The 2015 General Election saw 176 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, The Huffington Post UK is speaking to 15 MPs from the 2015 intake of the Conservatives, Labour and SNP. This week, it's Labour's boy wonder Wes Streeting
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW POLITICS
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more
Some new MPs take a gradual approach to getting involved in Parliament after being elected.
Keep your head down, see the lie of the land, that sort of thing. Not Wes Streeting.
The Ilford North MP has been unafraid to voice his opinions, even backing Harriet Harman's decision to abstain on the Welfare Bill.
With a background in student politics and campaigning for equal rights, he fits neatly into the mould of Labour heavyweights such as Jack Straw and Charles Clarke.
Maybe that explains why he is a fan of Tony Blair....
Here is Wes Streeting's 15 from '15:
1) Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Tower Hamlets in London Hospital, Mile End. I grew up in Stepney on a council estate and lived with my mum and only saw my dad on weekends. I come from a single parent family but with both parents. I always stress that because my poor dad always gets written out and I always feel sorry for him because it’s like he abandoned me, which he never did. I stayed with my mum during the week and my dad at weekends. Then my mum moved up to Preston and I lived with my dad and gradually moved out east, like lots of people do. The old white working class community in Tower Hamlets isn’t really there any more.
2) What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be all sorts of things. I went through phases. I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a lawyer. For a little while I wanted to be a priest, which my dad wasn’t very happy about. I went back to my secondary school for a prize giving recently, in fact after I was elected, and and every class room the headteacher took me into had one of my old teachers in it. It was really emotional. My English teacher who taught me on his first day in his first lesson told the whole class that on his first day I went up to him and said I need to get an A* in English because I want to got to Oxford or Cambridge because I want to be Prime Minister. So I can’t really do the fake humility.
Practical jokes started kicking in in sixth form and throughout university. When I was at NUS I used to send regular resignations from the NUS officers to the chief exec saying "I’ve had enough, I quit". There was one time when I sent an email from one NUS Vice-President to the Vice-President of welfare saying: "I have a serious sexual health issue and there was some itching". I got this angry, ranty email back saying: "This is not a joke, sexual health is not a laughing matter!" which of course is right and a very serious point but it’s still quite funny.
3) When did you first become interested in politics?
At a freakishly young age. My nan was very active in the Labour Party in the 1980s, her politics are way to the left of mine, she used to do crazy things. She was involved in the occupation of County Hall when Thatcher tried to shut it down. She was involved in the Murdoch/Wapping dispute and would throw bricks at the truck. She was a proper firebrand left-wing Labour member. She used to come round to our house sometimes and get us to deliver leaflets around our estate. So we’d get posters put up, we’d do about half the leaflet round then my mum would tell me not to tell my nan we hadn’t done the other half. This was back in the ‘92 General Election when I would have been about nine. My Dad’s side of the family are much Tory. My dad is a traditional working-class Tory, and my Granddad is the same. There’s always been that sort of debate around and when I was in secondary school I got a lot more interested in politics. The 1997 General Election was really exciting and we had a school mock-election. I was the Labour candidate and came second to the Monster Raving Loony Party.
4) Do you have any political heroes?
They really vary. I guess I'm in the modernising tradition of the Labour Party, so I’ve got up on my shelf to remind myself Crosland’s book on The Future of Socialism which I think is always worth going back to when your party’s in trouble.
It’s worth saying now, and I felt it at the time although I thought he went off the rails a bit with Iraq, Tony Blair. I think it’s worth now saying in the modern Labour Party that he’s a hero because he won three elections. I think it’s too easy to trash his achievement when frankly the people who have come since haven’t done any better, and the people who went before didn’t do any better, so I think we’ve got to guard our legacy and our achievements a bit more than we have done.
