Fifteen for 2015: Emily Brothers – A catalyst for change
Emily Brothers understands the value of solidarity. At the age of 10 her eyesight started to fail. Her home city of Liverpool did not have the facilities to provide the surgery she urgently needed, and her parents were on strike and couldn’t afford the fare to London.
A shop steward on the picket line heard about Emily’s plight and started a collection to raise money for her train ticket south. He marched up and down the line of workers ranked outside Vauxhall Motors, asking all and sundry if they could dip into already depleted pockets for a little change to help the Brothers’ child.
“It was an early sign of the solidarity of working people and it had a significant impact on my view of how people come together at times of adversity,” says Emily. “It was this experience more than any other that made me Labour”.
The collection raised more than enough to send Emily to London, but sadly the treatment failed. The family used what was left over to buy her a braille machine which she still uses today to bash out her attacks on the Tories.
As this story shows, Emily is no stranger to adversity. Growing up with a disability was a daily challenge. As a gay transgender woman she has also had to contend with a society all too hostile to her way of life. These struggles have entrenched a belief that the good society can only be built on an inviolable commitment to equality.
“My experiences in campaigning roles challenging discrimination and prejudice mean that a real central value to me is tackling inequality. That means, for example, closing the income gap to alleviate poverty and providing a universal health service free at the point of delivery,” she says.
Promoting equality is at the core of Emily’s election campaign in Sutton and Cheam. As she sees it, the way to achieve this is by hardwiring fairness into the country’s infrastructure and the delivery of public services. “I want to contribute nationally and locally to tackling the cost of living crisis and in particular improving accessibility in our transport system to help in terms of our infrastructure goals but also to help people get around and get employed,” she says.
“I also want to see better coordination between public services and other parts of society. We talk about integrating health and social care, but I think that’s only a first step. I want to see health and social care professionals work effectively with those who support people in education and into jobs. We need to be inclusive- not just for disabled people or women or gay people, but for everyone,” she adds.
Labour is the only movement in Emily’s eyes able to implement such an ambitious plan. “I think we are at our best when we are seen to bring about change and reform. I see myself as a catalyst for change. When we are too cautious, because we are too electorally sensitive, that can be to our detriment,” she says. This is not a case of Labour being too right wing or too left wing. It’s about the party having the courage to “think outside the box” even when electoral pressures and the media spotlight make doing so difficult.
Emily thinks the party’s willingness to take risks has diminished somewhat because of the types of people who make up the ranks of Labour MPs today. “In the past we’ve had a few maverick MPs, but we’ve seen less of that as Labour has become more of a smooth operation, where style rather than substance counts for more.”
This is a product of the conveyor belt from Oxbridge, to special adviser, to MP- now the dominant route into Parliament.
“I think because the pathways into politics have become narrower, it’s less likely that people like myself who come from a working class background and have disabilities will get into Parliament.”
Emily faces a rocky road to Westminster herself. Labour pulled in a meagre 7% share of the vote in Sutton and Cheam in 2010, far behind the Conservative challenger on 42% and the Liberal Democrat incumbent- Paul Burstow- on 46%. Lord Ashcroft’s survey of the constituency in August 2014 predicts a collapse in support for Burstow, but only slightly to Emily’s advantage. Labour’s share was 16% in that poll.
Emily’s strategy is to capture a larger share of those lost Liberal Democrat voters. Support for the party is deep-rooted (Sutton and Cheam has the longest-serving Lib Dem council in the country) but painting the Liberals as a fig leaf for Tory cuts is an attack that seems to be working. “The Lib Dem council is applying £40million worth of cuts. In areas where there are Labour councils, they are also having to make difficult decisions, but in Sutton and Cheam I can link our national campaign to what the Liberals are doing here because Labour is in opposition here”.
Convincing residents to vote with their hearts over their heads is another facet of Emily’s campaign: “A lot of people here say they voted Lib Dem in 2010 to keep the Tories out. I say it didn’t work in 2010 and it won’t work in 2015. I also hear a lot that trust has been broken in politics, and my response is that the electorate needs to stand by their principles and voting tactically is not standing by your principles!”
The digital pamphlet ‘Fifteen for 2015’, profiling fifteen of Labour’s new candidates, is available to read online here.