Image description: Rosie Sourbut canvassing in the constituency
Studying English in the year above me at Somerville College, I have been good friends with Rosie Sourbut since first year — and have followed her as she ardently campaigns for the issues which she is most passionate about.
At only twenty-one years old, Rosie recently became the Labour Party’s candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon.
On a drizzly Thursday evening in College, I sat down with Rosie to discuss her impressive and unusual situation. We talked about the public’s varying attitudes towards her standing for MP as a bisexual woman, the online abuse she has received, as well as the Labour policies which she is most passionate about and the changes she envisages for the United Kingdom.
Why do you want to become a Member of Parliament?
I want to do everything I can to help bring about a Labour government because I know that’s the best way to improve people’s lives in this country and to save our planet. I decided to run when I saw nominations were open at the end of summer, after spending the summer volunteering in food banks and investigating the terrible impacts universal credit has had on food poverty in the UK — and I was really, really angry about that. I spent the summer meeting lots of really hungry people in desperate circumstances, and I think it’s completely unacceptable that that’s the situation in one of the richest countries in the world. It’s a situation that has massively increased under the Conservative and Lib Dem government and the specifically cruel policies they’ve had. So that motivated me to stand to bring about a better government that would help people.
I spent the summer meeting lots of really hungry people in desperate circumstances.
At what point did you begin to consider standing as a reality?
They opened nominations for all the other seats at the start of September; I saw that this had happened because the Labour Women’s’ Network, which I follow, had shared it on Twitter. I absolutely didn’t think that I’d be picked to be a candidate — because I’m twenty-one; at that time I was twenty. All the people applying went to the Regional and National Executive Committee, and because it was a snap general election, I found out a bit over two weeks ago now that I was the candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon.
You’re unusually young to be running for MP — does this motivate you to represent young people, or are you concerned with the wider problems which face our society?
The three issues I care most about are ending austerity and poverty-producing policies, bringing about equality in society — in particular, ending violence against women — and solving the environmental crisis. But all those are issues that massively affect young people — young women are particularly at risk of intimate partner violence, domestic abuse and sexual abuse. Young people are the ones who are going to grow up for the longest time in an environmentally degraded world.
I think all of those issues affect young people; Labour has a solid offer for young people in terms of investing in education, in climate apprenticeships, in free tuition fees, and also a really strong pro-equality agenda. All my passions are things that affect old people as well. There are loads of people in their 50’s who are in poverty, or elderly people in poverty. It’s not young against old: it’s the 1% for whom the Conservative policies do work — and for whom a Conservative Brexit will bring them benefit, and who are the ones getting rich while everyone suffers — against the 99%, including the vast majority of young people and the vast majority of old people.
You talk about your motivation to combat global warming and the environmental crisis we face; how do you reconcile this with the University’s dealings with ‘climate criminals’ including BP and others?
I think that it’s really disappointing because Oxford’s doing so much climate research and revealing all these things about the climate catastrophe, but then it’s also investing in companies that are hugely contributing to that and that seems very contradictory. I think it’s a rich enough institution that it could make an example and divest.
Earlier, you mentioned having been encouraged to stand by a Twitter post by the Labour Women’s Network; to what extent do you think that social media platforms — Twitter specifically — have enabled, or inhibited, your campaign?
The vast majority of constituents aren’t on Twitter or looking at Twitter. I think it is more helpful for finding a community of other campaigners and other candidates than it is necessarily for reaching people — that’s more something I’ve been doing from door-to-door campaigning, and going out and talking to people and going to hustings; about ten different hustings I have planned at the moment, on a variety of issues. I had one on the environment, one with young people, I’ve got one for churches coming up… I’m going to community events as well and meeting everyone in the constituency.
I got quite a bit of trolling when I first announced I was standing on Twitter, which surprised me. It hasn’t been loads, but I’ve had some people saying that I’m a ‘silly student’; lots of people making fun of my surname — not very mature. There’s been the odd misogynistic comment — although I was ready for a lot more. I don’t know if I want to go into detail. I just changed my Twitter settings as well, so I could see less of it. Online, you get all of the trolls collecting together, targeting specific things to do with you. I think I’ve had every Lib Dem troll in the country coming at me.