The problem is anyone who says Tony Blair’s Government’s were a good thing is instantly labelled as a thoughtless Blairite or an unthinking Blairite and actually I think, apart from the really obvious stuff like Iraq – and not to downplay the significance of that and the long term impact it’s had in lots of ways – there were massive achievements in those three terms of Labour Government’s and if we’re not comfortable putting that message across as the Labour Party then who is going to do it for us? We should leave the Tories to trash our reputation and not do it ourselves, and I think there’s been a bit too much of that in our recent history.
5) When did you first stand for election?
In 1997 mock-election. Then in 2000, I stood as an independent, the Ken Livingstone candidate, in the mock Mayoral Election, which is a bit ironic given how things have panned out since. I think I voted more than once as well as I was worried about losing to the Greens, so I managed to stuff the ballot box when no one else was looking. Since then, I’m back on track. I was a councillor from 2010, I stood in a by-election, and then I was deputy leader of the opposition in Redbridge and then we one control of the council last May. I’m still a councillor but I don’t claim an allowance anymore. I didn’t want people in my ward, which I also live in, to feel I had just abandoned the council stuff.
6) What did you do for a living before becoming an MP?
One of the worst things about being a parliamentary candidate, particularly in a marginal seat, and one everyone thinks you are going to lose, is you become really unemployable. At the time I was selected as a Labour candidate I was head of education at Stonewall, running all their work tackling homophobic bullying. When I got selected I told my boss I didn’t think I could manage being in a senior management position at Stonewall, being deputy leader of my group on the council and being a parliamentary candidate so I would start looking for freelance work. They were really good about it and let me go after a few months. I thought I would be able to get a couple of days a week in public affairs to tied me over, but it made me realised it makes you completely unemployable because everyone knows your focus will be elsewhere.
If you’re standing in a ‘safe seat’ at least they know they are probably going to have someone they have a relationship with. The problem was, although everyone was being very nice to me, no one thought I was going to win. We were 83rd on the 106 strong target list. I got some freelance work. I worked with the British Youth Council on some of their youth engagement stuff and then more recently I worked for Magic Breakfast, which is a brilliant charity which provides 15,000 kids from poor backgrounds free school breakfasts everyday.
7) What do you do to relax?
Either going to the cinema, or going to drinks with friends. I like going for walks. We’ve got some really nice country parks in Redbridge so I like doing that. I’m afraid I’m not a particularly cultured person who says "I’ve got a massive love for the opera" or "I go horse riding". I just do normal stuff really. I do sometimes go to those sort of things, but only as an amateur.
8) If you could run any Government department, which would it be?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve got a slight identity crisis at the moment because education’s always been my passion and I’ve always said if I could pick any job in Government it would be Education Secretary. Education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet when it comes to correcting wider disadvantage. Having said that I plumped for the Treasury Select Committee. You sort of realise very quickly that unless you’ve got the economics right, everything else suffers or things won’t flow from it and you realise how entrenched and I think this is becoming even more the case under George Osborne than it was under Gordon Brown where the Treasury’s tentacles are in absolutely everything. When I was campaigning on things like higher education access, student finance, all roads lead back to the Treasury.
9) What is your favourite film?
Empire Strikes Back is definitely my favourite Star Wars film. I’m going to have a word with Jess Phillips for saying Return of the Jedi. She’s gone soft and gone for the ewoks. Sometimes you want to see the baddies win! It’s a nice plot twist.
10) Who is your favourite band/artist?
I still yearn for indie/Britpop days. I loved Oasis, but Blur has stuck with me longer over time. That’s not very contemporary but that’s probably my favourite era.
11) What is the best thing about the House of Commons?
Although its place in politics has been eroded over time by successive governments, it is ultimately the place where real decisions and impact can be made. To be able to work there – it’s a pretty special place.
12) What is the worst thing about the House of Commons?
