Gloria de Piero's question for the public: why do you hate me?
With a wafer-thin majority of 192, the GMTV presenter turned Labour MP knows better than most how fickle the electorate can be. She tells Andy McSmith about her unusual quest for feedback
Labour MP Gloria de Piero got what she asked for when she met members of a Yorkshire golf club recently. She invited them to be frank with her, and they were. In answer to the question, "When I say the word 'politician', what do you think?" the first golfer, named Peter, replied: "Liars".
"Selfish," added David. "Privileged and arrogant," said Paul. "Devious," said Barry. "Insincere," said Steve. Daphne, the only woman in the group, was not much kinder. "Self-seeking," she said.
It cannot be pleasant to hear such verdicts about your chosen profession, but Ms de Piero has let herself in for it, after a summer in which she found she was reluctant to confess to people she met on holiday that she was an MP.
This uncomfortable truth prompted her to seek out groups of people who would not normally encounter politicians for an honest view of how far they have fallen in the public esteem. On Twitter, she gave it the hashtag #whydoyouhateme. She has met members of an aerobics class from Billericay, in Essex, mothers from Manchester, bingo players from Nottinghamshire, and tenants in south-east London. Getting to meet them was the hard bit. Getting them to speak bluntly was easy.
"With most of them the initial instinct has been 'Why would we want to do that?'," she said. "We got rebuffed by a lot of aerobics classes in Billericay. The evening classes were like 'Why would we want to do that?' – but finally we got a day one. But once they have started, there is no stopping them. You can kind of feel an awakening in them, because they love it, because no one ever asked them normally.
"It's pretty bad. They feel like we don't understand their lives. They obviously get most of their impressions of politicians from TV – Prime Minister's Questions and clips from the news. They all think we're absolutely ridiculous the way we shout and abuse each other. In interviews, they think that we won't answer the questions and just say what we were going to say anyway."
A more sensitive soul might find it depressing to hear their profession traduced in this way, but Ms de Piero asserts that she likes the contact with ordinary people. What gets her down is getting on the train back to Westminster, where people work "in a bubble", and where MPs know that they have a serious problem with their public image but do not know what to do about it.
The answer, she believes, is to persuade more people from working class backgrounds doing everyday jobs to stand for Parliament – although she admits she does not know how that can be achieved when the process for getting selected seems designed to put off anyone who is not a political obsessive.
"We have a particular responsibility in the Labour Party – we're the People's Party for goodness sake – but do we look and sound like Britain? I don't think so," she said.
She learnt a hard lesson about the public's loss of faith in the Labour Party during the 2010 election. Having joined the party at the age of 18, shortly before the 1992 general election, she developed a taste for politics when she was running the student campaign at Labour headquarters in 1996-97. All she wanted to do after that was to work for the party, but there were no opening, so she took a job as a BBC researcher.
In 2010, she gave up a prestigious job as political correspondent for GMTV, to be the Labour candidate in Ashfield, in Nottinghamshire. This was once one of the safest Labour seats in the country, but her predecessor, Geoff Hoon, had been stripped of his Commons pass for trying to sell himself as a lobbyist, and she was selected as Labour candidate with only 10 weeks to go. She squeaked in by just 192 votes, in a seat where the Labour majority in 1997 was almost 23,000.
Once in Parliament, it didn't take long for Ed Miliband, who rates her highly, to promote her to the front bench, where she is currently part of the Home Office team – but that experience of near political death has dispelled any idea that she can count on winning next time.
"That's why I'm doing this project," she said. "I think, 'My God, it could all end in two and a half years: what will I have to show for it?' If I could do a tiny little bit for getting normal people into Parliament and if I lost my seat then I would say: 'Well, Gloria, you know, you did a little bit.' It may look like self-harm but it's intended to produce a result."
Gloria de Piero in brief
Where was the last place you went for dinner? My husband and I had tapas on the beach in Torremolinos after the Labour Party conference.
Last album you bought? I downloaded Ministry of Sound's 80s Groove Vol 3 a couple of weeks ago.
The last book you read? Alistair Darling's Back from the Brink. Fantastic.
Your last gig? Spandau Ballet a couple of years ago. Surprisingly good.
Last sporting event? Barbarians vs South Africa a few years back.
Last film you saw? Paul, starring Simon Pegg. I loved it.
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