LABOUR LEADERSHIP: Lisa Nandy - prominent backbencher pitching a return to Labour’s roots

Posted On: 
13th January 2020

Once graciously described by another MP as a “f***** handful”, Lisa Nandy has a reputation in Westminster for being both hard-working and independently minded.

Lisa Nandy announced her leadership bid first in her local paper
Credit: 
PA

The former shadow frontbencher - now thriving on the backbenches - promises to win back the towns Labour lost with a return to the party’s roots.

Her first child was born just four days before the 2015 general election, but she was knocking on doors the day before she gave birth, and was back at it again two days later. In life and in her politics, she’s said to be very driven - and very much herself.

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Despite her soft left views, Nandy is not one for factionalism. She backed Andy Burnham against Jeremy Corbyn for leader, and is liked by MPs across the party spectrum from pro-Leave Gisela Stuart to Corbyn ally Jon Trickett.

"Some of my best friends in Labour are people who have different instincts to me. I'm interested in consensus=building,” she told journalist Sophy Ridge in 2015. 

The same year, the Manchester Evening News tipped her as a potential successor to Ed Milliband, and left-wing journalist Owen Jones backed calls for her to run.

But, as she told Ridge at the time: “I was asked if I was plotting about a leadership bid when I had a one-month-old baby, and just getting dressed in the morning was an achievement. I came into politics because I wanted to make a positive difference. That’s still what I’m about now.” 

'YOU NEED PEOPLE TO CHANGE THINGS FROM THE INSIDE'

Nandy was born and raised in Manchester, before eventually moving to nearby Bury with her mother. Politics runs in the family; her father, Dipak Nandy, is a noted Indian Marxist and equal rights campaigner while her maternal grandfather, Frank Byers, was a Liberal Party MP. 

Westminster wasn’t always her calling, though. Upon graduating from Newcastle University in 2001 with a Politics BA, she worked for Labour MP Neil Gerrard during the Blair years, and was disheartened to see how overlooked her boss was. 

“He is someone that I have the most respect for,” Nandy told The House magazine. “It is difficult at a time when people hate politicians to come out of the system with your integrity intact and he did that. 

“I loved working for him and I was massively frustrated that he didn’t have the influence that he ought to have had.”

Sensing that change may be better instigated from the outside, Nandy moved into the charity sector, working as a researcher for homelessness charity Centrepoint and then as a policy adviser for The Children’s Society. Her first foray into public office didn’t come until 2006, when she was elected as a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham.

The penny dropped while she was at the 2009 Conservative party conference, which she attended representing The Children’s Society.  

“Everyone was pretty sure they [the Tories] were going to win,” she told the House. “It was in Manchester which is my home town, which was pretty depressing, and I thought somebody has got to do something about this.

“What changed my mind was realising you need people to change things from the inside,” Nandy added. “Before 2010 I was struggling to see many people on the inside that spoke for people like me, I thought you cannot just complain about things.”

Sixteen weeks later, Nandy was selected to defend MP Neil Turner’s 12,000-strong Labour majority in Wigan, a town around 15 miles from her home in Bury. 

But locals weren’t entirely convinced at first. One person wrote on the Wigan Evening Post’s message board: “I bet she had to ask for directions to Wigan.” Nonetheless, she won the seat in 2010, and has held the seat ever since.

'WASTELANDS'

Arriving in the House of Commons, Nandy sat on the Education select committee and was PPS to Tessa Jowell, Shadow Minister for London and the Olympics. 

Ed Milliband appointed her to his frontbench team in 2012 - first as a Minister for Children and Families, then as Minister for Civil Society. And in 2015, she was made Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in Jeremy Corbyn’s first Shadow Cabinet. 

That role was short-lived, though, as she joined two dozen other Labour MPs in resigning from the frontbench in protest over Corbyn’s leadership less than a year later. 

In the leadership election that followed, Nandy co-chaired Owen Smith’s unsuccessful campaign. Unsurprisingly, she’s remained on the backbenches ever since.

In Parliament, her areas of interest include children, refugees and poverty. But, she is best known as an outspoken advocate of towns. 

So well-known is her love of towns, in fact, that she’s been made into a Twitter meme. Frustrated by the economic focus on big cities, Nandy decided to do something constructive about it.

“An industry grew where journalists would come to towns like mine and start talking about the wastelands that were found; the people with no hope and the lack of any good services or good jobs,” she told LabourList.

“We got fed up hearing the places we live being described like that. We decided we had to do something about it.” 

And so, Centre for Towns was founded in 2018 - a non-partisan think tank aimed at ensuring equal attention is paid to the viability and prosperity of towns. 

Her advocacy extends to the Commons too, where she can often be heard impassionately standing up for “towns like mine”.

She stayed true to her roots, and her adopted home of Wigan, in her leadership bid too. The Wigan Post was the first to break the news that Nandy was running as Labour leader, albeit only 10 minutes before the Guardian ran its story. 

Writing to her constituents, Nandy said she was standing because “people in places like Wigan no longer feel they have a voice in our national story”. 

And she promised to end “the wholesale patronising of working people as a homogeneous group, to be saved or condemned”.

Wigan, towns and her working class roots were at the heart of her pitch to the nation. But, more importantly, she promised to win back the Labour voters that had rejected them.


Factfile:

  • Age: 40
  • Constituency: Wigan
  • Positions held: Shadow Minister for Children and Families (2012-13), Shadow Minister for Civil Society (2013-15), Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (2015-16)
  • Fun fact: She had her first child four days before the 2015 general election
  • Odds of winning (via Sky Bet): 7/1