It can be very lonely and all-consuming. There are all sorts of notable figures you see consumed by the place and then spat out. Particularly for MPs outside London it’s quite hard. They come here away from their families; at least I go home every night. I think it can be quite a lonely place. We need to do a bit better at looking after each other and being nicer to each other. One of the nice things about the new intake, on the Labour side at least, is that we are quite politically diverse, there’s a real spectrum but in spite of that there is a real cultural ethos and it was played out in the Treasury Select Committee elections, and all of the select committee results. It was very clear there was a lot of 2015 solidarity voting going on and I think that’s a reflection of how we are as people. We’ve all said if in five years time we go for a pint before parliament dissolves and we’re not speaking to each other then we’ve done something wrong.
Whatever political disagreements you have with people from time to time that should never lead to a lack of camaraderie or ability to treat each other as human beings. I think that’s not always been the case in this place and hopefully the new intake can bring about a change of culture in the way that other new intakes over the years have changed the culture of this place over time.
13) What is the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could?
It would be the make-up of politics and I think it would be really significant. People think it’s about tokenism, but it’s not. It’s about mindsets and perspectives. Too often the levers of social, political and economic power are pulled by people who come from very similar homogeneous backgrounds and it’s not that these are ‘bad people’ per se if they all come into politics, or business, or civil society with good intentions formed by their own experiences and you see this with the tax credit debate.
If people understood the impact that cutting tax credits would have on not just poor households but working poor households they would think again. Instead what you get is people saying, "well of course we should cut the tax burden on the wealthiest or certain businesses because that’s how you get the economy moving. We get that because we are people who understand the way that wealth and finance works." That’s great, that’s your perspective, but what about the perspective of those of us who know what it’s like for those of us reliant on benefits to get on?
It’s having a really damaging effect particularly at the time when as we are always told there are difficult choices to make. Those choices will be more informed and fairer If you had a broader range of perspectives. I have sat in the Commons and both of my parents have at different points been reliant either on benefits or tax credits and I sat next to two Labour MPs who have directly received tax credits to make their families work and I think if you had more of those perspectives and voices then political debate will be better off.
Political parties need to pull their finger out and from the Labour Party’s point of view so do the trade union movement as well. We’ve got to look really seriously about what the barriers are to being a parliamentary candidate.
My selection cost a few thousand pounds. I didn’t have a few grand sitting in the bank, in fact I put very little of my own money in because I didn’t have it, but what I did do was fundraise so a lot my friends chipped in £10, £20, £30, a few people gave me a few hundred quid and I fundraised that money to run my own selection and then when I went freelance I was very lucky to have a partner who was supportive and although I managed to make ends meet myself I knew that I had that safety net. If you’re a mum on low pay how can you be asked to do this?
I get frustrated because I don’t think these things are rocket science.
14) What one reason would you give someone to visit your constituency?
Parks and open spaces. Ilford North is a really interesting constituency. It’s classic new commuter belt, mainly post 1945 development. We’ve got Fairlop Waters country park which has got a massive lake which you can go sailing and canoeing in. We’ve got Hainult country park. We’ve got Faces, as featured in The Only Way Is Essex on Gants Hill if people fancy a night out on the tiles. People move there because they want a larger homes, good schools for their kids and plenty of nice, open spaces, and that’s something I think we should cherish and protect.
15) What are the best and worst aspects of your personality?
Best thing is my sense of humour and that I don’t take myself too seriously. The worst bit I think sometimes I can be impatient and I kind of have to temper that a bit. I think sometimes confidence can border line into arrogance and that’s something I have tempered over time but looking back when I was in sixth form, and little bit at university, I kind of think that I really needed being taken down a peg or two. I’ve learnt to listen more, and in this place that’s really important because although I’ve arrived with lots of experience that people my age – 32 – wouldn’t normally have when they arrive in parliament, there’s so much to learn about being an MP and there are plenty of people to learn from as well. What you realise is it’s not just about the so-called bright stars of people in the Cabinet or the Shadow Cabinet. There are loads of people here with a wealth of experience who can sometimes get overlooked as well.