Saturday 3 September 2016

Saturday Interview: Jade Azim

After a lengthy break the Saturday Interview makes its return! Occupying the slot this week is Jade Azim. A charity worker from London who's not long graduated from Durham, Jade is the editor of Open Labour as well as being a prolific tweeter and occasional blogger. She sometimes writes here and here, and this is where Jade tweets.

You've made your mind up about the Labour leadership and are backing Owen Smith. Was this an easy decision to make?

Honestly? Yep. I'd experienced on the ground and watching the airwaves just how devastatingly inefficient Corbyn is. I don't tread lightly: he will destroy Labour but also his Left. His ideas will be discredited for a generation. He is the worst advocate for the Left and any of its ideas I could possibly think of. Finding a new course, or at least starting to, is more than necessary: it is vital for the survival of the Labour Party in this country.

Why do you think Jeremy still attracts a huge following in the party, despite the well publicised criticisms and negative polling?

By and large, idealism. Which I got, until I didn't. I'm not sure if an election defeat will deter his followers, or if there will be an urge to blame others, but I remember feeling crushed and devastated on May 8th. What you already know but what you denied didn't hit you until that exit poll. I wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone, which is why I urge people to reconsider before it happens.

Looking at the two present leadership campaigns, do you think either have made any egregious missteps or played a blinder?

Corbyn is a terrible leader with a terrible leadership team, but he can play a blinder of a campaign. In 2015, it was very easy to see what went wrong: it was three technocrats versus a revolution. And none of them could win an election, so why compromise? 2016 was supposed to be different, a competent, winning Leftist versus an incompetent one. I'll let your readership answer on whether Owen has convinced them of that.

Assuming Jeremy wins, what next?

I will have to calmly consider myself, after my initial breakdown! I work in charity now. I guess I will try to divert my attention to wherever I can make incremental differences in any small way. I have to say, the state of the Party - a party I once turned to for solace - has made me reconsider my faith in politics to change the world. I hope I don't always feel this way. And right now, I don't know how to really act on it.

Let's leave the depressing reality of our party behind for a moment, if you could have a fantasy leadership contest from among the current PLP, who would be your three picks?

Ooooh, can I just pick Lisa Nandy? Times three?

Moving on, are there any blogs or other politics/comments websites you regularly follow?

I have a few I re-visit, but I think more than anything. I just really like being random and scrawling through people's medium posts. Is that allowed? I think the best writers are the undiscovered, or the unintended. I started out because I needed emotional catharsis. It's important and fun to read other people's moments of revelation. Heat of the moment writing.

Are you reading anything at the moment?

Actually, I'm reading The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. I'm an incredibly tribal person, but until recently never thought about maliciousness in politics. Seeing the malice of this race, of which I am not immune, makes me question just why we are so divided. So for philosophical reading, it's a good read.

Do you have a favourite novel?

This is beyond what most people know or think about me, if they do so at all, but I always go back to Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. It's a teenage favourite. It's the fantastical that drew me in before politics. I was a Whovian before I was a Labourite. I like to explore new worlds. Whether that's a TV marathon or exploring Neverwhere's alternative London. But there's a magic to Gaiman's worlds that's beyond others. Maybe there's a metaphor for my politics in there somewhere.

Are there any works of non-fiction that has had a major influence on how you think about the world?

I am going to be incredibly dorky and cliche, and it might be surprising given my political journey - but my first ever political book also remains my most important: Chavs by Owen Jones. I say that because I couldn't articulate my anger as a youngster until I read that book. I couldn't articulate all the injustice I was observing. It was my gateway drug.

Who are your biggest intellectual influences?

The new economists like Stiglitz and Picketty, I will admit with a slight blush, influence me now. I also enjoyed reading T.H. Green as a student. The conflict between positive and negative freedom - I was on his side!

And has there ever been an event/moment that has exercised a similar influence?

A lot of personal moments - having to learn about money and struggling early on, growing up very quickly - but I think my most influential moments were when I went off to University, more or less ignorant of vast differentials, and to be confronted with wealth and grandeur on an everyday basis. I didn't want to get used to it, I wanted to be angry about it.

How many political organisations have you been a member of?

Let's see: Labour, obviously. Compass. The Fabians. Now Open Labour, even if it is at a very preliminary stage. I was an archetypal soft leftie before I even knew it. I am also a member of the GMB.

Is there anything you particularly enjoy about political activity?

Meeting people who care. Politics isn't very glamorous, is it? We are met with a tidal wave of anti-politics sentiment on the doorstep. So regardless of their opinion, I am just very grateful when the door stays open!

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

Morals. And moral indignation. Vague, I know. By that I mean how we approach politics and issues. So before 2015, and immediately after it, in my political nadir, I was very dismissive, suspicious of people. Because I was in such a place of moral superiority, I would say "How can people vote Tory when they're done THIS evil thing?". I learned that it was our inability to convince, that was our fault. There is no point accusing others of evil. If you want to get rid of the bedroom tax, you have to firstly make people aware, and then build a big enough coalition to get rid of it. The means to changing the world is more difficult and complex than I thought.

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

To make the issue of inequality mainstream. I get a lot of flack, mainly from people to my right, but also veterans of the electoral game, about my largely static 'Milibandism' in this respect. But an inability to sell the issue rests on our shoulders. Inequality still remains the greatest issue of our time. Both in terms of quality of life for the poorest but also on a very economic basis. The Tories sell their story exceptionally well. But Brexit suggests there is real upset about, especially, geographical differentials, and it is the radical right that is playing on that, not the left. How the left approaches it in a popular way is beyond my speculation, but I remain convinced that inequality and tackling it is vital to the future of a healthy British society.

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

Post-Brexit in particular: hatred of the other, othering, in all its forms. It is a trait in humans exaggerated in historical turbulence. We have far more in common than that which divides us.

Do you have any political heroes?

Sorry, I'm very cliche. Nye Bevan.

How about political villains?

Oooooooh, Peter Mandelson. And I do not mean that in a bad way. He's absolutely amazing. I could watch that man all day.

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

A bit like a few questions above - making tackling inequality common sense. Practically that means making welfare popular and also tackling high executive pay. Easy, really...

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

A cap on executive pay ... That, or workers on remuneration committees, getting a stake in the workplace and its processes, and in doing so halting excesses.

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

Global warming, and the drought and poverty it does and will cause. Water Wars, a shortness of resources. It'll get worse.

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

I'm 21. I should be receiving advice, not giving it out! But, in my short time - and this is mostly to young women - speak your mind! Don't be afraid to embarrass yourself. Stick your neck out. And keep sticking it out. