Ten minutes with...Jessica Asato

Written by Ben Duckworth on 28 September 2012 in Culture
The Labour PPC for Norwich North, and possible MP of the future, explains what she’s all about

This article is from the October 2012 issue of Total Politics

Why do you want to become an MP?
Because MPs have the capacity to change the world. Democracy is the route through which we can achieve, collectively, our ideals, whether that’s reducing job poverty, ensuring full employment, getting the economy moving and making sure young people have jobs. Those in government at the moment make decisions which are hurting people’s lives. It’s the wrong government, and I want to get the Tories out. I want to stop them demolishing the NHS. 
Are you just another professional politician?
Absolutely not. I’ve spent most of my working life trying to come up with new ideas for policy that will make our country a better place. I’ve always tried to work for a fairer society. Politics is not a career, it is a calling, and we need to regain the public’s trust in what we’re doing. I meet so many passionate politicians, and it is hard to see, after the expenses scandal, the nobility in what politicians do. Bernard Crick once wrote a very important book, In Defence of Politics, and those of us who want to go into Parliament need to prove that we aren’t simply doing it for our own good. 
As a former acting director of Progress, and following the recent GMB motion to outlaw the group from Labour, was this an issue for your selection?
A very minor one. I actually think members agreed with what Ed Miliband said, that we want to grow our party, to be more welcoming, and not shrink it. We want to have discussions about the party’s future direction, our ideology and our policies, and how we get to where we really want to go. We want to remain united because the public doesn’t support divided parties. And it’s great that Progress has instituted a measure of democracy by electing its advisory board; that’s something I’d wish I’d done when I was there. But members agree that we need to put behind us the old battles of old v new, the TG-GBs and all of that Westminster in-fighting that doesn’t help a single person out on the street. So, yeah, it was a minor issue, but it’s something we all agree isn’t helpful.  
Has Ed Miliband given you enough direction, as Labour leader, to allow you to tell Norwich North voters what the party would do for them if it won the next election?
On all the major issues that we’ve been facing, Ed Miliband has called it right. At the time his first big speech on responsible capitalism, and the need to encourage producers, not predators, was laughed at. But shortly after, David Cameron was talking about responsible capitalism. Is there enough policy? We’re already in the middle of a policy review, so it would be weird if we’d already arrived at policy. We’re in the process of engaging party members, engaging external organisations in how we build the best possible manifesto to win in 2015.  
We can’t rush this because it’s just too important to deal in back-of-the-envelope stuff. We need to provide a genuine alternative to this government. We lost our second-worst showing at an election in 2010, and have had a lot of rebuilding to do. Much of the work over the last two years, quite rightly, has been about regaining the public’s trust, campaigning and showing what Labour can achieve for them, but there’s also been the boring but important internal reorganisation, under Iain McNicol. Being a party isn’t just about policy; it is also about ensuring, from our local branches to the very top, that we’re functioning in the best possible way.
The risk of the Tories coming back next time is just too great not to be taken seriously. 
Chloe Smith has not had the best year. Are you going to make the campaign about her or broader economic issues?
Chloe Smith is perfectly able to demonstrate her own incompetence without me having to point it out. What I’m going to be focusing on is proving that she is not some nice MP but actually is a fully paid-up member of this government and she supports every decision this government makes. She took the job in the Treasury under George Osborne, and when she goes around Norwich pubs tasting their ale, it is her fault the tax on beer has gone up. It is putting people out of jobs. She can’t hide right behind her nice exterior when the fact is that everything that this government is doing is partly down to her. Because she’s a member of the government and she can’t hide from it. And that’s what I am seeking to expose.

Tags: Issue 51, Jessica Asato

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