessor Andy Burnham, who is now putting his money where his mouth is as Greater Manchester (GM) Mayor – is disturbed by the disconnect between local and national government. She’s looking forward to working with Burnham closely. “In the sense of the powers of devolved government, who better to know that than him? He knows how difficult it is to change that from down here.”

Platt seems to be enjoying life in Parliament. She says she feels lucky as part of the 2017 intake. “We’re just getting behind Labour and pushing it forward. We just feel so lucky compared to those who came in 2015 – what a difficult time. It’s quite shocking being catapulted down here without all that going on. But we feel really fortunate we’ve come in on a really good year and everyone is on a high and basically just getting behind what we need to do.”

Jo Platt was elected a councillor in 2012 and was a cabinet member by 2014. She was elected as an MP in June and is already a PPS. I ask her how far her ambitions go. Her answer again takes us not to the leader’s office but back to local government. “I’m ambitious in the way of knowing how to facilitate change in whatever way you can do that. From a policy perspective, it’s about what works. How do we equip those areas that aren’t doing as well? How do we do that in a Labour way?”

Platt is clearly already at home in Parliament and you can’t imagine much intimidating her. She’s built on the close-knit family she has (she and her daughter still have ‘movie night’ every Saturday and she says her politics were inherited from her parents where “I was always either on a march or being dropped off at Nana’s as they were going off on a march.”) as well as her background to inform her approach.

“[You do get] imposter syndrome because you’ve not done the usual route, it can make you feel like that. But you can’t let it. There’s something to be said for life experience. When I had the kids and had to fit work around them I did retail. I worked at the Body Shop and loved it.”

The sense you get from Jo Platt is that wherever the future takes her, it will be rooted in the North West and in the community and experiences that built her there. As she talks lifelong learning, she relates apprenticeship schemes back to the post-industrial landscape of Wigan and Oldham. As she discusses Female representation in politics she brings it back to that image of the GM leaders with no women in it. Even as she discusses how she relaxes she tells of being told to sit down and stop dancing at a Bob Dylan concert at Manchester Arena and the “best music times ever” of the Manchester scene.

Jo Platt is clearly going places. But she will work hard to ensure that those places always include Leigh.

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