Unparliamentary Language: Richard Burgon
Agnes Chambre sits down with parliamentarians to find out more about the human side of politics. This week, Labour frontbencher Richard Burgon talks heavy metal, his love of cheese and cringe-worthy politicians
What were you like at school?
I always liked to have a laugh and I talked too much, which isn’t a surprise. I was very into football and heavy metal from a young age.
When did you first get into heavy metal?
When I was eight-years-old, believe it or not. I went to Malta with my parents and there was a lad staying in the same hotel as us, a bit older than me, listening to his headphones and I asked what he was listening to. He gave me an earphone and it was really heavy music. He told me it was Iron Maiden. So I got a bootleg tape and I’ve liked them ever since.
Do you think your constituents like that you’re into that kind of music?
Heavy metal is a bit like Marmite, you either love it or you loathe it. So those that love it like the fact that I’m into it, but at least I’m not like one of these politicians who is pretending to like music like David Cameron pretended to like the Smiths. There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than politicians pretending to like cool music. Heavy metal isn’t cool, it’s never been cool and that’s fine.
What’s an interesting fact about you that people may not know?
I wrote a chapter in a book about Leeds United which until recently was on sale in the club shop. I wrote this piece for a compilation of fan’s writing about all the silly things we used to do to get player’s autographs.
What kind of things did you do?
We turned up at David Batty’s house, we found out where he lived and we knocked on his door at 7:30am. We knew they were playing Man United later that day in Manchester so we knew he must be leaving fairly early. He was really friendly and he gave us a card and a photo.
What is the worst trash TV you watch?
I used to watch Hollyoaks but I don’t watch it anymore. When I was a solicitor, I used to get home and watch it to deaden my brain. I enjoyed a bit of mindless relaxation. In politics as well - you need that. You can’t be thinking all the time about how unjust the world is and how you need to change it, sometimes you need to have half an hour off.
When you’re feeling stressed or angry, what’s one thing that’s guaranteed to cheer you up?
Listening to heavy metal or speaking to people who aren’t involved in politics. I really enjoyed the last seven weeks of the election campaign. Without wanting to insult too many people in Parliament, you meet a better class of person out campaigning than you do here. It’s nice to be away from some of the nonsense which is part and parcel of being in Westminster. It’s quite a quite a claustrophobic place and I can see how people end up being dragged away from real world concerns and becoming overly-obsessed about certain things. So it’s always good to get out of here and speak to people who aren’t obsessed with what goes on in Parliament.
What habit annoys you in other people?
Sycophancy annoys me, not that there’s much in Parliament so I’m in the right place not to be annoyed by that. I don’t mean towards me, I’m not high up enough for anybody to want to be sycophantic towards me.
If you could have any superpower, what would you have?
The best superhero of all, by the way, is Batman who had no super-powers. All the other ones have superpowers but Batman doesn’t, Batman is a human being who has trained himself up.
So he’s who you’d want to be most?
If I was going to be a superhero, I’d be Batman but then my socialist credentials would go down because Bruce Wayne lives in a mansion.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
‘Don’t forget where you came from’. Being down in Parliament, no one means to sell out, not many people aim to be part of the establishment but people end up without realising because the system here is designed into seducing people into feeling important, into feeling they’re part of something, into feeling they’re indispensable and if you’re not careful, without realising it, you can take your eye off the ball and forget the reason you got elected in the first place.
What can be done to stop that?
A new kind of politics can change that, it’s hard to say but parliament needs reforming, the way we do democracy needs reforming. Although I enjoy showing people from my constituents around Parliament, the fact that it takes place in this palatial atmosphere, I think that probably contributes to some MPs inevitably thinking that politics is some kind of rarefied pursuit for them and not for the wider public, they might think that subconsciously but nevertheless they think it. I think if we were in a normal, modern building, I think lots of that nonsense would have been stripped away. Lots of the self-regard and pretension might be stripped away by that.
Do a lot of people do that?
I’m sure too many do.
If you could give your 15-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
You’re not a good enough footballer to become a professional footballer.
If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be?
Steve Harris, the bass player from Iron Maiden. When I was at school and all the kids in my class were into indy music, I sent a letter to Iron Maiden saying ‘if you send me a signed photo, that will show them you’re much better’ and they sent me a signed photo and plectrums with their names on them. It was magic.
What mistakes did you make when you were younger?
When I was at school, I was doing a maths test. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t answer question number four, there were about 40 questions, so I just got stuck on the question for 50 minutes so I got 31% on the exam because I couldn’t bear to leave that question. There are no political metaphors in that, by the way.
Who would you have to a dinner party?
Shakespeare, Fidel Castro and Jesus.
How would your friends describe you in three words?
I’d like to think they’d describe me as genuine, a good laugh and honest.
What would the title of your autobiography be?
It’s too early to say but maybe some pun on the word Leeds. ‘Labouring for Leeds’ or something like that.
If you weren’t famous for being an MP, what would you be famous for?
I wouldn’t be famous, I don’t think I’m necessarily famous now but if I wasn’t an MP, no one would know who I am. I wouldn’t have abuse on social media and all those great things that come with being relatively well known.
What is your signature dish?
My signature dish would probably be made by a microwave, although I do like to make stir fry with tofu and stuff. I stopped eating meat a few years ago because I fancied being more healthy, but it didn’t work. But I’m not one of these preachy vegans, I’ve been to parties before where people tell you the error of your ways, which is a great way of entrenching people in their ways by preaching to them and telling them what to do.
Would you ever consider being a vegan?
I’d consider it but to be honest I like eating fish. Fish and chips on a Friday, a bit of salmon, can’t go wrong. And also, everyone likes a bit of cheese, don’t they.
What’s your favourite type of cheese?
Blue cheese, I like how blue cheese tingles on your tongue, it’s great. I like the kind of fizz it gives, that’s the bit I like.
What’s your favourite joke?
It’s easier for me to say my favourite comedians than my favourite joke, because I can’t memorise a joke. My favourite comedians, a League of Gentlemen, I like that. The Office, I do admit to liking Frankie Boyle as well.
Who do you think you’re most like in the Office?
The great thing about the Office is you can see yourself in a lot of the characters. Everyone’s got a bit of David Brent about them, especially in Parliament. Everyone’s got a bit of Tim. But maybe, there is a guy, and I wouldn’t want to say I’m like him, but there is a guy in the office who is from Leeds and who is a real pain in the backside called Finchy, it’d be a insult to be like him but we share an accent at least.
Do you have any regrets?
Not yet, that doesn’t mean I think I’ve always got everything right but I’m satisfied I’ve done what I think is right at all times.