Interview: Lisa Nandy “surprised” by “level of misogyny” in leadership race

Sienna Rodgers

Lisa Nandy has revealed, in an exclusive interview with LabourList, that she has been “surprised” at the “level of misogyny” faced by herself and rival candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey during the Labour leadership contest.

“We’ve been asked a lot more about things like trans rights versus safe spaces for women, and decriminalisation of prostitution, than Keir,” the MP for Wigan said, referring to frontrunner Keir Starmer. “And it’s been quite noticeable.”

Nandy told LabourList: “When I first put my put my name forward to stand, particularly in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party], I had a lot of men saying to me, ‘you haven’t got the level of parliamentary experience that you might need, and when you’ve been in parliament for longer and you’ve served on the frontbench, perhaps then would be the time to think about putting your name forward’.

“They then went on to nominate a man who had less than half the amount of parliamentary experience, and less frontbench experience as well. I think that has to be called out for what it is. Because it’s misogyny.”

In a wide-ranging interview with LabourList, Nandy also:

  • Criticised the conversation about trans rights within the party, which she said should be “much more respectful”
  • Talked about legislation relating to single-sex services and to the sex industry, but warned against “making policy during leadership contests”
  • Argued that those looking at a federal model for the UK – which has been advocated by Starmer during the race – have “overwhelmingly missed the point”
  • Confirmed she would serve in the shadow cabinets of her leadership contest rivals
  • Admitted to taking “quite a few” illicit drugs in the past

The internal leadership election – set to conclude when Jeremy Corbyn’s successor is announced on April 4th – has seen questions raised over where the contenders stand on trans rights and single-sex spaces.

Nandy and Long-Bailey have signed up to 12 pledges put forward by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, which described particular organisations as “hate groups”, while Starmer has opted not to do so – instead supporting the LGBT+ Labour pledges.

Asked about the conversation currently being held around these issues, Nandy talked about the need to “have a much, much more nuanced, much more considered, much more respectful debate within the party”.

She added: “What we’ve managed to do with this debate is what we’ve managed to do with nearly every important or contentious issue in recent years – whether it’s Brexit, or Israel/Palestine, or trans rights.

“We’ve started the conversation with a view that you have to pick a side. One side wins. And we’re going to argue it out until that has happened.”

While the subject is “worth discussing” and “worth standing up for”, Nandy stressed, “the dominance of this issue has become a real problem for the Labour Party as a whole, because out in the country it seems to a lot of people that we’re having a conversation between ourselves”.

“It’s important for Labour that we’re loud and clear about our support for trans men and women. But to most people, this looks like a Labour Party that is not prepared to go out and grapple with the big issues that we face,” the leadership hopeful concluded.

Noting that she had been asked about safe spaces for women and trans rights “about 70 or 80 times”, and Israel and Palestine “about 50 times”, Nandy said: “I’ve been asked once how we win back Bassetlaw. That is a problem for the Labour Party.”

Asked whether she would go further than current party policy by amending the Equality Act as well as the Gender Recognition Act, the Wigan MP replied: “The honest answer to that is that I don’t know. I would have to look a lot more closely at the Equality Act.”

She added: “I think making policy during leadership contests has been one of the problems that we’ve had over the last decade. I’ve watched a lot of leadership contests at close quarters. I think the right thing to do with a debate of this complexity is to go out, consult, listen.

“I don’t want the women who are still very fearful about their safety because of domestic violence, or the women who are going through the transition process at the moment, I don’t want either of them to hear anything in this contest from me that gives them any sense other than that their safety and their welfare matters.”

Nandy also shared her views on the question of whether prostitution or sex work should be subject to ‘full decriminalisation’ or the ‘sex buyer law’, which she said were based on her experiences of working with trafficked women and girls.

The leadership hopeful understands “why a lot of women feel that it would be better to regulate the industry and provide rights for people who work in that industry”, she told LabourList

“But I spent nearly ten years working with women for whom this wasn’t a choice. And I want to see the people who did that to them locked up and prosecuted. And that tends to be my starting point for the discussion.”

Nandy criticised the idea of a new federal structure for the UK, which has been advocated by frontrunner Keir Starmer during the leadership election as a way of delivering a “radical devolution of power”.

She argued that while “regions and nations in the UK need more flexibility over their own policies”, such as immigration, “if we’re looking at a federal model, I think we’ve overwhelmingly missed the point”.

The Wigan MP continued: “Because for people in Aberdeenshire, Holyrood feels as remote as Westminster. And for people in Leigh in Greater Manchester, Manchester and the mayoral model often feels as remote and unaccountable as Westminster.”

She concluded instead that “our councils need far more control over what investment decisions are made, where that money goes, and how to work with businesses and others to make that happen”.

Quick-fire round of questions…

Favourite Britney song? It’s gotta be Toxic. There’s no getting around it. It’s the most perfect piece of pop music ever written.

Have you ever taken illicit drugs? Yes. Which ones? Quite a few. Not for a long time, I hasten to add. But, you know, you’ve got to be honest about this. I think most people in this country have.

How do you relax when you get away from politics? At the moment, not. But I go running – slowly! That clears my head and sorts me out. I do like going for a pint, that’s one of my favourite things to do.

Who would you like to see in the US Democratic primary? Elizabeth Warren. I know you’re not supposed to pick a side, but my god she’s inspirational. And it’s about time, isn’t it?

Would you serve in Keir Starmer’s or Rebecca Long-Bailey’s shadow cabinet? Yes, if they’d have me, although the other day Keir seemed to suggest that he might not. Becky said it made her really sad! But yes, if they wanted me to.

Do you have anyone in mind for Shadow Chancellor? God, no. You get yourself into all sorts of trouble like this. Not naming names, there have been leadership candidates in the past who’ve gone around promising that job to absolutely everybody. And then you’ve got 14 would-be Shadow Chancellors walking around parliament going, ‘sorry, no, I thought that was my job?’.

Apart from the leader, what role would you be best-suited to in the shadow cabinet? I definitely think there could be a role for me around 1990s pop music. But apart from that, obviously I’d serve in any way that I can.

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