Emily Brothers: get stuck into politics

Interviews Student Life

Emily Brothers is not just another boring politician. Her background is in the public sector: she was a former Head of Policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), where she was responsible for leading health and social-care policies. She is currently the Labour party’s parliamentary candidate for Sutton and Cheam. The party, in a historic first for the British political scene, recently celebrated having the first female openly gay transgender politician to run for Westminster. We spoke to her about her journey to politics as well as the current election campaign.

So, how is the campaign going and what are your plans leading up to the Election Day?

[It] is going really well. We have a challenge on our hands, but it is the most open election in fifty years and I think we have an excellent opportunity to make a difference. I’m doing, at the moment, a lot of awareness-raising around disability and LGBT issues. I came out as a woman with a transsexual history and a gay woman in December, and that was because of the increasing pressure on me as a parliamentary candidate. It is important in this time, when there is a lot of trust that has been broken in politics, to have an honest dialogue with the electorate, and I felt it was time to do that.

Did you feel at all pressurized into coming out due to your political involvement?

In an ideal world I would never have come out, and I think that over time, as my profile increased, so did the pressure on me, or I certainly felt the pressure, to come out. There was a risk that I would be outed by a tabloid newspaper, and that would set a negative tone, so it got to the point where I felt that there was a risk, and I needed to set a positive tone. And that’s what I did from the outset. The response, not just from the Labour Party, but also the wider public, has been amazingly supportive. It has only been the single intervention of Rod Liddle in The Sun that has basically tainted the positive messages that have been received.

What role does student politics play in the wider political system?

Politicians are keen to hear the views of students. They are key in particular constituencies where we have transient populations, through universities like Oxford, so these student voices are very important. There are issues that are very important to us as politicians and students, like tuition fees for example, and a whole host of other issue too, in terms of the issues they are concerned about. LGBT rights would be an example for many young people. Students will in the future move on and take up roles in public life to lead the country, so the kind of message they are giving to the older generation is important so that we can pass on the baton in a timely and orderly way that is seamless.

But there is a serious problem with voter apathy, particularly among students, right? What do you think would be the best way to tackle that?

There is a general breakdown of trust in politics, right through the generations. So that’s why we see, for example, far more protest votes for the likes of UKIP and the Greens, even though people realise that it isn’t necessarily going to shape the government of the future. One of the big changes, of course, has been individual voter registration, and across all political parties we need to work harder to encourage people to register to vote, and, whatever their political persuasion, to take part. We also need to set out to everybody the importance of politics, that actually, it is the way in which we can bring about change. I’m in politics because I see it as a vehicle to bring about change, not to keep the status quo- that’s why I’m not a Conservative, I’m a radical Labour politician.

At the end of the interview, Brothers left us with some pearls of wisdom for our readers who are seeking to change the world in which we live.

Believe in yourself, be clear about who you are, and that might be your gender, your sexuality, your disability, about what strengths those experiences bring to the table. Don’t see them as weaknesses or as things that hold you back. Utilise them in a positive way, and get stuck in. You may make mistakes along the way – we all do – but learn from them, and build on those experiences. I think the key thing, whatever you do, is be happy.


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