Online, you get all of the trolls collecting together, targeting specific things to do with you.
Would you say that there is a difference between people’s reactions in person compared to online?
Definitely. When I talk to people on the doorstep, they’re really interested in how we’re going to improve public services and how we’re going to improve people’s quality of life. They’re interested in discussing policies; I think the perception on social media — and also on mainstream media — is quite different from that. When you’re just doing good, straightforward constituency campaigning people are really nice — people who are grounded. Most of the trolls online are not from Oxford West and Abingdon. People who are in Oxford West and Abingdon, who have seen the impact of a decade of Conservative and Lib Dem governance has had on the community, are really receptive to someone who wants to change that.
So, do you think that people’s attitudes towards you are influenced by your gender and age?
I had an interview on the Today Programme this morning, and I was really disappointed because we had a really long discussion where we talked about austerity, we talked about Brexit, we talked about the environment; I made the case clearly for why people should vote Labour in Oxford West and Abingdon; then, when they put the cut together as part of the three minute segment, they just quoted two sentences: and one of them was the interviewer asking me “How are you managing your university workload alongside?” — and that kind of disappointed me because I didn’t expect to be dismissed; the way they cut it was very much trivialising, which was disappointing.
In-person, on doorsteps, no-one’s ever really been judging me for being young; everyone’s been impressed that I’m a young woman and I’m standing.
In-person, on doorsteps, no-one’s ever really been judging me for being young.
Have you been surprised by the way in which people have reacted to your sexuality?
The majority of people I’ve spoken to have been really positive about who I am; I was at a hustings a couple of nights ago, and afterwards loads of people came up to me and expressed their admiration for the fact I was doing it proudly when I am bisexual — they saw that as a positive. That was also the hustings where we had a question on LGBTQ+ education and I sympathised with that, and I ended up telling my personal story.
If you could change one thing in the United Kingdom, what would it be?
I would eradicate poverty; the fact that more than one in five children are growing up in poverty now is unacceptable when we have the means to provide for everyone. We shouldn’t have people who are in situations when they’re struggling to get by. I’d like to see Labour bring in a department for social security that will bring back that safety net and ensure that people don’t have to be afraid that, if they have a sudden crisis of whatever sorts, there’ll be something there to catch them, rather than being ‘dropped off’ and left to suffer.
What’s the policy do you most admire on the Labour Manifesto?
There are so many good ones! I’m really happy — because I’ve been involved with the Labour hunger campaign — that we’ve got the policy to reverse benefit changes and half food bank use in a year and end it in three. There are so many: decarbonising by the 2030s, investing in [climate change] research and development, investing in solar panels — making twenty-two thousand football pitches worth, four-day working week, ending the gender wage gap by 2030. There’s a lot!
What has surprised you most about the process?
I think I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve actually just been finding it really energising, I’ve found the hustings really interesting and it’s been great hearing about people’s concerns. I’ve had a number of people who voted Conservative last time get in touch and say that they’re going to vote Labour this time; that’s been really positive. The campaign’s really taken off and I really feel like it’s in full swing!
If you had a message to the reader, what would it be?
Vote Labor! It will make everyone in this country’s lives better. If we get another Conservative/Lib Dem government for another five years, that’s a really scary prospect; we’re already at breaking point in our public services — a shortage of 100,000 staff in the NHS. The Conservatives and Lib Dems are only planning to de-carbonise in 2045 — that’s far too late.
We’ve got an opportunity here between a positive Labour manifesto — that will bring about really transformative change for the vast majority of people — and a hard Brexit that will give the Conservatives more free reign to continue to sell-off our public services and abuse workers’ rights in this country.
It’s crucial that we win this election. If we don’t, that will be devastating.
The other candidates for Oxford West and Abingdon are as follows: Layla Moran (Liberal Democrats), James Frederickson (Conservatives), and Allison Wild (Brexit Party).