Saturday 22 November 2014

Saturday Interview: Roxanne Ellis

Roxanne Ellis is a Labour and Cooperative councillor on Gedling Borough Council and a founder member of the Young Labour Councillors Network. From a Labour family and something of a geek on all things politics and Sovietology, you can follow Roxanne on Twitter here.

Have you ever been tempted to take up blogging?

Many times, I currently have a blog where I post occasional articles on women in Labour history. But it depends on when I get time to research and space to write.

Do you find social media useful for activist-y things?

Social media is one of the greatest tools around at the moment, you can get thousands of people aware of an issue, to sign a petition or even turn up for campaigning and protesting.

Who would you say are your biggest intellectual influences?

I'm a massive fan of Sheila Rowbotham, meeting her in person I was absolutely starstruck! Her book Hidden from History was one of the first feminist texts I ever read and is one I always have near to hand.

What are you reading at the moment?

I always have a number of books on the go, mainly cos I'm prone to putting them down and losing them. Currently I'm re-reading Terry Pratchett's Death Trilogy, We Will Not Go To War, about conscientious objectors in both world wars and also working my way through Every Secret Thing by Gillian Slovo as it is so heartrending I can only read it in small chunks.

What was the last film you saw?

J.Edgar, a film that achieved what I thought impossible, making me feel sympathy for Hoover.

Do you have a favourite novel?

I always find it too difficult to choose between them.

Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?

There is no one text as I take things from many sources. But books which have influenced me include In Place Of Fear, Women, Resistance And Revolution and Long Walk To Freedom. Also Khrushchev Remembers as it taught me about just how unreliable memories are and how we all reinvent our past to fit in with our world view at the time.

How many political organisations have you been a member of?

I joined Amnesty International when I was at secondary school, we had an Amnesty club where we wrote letters and since then things snowballed. Obviously I’m a member of the the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party and I am or have been a member of the Fabian Society, National Organisation of Labour Students, Labour Women’s Network, GMB, TUC Midlands youth, and many others which I can't recall right now.

Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?

The Lib Dems, I used to think they were mostly harmless.

What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need. The most basic tenant of socialism and in my opinion the most important!

What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?

Individualism combined with utilitarianism. We are all part of society and our actions have impact on each other. The idea that it is okay to do whatever you want as long as it doesn't harm others just doesn't stack up. We have a responsibility to each other as human beings.

Who are your political heroes?

Jennie Lee, she is a true inspiration for women in politics and rarely gets acknowledged
Nye Bevan
Ellen Wilkinson
Betty Boothroyd
Harold Wilson
Tony Benn
Clement Attlee
Nelson Mandela
And my Granny

How about political villains?

They are the usual suspects that you would expect from someone growing up near a former pit in Nottinghamshire (the site of which is currently being turned into a country park): Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell and this lot currently in power.

What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?

Protecting people from the full effects of what this Government is doing whilst dealing with a severely reduced budget. Local Government is doing everything we can but constantly get dumped on. As part of this we need to get a Labour Government back in power as although they will have to make difficult decisions which will hurt, their ideology and hearts are in the right place and they won't prioritise millionaires’ tax cuts over people living in poverty.

If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?

A lot more attention and support for mental health services, they tend to be the poor relation of health services and therefore are first in the line for cuts. These services can be just as vital a lifeline for people as any other health service. We don't like talking about mental illness and that is wrong, mental health problems will affect one in four of us. We also need to talk more about how things like being unemployed affect people's mental health and make them more likely to develop depression due to how we demonise the unemployed.

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

The new “little father of his nation” President Putin. Russia suffered a lot after the collapse of the USSR, financially and in national esteem. Putin is aiming to revive that esteem but his behaviour and involvement in the crises in the Middle East and eastern Europe is dangerous to international peace. He is a powerful and dangerous man with his fingers in many pies.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Feel the fear and do it anyway. Some of the greatest things that have happened in my life have scared me to the core beforehand. As Mark Twain said “I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”.

What is your favourite song?

Land: Horses/Land of 1000 dances/La Mer (de) by Patti Smith

Do you have a favourite video game?

Lego Batman or one of my old SNES games possibly Donkey Kong Country or Earthworm Jim.

What do you consider the most important personal quality in others?

Compassion and consideration. If we all showed a little more of both the world would be a much nicer place to live in.

What personal fault in others do you most dislike?


What, if anything, do you worry about?

Everything, I'm a total worry wart but I try not to let it hold me back.

And any pet peeves?

People who lightly touch you before they speak; the kind of touch where it feels like spiders are walking on your arm. I'm sure they mean it to be comforting but it makes my skin crawl, especially when they walk up behind you and do it.

What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

Don't let other people hold you back. Don't feel like you have to hide who you are because other people don't like difference.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Reading political books and doing handicrafts. I sew, knit, quilt and am learning to dress make. I also love listening to music and going to gigs.

What is your most treasured possession?

Items which remind me of people I love - my Nana's engagement ring and my Granny's Labour party badge.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

If I did I wouldn't admit them. But no, I'm not guilty about anything I enjoy.

What talent would you most like to have?

Singing, unfortunately I take after my dad vocally. We do a mean Beach Boys duet that can stop someone at 50 paces ...

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?

To invent a time machine so I could visit all the places and listen to all the speeches and meet all my heroes.

Speaking of cash, how, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?

It would make my plan of setting up a left leaning political library so much easier. Plus I would be able to indulge in my love of buying books more often without guilt; "it's for the library, honest". Luckily I have friends who keep their eyes out for books they think I would like in secondhand bookshops.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?

Patti Smith, Marianne Faithfull and Jennie Lee

Being a Labour councillor can be quite tough. Would you recommend it?

Being a councillor of any stripe is not for everyone.

It takes a certain kind of person, your will to make people's lives better must outweigh your ego or need to be appreciated. It is rare that you get thanked for what you do so you must get satisfaction from being of service.

If you are a woman you also have to deal with sexism.

But the sense of happiness when you can change someone's life for the better is worth all the tears, late meetings, personal attacks and mind numbingly boring speeches. That feeling is indescribable, which is why I'm standing for a second term.