Why should we care that politicians are now, as you have suggested, about as popular as axe murderers?
It doesn’t have to be the case. If some think we’re that bad, they should have a go at doing it themselves. In order to do that we need to open up our politics. I met a very opinionated woman called Sharon who worked at a warehouse in Derbyshire. She said to me on my “why do people hate me” tour: “It’s not advertised, is it? You don’t pick a paper up and it says ‘one politician wanted, come for this interview’, do you?” It’s a fair point.
What changes would bridge the disconnect between the sterility of Westminster debate and the concerns of the public?
We need a more representative Parliament – a one nation Parliament. Polling conducted for me by YouGov reveals that nearly one in four people would be interested in being an MP. I don’t think any of us would have expected that. I’m not a fan of the shouting and braying that go on in the chamber. Most people in the YouGov polling who said they wouldn’t consider standing said it’s the way we do politics that puts them off.
Are British people guilty of taking democracy too much for granted?
If people can’t be bothered to vote, I suspect that’s more to do with us than it is to do with them. I knock on a lot of doors, and it upsets me when so many think politics has nothing to do with them. One thing that shocked me on my “why do people hate me” tour was that when I asked what qualities were needed to become a politician, most said “qualifications”. All people need is a vision about the kind of country they want Britain to be and a passion for representing their community. I meet a lot of people who work for the people of Ashfield every day – maybe through a tenants’ and residents’ group or setting up sports clubs for local children. I’d like to see more of these people involved in politics. I want to explore ways of how to make it attractive for people like them to join us and stand. Get a broader pool in at a local level and you increase the pool available for Parliament.
If politics as it is practised is so unloved, how do you explain the rise of Ukip and the popularity of figures such as Boris Johnson? Aren’t people just hungry for honesty and authenticity?
I think Ukip is mostly an anti-politics vote and there’s always been a constituency for that. The Lib Dems used to get a lot of it before they went into government. I agree about authenticity. Boris isn’t my cup of tea; I don’t think you have to act like a buffoon to be authentic. Dennis Skinner came to Ashfield to support me in the general election campaign and said “always be yourself”. It’s good advice and I’ve stuck with it – for good or ill.
Is Peter Mandelson right when he says that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls still need to convince voters they can be trusted with the economy?
Peter also says it takes time. It’s what Ed Balls and Ed Miliband focus on every day. Lehman Brothers in the US didn’t collapse because the Labour government spent too much on schools and hospitals. The Government said it would eliminate the deficit but its plan isn’t working. You can’t eliminate the deficit without jobs and growth because tax revenues fall and borrowing rises.
Did Labour allow the [benefits] dependency culture to spiral out of control?
We’re the Labour Party – the party that was created to fight for people to have jobs. A Labour government would offer any adult who has been out of work for more than 24 months a job for six months. Anyone refusing the offer would lose their Jobseeker’s Allowance. We’re also promising a job for those aged between 18 and 24 who have been out of work for more than six months. It’s true there are some people on the make and that must be stopped, but let’s not tar everyone with the same brush. I meet people every day who are desperate to work. To call them scroungers is offensive.
Would you back a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU?
I’m relaxed in principle, but I wouldn’t want a referendum now as I want our leaders to focus on getting the economy working. I’d vote to stay in the EU as most of our trade is with Europe, and I want us to be at the table when the rules are being drawn up. But when I’m knocking on doors it rarely comes up.
Should comedians be allowed to make off-colour jokes about the Queen?
I didn’t see [C4’s Big Fat Quiz of the Year] and politicians shouldn’t comment on programmes they haven’t seen. Actually, me and my husband had planned to watch the show but turned it over after a few minutes because it wasn’t making us laugh. We watched The Hotel on C4+1 instead which did the trick.
Is Labour copping out by allowing MPs to vote on gay marriage as a matter of individual conscience?
No, but I’ll be voting in favour. Love is the thing that makes life worth living – marriage is the way people celebrate that love.
Should obese people who refuse to exercise have their benefits cut?
So if you’ve got a job, you don’t have to exercise, but if you lose your job you do? Come off it.
Gloria De Piero is the Labour MP for Ashfield