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Lisa Nandy on her Labour leadership bid, the complexities of Brexit and her love for Britney Spears

As the Labour leadership race rolls on, candidate Lisa Nandy tells Stylist what she’d do for women in the UK if elected – and shares her love of “uncool” 90s pop.

Lisa Nandy is a big Britney Spears fan. Like, “I’ve been to nearly every UK concert” kind of big. She’s also very into Little Mix right now. When she’s not listening to iconic pop playlists in her spare time, you’ll find the MP for Wigan surrounded by piles of Lego with her son, or catching up with friends over a pint in the pub.

You’d probably need a trip to the pub at the end of a hard week working as an MP while simultaneously campaigning for the Labour leadership. Nandy is in the running to be the next Labour party leader, competing against Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey. Her third rival, Emily Thornberry, dropped out of the race on 15 February, a decision that Nandy expressed genuine sadness about. 

“Our leadership debate isn’t going to be as interesting, passionate or fun without Emily Thornberry,” she tweeted. “She brought so much to this debate. She’s a true fighter, a tough opponent, and a good friend.”

This kind of warmth seems to come naturally to Nandy. “One of the difficult things in politics is that people believe we’re not human beings,” she tells Stylist. “A few years ago when my colleague and friend Jo Cox was killed, there was a media response that said she was completely different from other MPs because she had a family and life.” 

Cox was unique, Nandy continues, but it wasn’t the fact that she was a “real person” that made her so unusual among MPs.

“Often when I meet young people, and tell them that I love Britney Spears, they think it’s deeply uncool,” she says. But they’re also surprised by how normal she seems. “It’s important for me that people know this, because I want them to know that [MPs are] just like them. Well, not all of us…” 

After growing up in Manchester, Nandy worked at charities Centrepoint and The Children’s Society, before becoming one of the UK’s first female MPs of Asian descent. She was also the shadow cabinet minister for energy before stepping down from the cabinet in protest against Jeremy Corbyn in 2016, and has often been pointed in her criticism of the current Labour leader. 

The leadership election campaign hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for Nandy. She’s come under fire from various quarters for – among other things – saying she’d vote to abolish the monarchycriticising Tony Blair’s New Labour for maintaining the “consensus that Thatcher built”, and stating her unapologetic support for trans rights, an issue currently causing divisions in the Labour party. 

But with Labour losing the latest general election by the biggest Conservative landslide in 84 years, Nandy is convinced that she’s the right person to steer the party back into power. 

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Here, she answers Stylist’s burning questions on the issues that matter to our readers the most.

What do you think are the most important issues facing women in the UK today, and how do you plan on tackling them?

Seventy-five per cent of cuts to public services over the last 10 years have fallen on women. That’s very typical of a political model that is largely driven by men who don’t think about the impact on women before making decisions.

I’ve also really started to see the amount of pressure on young women – particularly on social media, which has left a lot of them with anxiety and eating disorders. I used to visit schools and say to young girls: “You must think about getting into politics and perhaps standing for parliament one day.” I don’t want a level of public debate that puts women off coming into politics. It’s one of the reasons I’m standing in this contest, to set a different benchmark for young women today.

Stella Creasy, Jess Phillips and women from other political parties have led the charge on the Domestic Abuse Bill. But we’ve seen huge cuts to domestic violence shelters. Most women who leave domestic violence find themselves homeless – that is absolutely disgraceful in this day and age. The fight that I’ve been fighting here, in a town [Wigan] with relatively high rates of domestic violence, is making sure that we get support back in places so women have real choices.

And I’ve supported efforts to decriminalise abortion. I believe in a woman’s right to choose and I think the current laws on criminalisation are outdated and counterproductive.

What are your concerns about the NHS under a Boris Johnson government, and how would you do things differently? 

Much of the NHS underfunding issue arises from not putting money in to support people at an early stage, so too many end up at crisis point. That’s particularly true in older people, and it affects women disproportionately because we live longer – there’s been a rise in older women being admitted to hospital by ambulance over the last decade.

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We need a different settlement on the NHS, one that funds it properly. That’s why I want to see a wealth tax raise, to bring them in line with income taxes. It can’t be right that we keep squeezing working people’s incomes, but we don’t go after assets, which is where most of the wealth is.

We also need to see health and social care brought together. For example, you have a huge battle on your hands to get support for dementia, because it’s often classed as a social need rather than a medical one. That’s got to change. 

And mental health affects every single family in this country, but we are failing in living up to the ambition of becoming a country that looks after and supports people with no stigma around asking for help. But we could be, if we start to fund our services properly and giving mental health the priority it deserves. 

The instability and inaccessibility of the housing market is a huge issue facing many Stylist readers: how do you plan on addressing it as Labour leader? 

I spent 10 years in London renting flats that were hugely expensive. We need far better regulations around private renting, and to clamp down on rip-off letting fees. The amount of deposit that you have to put down is really difficult for a lot of people, and the rules around getting a deposit back are far too weighted in favour of landlords and agencies.

The Labour party said it wanted to bring in longer-term tenancies for more stability, and I think that’s still really important. Home ownership is talked about a lot in UK politics, but we’ve neglected the fact that there are so many people in rented accommodation who need help right now.

Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry
Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey are in the running to be Labour Party leader, after Emily Thornberry left the race earlier this month.

Also, we’re building homes across this country that are worth £450,000 and classing them as “affordable”. That’s beyond ridiculous. We need a proper definition of what constitutes an affordable home, related to people’s incomes, and we need to build them.

It needs to be tackled at the other end, too. Twenty years ago, I was one of the many people who move to London from the north, and I loved every opportunity that I found there. But for a lot of young people, that’s not their choice. They want to be able to stay at home and have a good job and don’t want to choose between family and the future. We ought to be creating good jobs in towns so that young people can choose. That is one way in which you tackle the problem with high housing prices, where one part of the country has become overheated and the other part is unappreciated

You’ve spoken about how you’re worried that aspects of the modern climate change movement, such as Extinction Rebellion, might alienate some people. As Labour leader how would you try to bridge that divide?

Extinction Rebellion are active in Bolton, Wigan – not just London. The move for climate change and a better environment is deeply felt in rural and suburban parts of the country as it is in the major cities. Every generation cares about this.

There is a huge movement to be built out there but we’ve got to get the language and strategy right. It can’t be a debate about just eating less meat and taking fewer holidays – we’ve got to start thinking about how we build the clean-energy jobs of the future and invest in public transport, like zero-emission buses around the country by 2025.

We’ve got start thinking about how climate change can be an ally in the fight for a better world. Caroline Lucas of the Green party is not our enemy, she’s an ally. I want to see Labour reaching out to allies in different political parties to build a movement to take on this crisis.

What are your biggest concerns about Brexit now that we’ve left the EU, and how would you approach those issues as Labour leader?

My major concern about the direction of this current government is that it’s isolating the UK in the world, and limiting the opportunities that this generation of young people will have in the future. We’re going it alone in a globalised world, but the world doesn’t work like that. There is another alternative, where we reach out to countries and work together in order to raise standards for everybody.

Then there’s the anger that’s crept into our political debate around Brexit. The ways in which we’ve divided ourselves have turned us into a country where it’s portrayed that only one group can win and the other loses. There’s no future in that for Britain.

The Labour party I lead will leave those binaries behind. I spent the last few years as an MP who campaigned to remain and still would like to remain, representing a town where two-thirds of people voted to leave. Both my remain and leave constituents matter deeply to me and they’ve got to have a stake in this country. 

I want to see us having a much better debate in the future that’s inclusive rather than divisive. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity

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