Magazine article The Spectator

Labour's New Golden Girl

Magazine article The Spectator

Labour's New Golden Girl

Article excerpt

Stella Creasy, our campaigner of the year, stands out from the back benches

When I arrive to interview Stella Creasy in one of the cafes in parliament, she's sitting in a meeting with two earnest, wonkish types, the coffee mugs having been cleared from the table. As time ticks by, her body language becomes urgent, but she's too polite to wrap it up. I begin to see why her rather protective assistant insisted that this interview should be no more than 30 minutes. Creasy, though, has a lot to say and we speak for an hour before she goes off to write a speech on this summer's riots. She's a politician in demand.

MPs enjoy few things more than posing as talent scouts. Within hours of a new intake arriving in parliament, the old hands start picking out the ones who they think will go far. Creasy instantly caught the eye of the Tory benches. Her media-friendly manner and pitch-perfect attacks on the rates charged by pay-day loans companies were an example of how to do opposition politics. She had identified an issue people cared about, but that was almost impossible for the government to fix.

But Creasy, who won the campaigner of the year prize at the Threadneedle/ Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards last tor tor week, is motivated not by the approval of her peers but what she sees in her constituency. 'In a very visceral sense I see it in Walthamstow. We now have eight of these companies in quite a small high street . I have been conscious about people getting into debt since I was a councillor and involved in various community groups. You couldn't not be aware of people who were struggling financially, and that has exploded over the course of the last 18 months. This is not just Walthamstow any more. This is everywhere.'

'I have become massively geeky about it, ' she concedes, discussing possible regulations in eye-watering detail. 'I genuinely believe this should be one of the top economic challenges for the government. We have a perfect storm where you have job losses and stagnation in wages, rising inflation and cost of living and a lack of regulation.'

But some in the government have proved less than interested in this issue. She complains that Ed Davey, a business minister, wrote to her saying that he was too busy to discuss it. She remarks, in a slightly schoolmarmish way, that she hopes that Nick Clegg - who presented her with the award - 'has gone and had a stiff word with Ed Davey'.

What marks her out is the extent to which she draws on her constituency experience. Despite a degree from Magdalene College, Cambridge, a PhD in social psychology from the London School of Economics and stints working for various Labour bigwigs and a left-wing think tank, the travails of her Walthamstow constituents still seem to be the biggest influence on her.

This outer London borough is a place with more than its fair share of problems.

When the conversation turns to this summer's riots, she has personal experience. 'I have lived in Walthamstow for 13 years and have never felt worried and the first night of the riots I was scared, I was scared 50 yards from where I live. But I was also with a bunch of kids who wanted to go and fight the rioters and I was scared that I would lose one of them. That motivates you.'

Perhaps sensing that I'm rather taken aback by this, she says, 'People in politics don't like emotion and they don't like passion. …

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