Kate Green has been the Member of Parliament for Stretford and Urmston in Greater Manchester since 2010. Having impressed colleagues, she was promoted to Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions under Ed Miliband, and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities under Corbyn. On 27 June, she became one of the 20 members of the Shadow Cabinet to resign, and has since become the Chair of Owen Smith’s campaign. I spoke to her about why she believes Labour needs a change in leader, and why that leader should be Owen Smith.
I began by asking Green what drove her to run for Parliament in the first place. ‘I was elected after having spent 10 years running campaigning charities’ she explains. ‘First of all One Parent Families, and then the Child Poverty Action Group, which is one of the most effective and highly regarded civil rights charities in the country … I really loved doing those jobs, but they involved a great deal of trying to influence the way that legislation shaped the lives of the most excluded and marginalised groups of people. So it become more and more clear to me that I needed to be where the action is and make the biggest difference, and of course that’s in parliament.’
When the leadership challenge was launched, the two contenders to Corbyn were Angela Eagle and Owen Smith. I asked Green what motivated her to back Owen. ‘Owen and I were elected together in 2010, we’re good friends and our politics are very similar’ Kate says warmly. In a barely veiled swipe at Corbyn, she states: ‘We’re both politicians of the left, but we’re also great pragmatists: we want to get things done, not simply to talk in slogans.’
Of Owen she says, ‘I think he’s immensely able and personable, and the Labour Party needs someone who can unite the party and provide an effective team in parliament that can take on the Tories. Owen’s certainly done that, in his time as Shadow DWP secretary he forced the Tories to back down on Tax Credit cuts and the cuts to PIP (Personal Independence Payment). I think he’s a great campaigner, his values are absolutely my values. He is Labour 100%, through-and-through and I’m really proud to be chairing his campaign.’
we don’t sacrifice our principles to win power, but we need power to deliver our principles
A worldview often espoused by Corbyn supporters is that it is more important for Labour to stick to one set of principles even it means the Tories winning elections. I put this to Kate, and asked her why she thought winning power should be central to the Labour movement.
‘We can’t be simply a party of principle, but a party of three key things,’ she states. ‘We do have to be a party of principle and we also have to be a party of protest, protesting against injustice and the appalling hardship that’s being wrought on country by this Tory government. But, we also have to be a party that’s in power. It’s in our constitution that we’re a party formed to seek power by parliamentary means, and, as I discovered when I was in campaigning organisations, in the end you can’t do good if you don’t have the power to do good. So we don’t sacrifice our principles to win power, but we need power to deliver our principles.’
One of the most disturbing things about the leadership contest has been it being marked by a rise in abuse, particularly misogyny and anti-Semitism. Jess Phillips MP, a vocal critic of Corbyn, has had a panic room installed in her office and her home locks changed due to the amount of threats she has received. I asked Kate what she made of this turn of events.
‘It is, as you say, particularly my female colleagues who suffer from the worst abuse,’ she explains.’ ‘Not me personally but some of my younger female colleagues like Jess (Phillips) and Stella (Creasy). I think we all experience unacceptable levels of online abuse, intimidation, misogyny, bullying. I’m really pleased the party is now taking that very seriously by having the Compliance Unit investigate every incident of discriminatory, bullying or intimidating behaviour.’ She then says darkly, ‘John McDonnell, of course, wanted to scrap the Compliance Unit at a time when it has, in my view, never been more needed to uphold the standards I think we expect of one another in our movement.’
One of the things Kate is most upset about is the behaviour of some members at Labour events. ‘I also think that it’s utterly disgraceful and shaming to see our party members booing at hustings meetings, booing at one of the candidates. You know, I’d never been to a meeting before where Labour members booed one another and I don’t expect to see that in our movement, and I don’t think Jeremy or Owen expect to see it either.’
we’re 10 points behind compared to Ed at this point in the last parliament – and we all know how badly that ended
It cannot be denied that Labour are doing badly in the polls, but some say this is down to party disunity rather than Corbyn himself. I put this to Kate and asked her what she made of Labour’s electoral position.
‘Well we’re not doing well in the polls that matter: the elections.’ she replies. She points out that the rot had started well before the leadership challenge. ‘We did badly in May: we suffered very badly in Scotland, pushed into third place for the first time ever, in Wales we see a real threat now arising from UKIP, we were not in a good place in the local elections and we’re 10 points behind in the polls compared to where Ed Miliband was at this point in the last parliament – and we all know how badly that ended.’
‘You can see from the referendum result that in our Labour heartlands we’re absolutely going backwards and that’s got to be very worrying for the future of our party. So I don’t think we have anything to be confident or complacent about when we look at either the polls or, for that matter, the election results, and I’m particularly concerned at the very substantial number of Labour supporters who say they prefer Theresa May to Jeremy Corbyn.’
We’ve covered plenty of what Kate thinks is wrong with the party and why, but I haven’t yet asked the most vital question. ‘If Corbyn isn’t electable, why is Owen Smith?’
‘Firstly, Owen is very principled, he’s passionate and is very clear about what he stands for and believes. He would put equality at the heart of his leadership and has said he wants to see the goal of equality of outcome specifically written into our constitution. He’s got the ability to unite and to lead. As we know Jeremy hasn’t got the support of his parliamentary colleagues and the job of leader does require you to be able to lead a team in Parliament to take on the Tories. Owen can unite colleagues from right across the parliamentary party, as you can see by the broad base of support that he’s got for his campaign. Obviously there’s a huge task to unite the whole party, and the whole movement, and Owen warmly welcomes the huge growth that we’ve seen in our membership, and the energy and potential that gives our movement to become a genuine social movement for campaigning and political change in our communities. He’s utterly Labour through-and-through and is very proud to be so and his politics, values and ambitions are driven by Labour politics.’
young people have been shafted in every way by the Tories
So to my final question, what policies is Owen offering the country and students? ‘In terms of key policies, a British new deal: £200bn a year to stimulate the economy, which after the terrible Brexit result is really in danger of a significant recession and a very grim future.’ Kate explains that borrowing rates are at their lowest since the 1930s, and that this presents a golden opportunity to invest. Other key points include: ‘A wealth tax on the top 1% to help pay for an annual 4% increase in NHS spending, a modern Equal Pay Act and repealing the Trade Union Bill’.
When it comes to young people and students, Kate declares that we are ‘being shafted in every way by the Tories. Whether it’s cuts to housing benefits, EMA or rising tuition fees. Young people have borne the brunt of this government’s policies’ she explains