Politics Q and A: With Richard Burgon, Leeds East MP

From working class lad to Cambridge University alumnus to socialist firebrand and committed Corbynite '“ it has been a quick rise in the world of politics for Leeds East MP Richard Burgon. Political correspondent Aisha Iqbal spoke to him.
Leeds East MP Richard Burgon in his office in Seacroft, Leeds, March 2018.  Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeLeeds East MP Richard Burgon in his office in Seacroft, Leeds, March 2018.  Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds East MP Richard Burgon in his office in Seacroft, Leeds, March 2018. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Q: What made you get into politics?

A: “It was growing up and hearing about the miners’ strike.

“My auntie was married to a striking miner and she was a member of Women Against Pit Closures.

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“But the thing that meant I would be an activist for the rest of my life was that I was lucky enough to be the first person from my family to go to University. I did English Literature at Cambridge.

“And though I enjoyed it, I met people no cleverer than the people I went to school with in Leeds at Cardinal Heenan.

“But because of their connections, because of their confidence, they were clearly going to play a role in running the country. I thought ‘why should we leave it to them?’.”

Q: You grew up in east Leeds - how important is it for you to represent your home area?

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A: “My family have lived and worked in east Leeds for 100 years since coming from Ireland and looking for work. It’s not often enough the case that candidates are from the local area. It’s something I’m proud of.”

Q: What are some of the key issues in East Leeds you are currently dealing with?

A: “East Leeds is one of the most economically disadvantaged constituencies in the country and the issues here are the same as the issues which face working people and families the length and breadth of the UK. Low wages, lack of availability of council housing, poverty, insecure low paid work, the proliferation of zero hours contracts, and also of course, the cuts to public services and the way that people who are recipients of benefits are treated.

“I was pleased to work with the local community as part of the campaign to save Fearnville Fields when the council was exploring and consulting on the possibility of building a new school there.

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“I was pleased that we worked successfully with local Labour councillors and the community more importantly to get the council to drop that proposal.”

Q: How do you balance your MP casework with your shadow justice secretary role?

A: “Just by working as hard as possible, not quite 24 hours a day, but sometimes not far off! It’s very important for me to come home to Leeds on a weekend, meeting as many constituents as I can, and also knocking on people’s doors.”

Q: Did you ever think so soon after being elected, you’d be on the front benches?

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A: “It was never my desire or intention to be on the front benches.

“I never would consider myself as a career politician.

“I had in my mind that I would be a diligent constituency MP, and also be a voice for socialist politics from the back benches.

“So I wasn’t going to bend my views or keep my mouth shut in order to try and get promotions.

“Then of course when Jeremy became leader of the Labour Party and I supported him, he needed people to step up to the plate. And I was pleased to take on the role of shadow secretary of state for justice.”

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Q: There have been rumours of a Momentum plot to take over Leeds City Council. Your thoughts?

A: “I think that was rubbish in a right wing newspaper. Momentum is a part of the Labour Party. It has done some good work getting Labour Party council candidates and parliamentary candidates elected.

“So Momentum is not a threat, it is not a party within a party. It is an important part of the Labour Party. We want Labour Party councillors elected in May and some are also members of Momentum and some aren’t.”

Q: Has Jeremy Corbyn got the party on his side now and will he be the next Prime Minister?

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A: “He has won most Labour Party MPs over through his election success, and also through what he and John (McDonnell, shadow chancellor) have been saying about austerity being proven true.

“I think that we will win the next General Election. Jeremy is refreshing to people because even on the occasions people don’t agree with him - and no one expects to agree with everything any politician says - people know that he’s completely genuine. He’s not a fake. He says what he means.”