Gloria De Piero: Attention everyday sexists - beware the 'TV girl'

The new, media-savvy Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities is speaking out for the politically detached 'Take a Break' mums. Jane Merrick meets Gloria De Piero MP

When MPs and candidates are out canvassing, they usually knock on the doors of the six out of 10 people who have voted before. The remaining four out of 10 go undisturbed. What's the point, the canvassers will say, when we need to get these Tory voters to switch to Labour, or those Labour supporters to back the Liberal Democrats?

When she was elected MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, Gloria De Piero, a former TV journalist, began an investigation into political disengagement called "Why Do People Hate Me?" She started knocking on the doors of those who never voted. A few months ago, she came across Michelle, a mother in her thirties. De Piero asked her why she had never voted. Michelle replied that she and her husband didn't understand politics. "We're little people, we're just thick."

De Piero says: "Then she started talking about antisocial behaviour in the neighbourhood and I said: 'Michelle, we're talking about politics, do you realise that? You would be a breath of fresh air, you could be on the council.' And she paused and said, 'Maybe I could do it.' This was a five-minute conversation with someone who'd never voted at 34 and it was a very short journey to saying, 'Maybe this is like me.'"

De Piero was last week appointed as the first MP to hold a Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet position responsible solely for women and equalities. She wants to give a voice to the "millions of Michelles around the country".

"I see my job as not just taking Labour Party policies to women, but to bring women's voices to the top table in the Labour Party. I want to be a woman's friend in politics. Yesterday I said to my press person, Nick, 'Do you know who I want to meet? I want to meet the editor of Take a Break.' I'd love to, not because I want to say, 'Get me in your magazine' but, 'I want to talk to your readers.'"

The women's weekly magazine of real-life stories and competitions has a circulation of nearly 720,000; if three people read each copy, that's more than 2.1 million. These voices, De Piero feels, are not being fully represented by Westminster politicians. "Everyone is facing a cost of living crisis, but I think for mums it is more profound than for any other group."

More than most other MPs, De Piero has personal experience of what constitutes a cost of living crisis. She grew up in Bradford, the daughter of Italian immigrants, and her parents were out of work by the time she was 10. When I ask her what it was like, for the first time, her strident, gesticulating effervescence gives way to quieter reflection.

"My dad read The Guardian and watched World in Action and all those serious programmes, but he was totally self taught. Even though there was no money, we had a house full of books … the library would sell them off at 10p a book. They were very ambitious for their daughter to do better, to have a better life than they had."

De Piero, 40, joined the Labour Party at 18, shortly before the 1992 election. A year before the 1997 election, she ran Labour Students, and appeared in a party political broadcast entitled Road to the Manifesto. When Tony Blair won, she tried to get a job in politics, but could not break through.

Perhaps her strong Bradford accent did not fit well with the Islington types who ran New Labour. De Piero says: "I remember thinking that when I looked around, there were no working-class female role models. Nobody actually sounded like me. "

Instead, she went into political journalism – on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, then the BBC's On the Record. She joined GMTV as political editor in 2003. "While you're describing the Budget in 45 seconds, mum's probably gone out of the room to put the sandwich box together – people aren't tuning into it in the way they're tuning into On the Record. It was one of the best things that I did; I think it changed me. I think I'm a better politician for it."

When she held Ashfield for Labour in 2010, after Geoff Hoon stood down, De Piero once again found herself – despite all of her experience as a journalist in Westminster – searching for working-class women to look up to. There were few: Caroline Flint, Yvette Cooper, and Sharon Hodgson, who left school in Gateshead at 16, became a mother at 27 and joined the Labour Party at 29. Hodgson was elected in 2005, at the age of 39, and is now De Piero's new deputy. "She's proves you don't need a degree from Oxford to be an MP."

De Piero always receives a lot of attention for her appearance – she was once voted 85th sexiest woman in the world by FHM magazine. For her first question to David Cameron at PMQs back in 2010, she asked a question about free swimming lessons, and Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail sketch-writer, referred to her as "the lovely Gloria – no need for armbands, she". On her promotion last week, the Daily Mail described her as a "TV girl".

She says: "These are the examples of everyday sexism aren't they?"

De Piero organised David Miliband's leaving party from Parliament – "He deserved a good send-off." So is she a Blairite? "I think even Tony Blair would say we've got to constantly move on. But do I owe a debt of gratitude to a man who won us three elections? You bet."

While, "right now we are focusing on getting Ed in" to Downing Street, it is "only a matter of time" before Labour gets a female leader. But she insists that she has no leadership ambitions of her own. Instead, her ambition is to get Michelle a seat on her local council. "Having more Michelles on the council, in politics, would be transformative."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones