20 November 2017   |  Last Updated 30-04-2015 03:25

      Thursday 30, April 2015

      Working class woman transformed into fervent politician

      She had a breakdown after losing in an election but got up determined to make it next time. DominiKa Piasecka follows Rebecca Long Bailey's fascinating journey that resulted in her arising as a politician with a passion.


      IT'S raining, it’s windy and it’s cold. Her hands are shaking like leaves even with gloves on but she won’t stop knocking. Persistent, she smiles at every face that pops up in the door frame.


      Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Salford and Eccles, Rebecca Long Bailey, has been door knocking and speaking to potential voters for an hour now and is not planning to stop for another two.

      She could go on all day but there are elderly councillors assisting her, whom she needs to “make a cup of tea and give some biscuits”, as they’re unable to walk long distances.

      Rebecca, 35, is determined to show that a working class woman can become an MP, too, and prove herself after failing to do so elsewhere. And the clock is ticking – the May 7 election is around the corner.

      An overwhelming defeat

      It was two years ago,” she reminisces, looking into space. “I’d only just had my son and went back to work full-time. I was asked by a few people to put my name forward. I thought 'people like me don't become MPs'."

      She eventually sent off an application to stand in the parliamentary election in Weaver Vale, where she was living at the time, and got shortlisted.

      “I didn’t expect to win at all but I got quite excited. I thought I might actually be able to change the world,” she says.

      She came third.

      “I thought I was fine about it but then I cried,” she confesses. “I thought, ‘God, I really actually wanted to do it’, because I could see how much good I could do.”

      Rebecca didn’t give up. She realised her mistake and decided to do it differently next time – pick a seat somewhere she had a connection with.

      The pawn shop

      The 35-year-old has always been working hard, wherever life’s taken her.

      She got her first job at 16, at the pawn shop on Saturday evenings. She described seeing a lot of “desperate” people pawning whatever they could to pay their bills.

      There was an elderly lady, Tina, who sticks in Rebecca’s mind to this day.

      “Tina had a daughter who was a struggling single mother,” says Rebecca. “She would often come to pawn jewellery to get her grandkids something or pay for school trips.

      “She came in once with a ring that said ‘nan’ on it. Someone then bought that ring and she wasn’t able to claim it back. It was awful; it was heartbreaking.”

      Changing jobs like gloves

      She studied Politics and Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University after Tony Blair had brought in the £1,000 tuition fees. It made her feel the government was “selling the generation” but she recalls it as happy times nonetheless.

      “I was a bit of a skater girl at uni,” she smiles. “I don’t know if it’s cool now but it certainly was back then!”

      She’s had numerous jobs but eventually went off to work as Administrative Assistant in a law firm in Manchester. At weekends, she would travel to Chester to do various part-time law conversion and solicitors’ courses.

      She never forgot the injustices she witnessed in the workplace: “Working at the pawn shop, I saw desperate people coming in every day. Working at the call centre, I saw people treated really badly on temporary contracts. Working for the health service, I saw it being destroyed before my very eyes.”

      In the end, she landed a decent position as a solicitor at Hill Dickinson.

      "I loved my job,” she admits. “I’d be happy to go back there tomorrow. But I wouldn’t change the world.

      “Just because I’ve done alright doesn’t mean that everybody else has – you can’t pull the ladders up behind you. I want to make sure my son is going to have a better future than me; that my parents and people their age are being looked after.

      “People can’t sit and be apathetic.”

      It’s time to act

      The moment Rebecca decided to become involved in party politics was while trying to find her retired mum a hobby by taking her to Labour Party meetings.

      Not particularly interested initially, she intended to assist her until the pensioner felt comfortable to be left to it. But Rebecca started experiencing mixed emotions and developing opinions.

      Having decided there was “no point sitting there shouting about how terrible everything is”, she felt she wanted to create a party that people will believe in.

      Second chance

      The then-solicitor gave up her job at Hill Dickinson in preparation to move on to her next position but then Salford happened.

      “I knew a lot of people in Salford and they rang me up saying to put my name forward in the election. Again, a bit like Weaver Vale, I said, ‘Are you mad? Me? In Salford?’

      “But then I did and actually won it and here we are!”

      Rebecca realised she couldn’t campaign and have a full-time job at the same time, and thus devoted all her time to the election.

      She is against MPs having second jobs – unlike Grant Shapps, who recently admitted he had one – as there simply isn’t enough time: “MPs need to be really involved in constituencies and constantly learn people’s issues. You’re only going to do that if you’re there.”

      Over 51% of children live in poverty in some parts of Salford and Eccles. Rebecca’s priorities are reducing this huge number, as well as improving health services, tackling housing and transport problems.


      A life-changing election


      Despite having Irish parents, Rebecca’s accent is far from Irish; she grew up locally in Old Trafford.

      She now lives in Frodsham, Cheshire, with husband Steve, 41, and son Ronan, two. They’re going to move to Salford if she’s elected, which she says is unlikely to affect her son due to his young age.

      Steve works for a chemical company from home and takes care of Ronan together with Rebecca’s parents when she’s not there.

      However to look at it, she asserts she has made no sacrifices: “I’m doing what I feel is the best use of my time in my life.

      “I am changing my life dramatically, but I’ve never had a moment when I felt I wanted to give up or that it wasn’t worth it.”

      Rebecca gets upset when people ask her what’s going to happen to her two-year-old son if she gets elected.

      “They wouldn’t think that if it was my husband,” she resents. “I’ve had members asking me, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’ If it was Steve, there’s no way they’d ask him that question.”

      45% of female MPs have no children, compared to 28% of male MPs.

      Under-representation

      Just over a fifth (22%) of the MPs elected to the Commons in 2010 was female. Labour has introduced All-Women Shortlists (AWS) in some places in order to fix the problem.

      Rebecca defends the plans: “Some people say the quality of candidates won’t be as good – that’s automatically saying women are worse! But you’re not going to pick a terrible candidate; it’s as simple as that.

      “If you have an open list, they generally tend to become all-male shortlists. You rarely get an odd female candidate.”

      White v blue

      Class is another big prejudicial matter, especially before even getting into politics. Almost 40% of Labour MPs had done manual or clerical work in 1979 – in 2010, it went down to 9%.


      As a politician from a working class background, Rebecca feels her past may make her more relatable for people. But why are the numbers decreasing, while other under-represented groups have more to say?

      “I think,” she says, “it’s partly because of the way that politics is organised in terms of selecting candidates.

      “You need to be able to take the time off to speak to all the members and you can’t do that with a full-time job.”

      Transforming the world

      Rebecca’s inspiration comes mainly from her parents, who wanted her to do better and “pushed” her.

      She is set to replace Hazel Blears, 57, who had stepped down after 18 years because of her mum’s dementia.


      Despite having been given the backing of Salford’s mayor, Ian Stewart, and a trade union, Unite, Rebecca knows nothing is certain. Door stepping is one of her most effective activities.

      “I’ve never had anybody being nasty on the doorstep even if they don’t support Labour,” says Rebecca. “You can’t expect everybody to support us but you do expect them to be civil to each other, and Salford people are really good at that.”

      But it’s not just about getting people to tick the right box on ballot paper. She says politicians need to get to know constituents and explain what their policies are “through the medium of conversation, not leaflets”.

      When she came to speak to Salford Labour students with Langworthy Councillor Paul Dennett in February, the pair spent over two hours late in the evening scrupulously answering questions.

      We’ve lost passion in politics,” she emphasises. “You don’t get people that are really angry about the injustices or fighting for what they believe in.

      “That’s why I’m doing it – I’m angry and that’s why I fight.”

      Having dedicated her life to making a difference, Rebecca seemed reluctant to talk about things not related to politics. I managed, however, to find out that social media is a new thing to her, though she now manages her Twitter and Facebook accounts.

      “What’s snapchat?!” she asks.


      Talking to me over a cup of coffee she’d made for us in her Labour shop, Rebecca stands still on the Salford ground when asked whether she can imagine herself as the future Prime Minister.

      “I don’t think I can even answer that question,” she exclaims before taking a sip of the hot drink.

      “If I get elected,” she adds decisively, looking me in the eye, “I’ll try to do as much as possibly can for Salford in the five years that I’ve got.”

      By DominiKa Piasecka

       

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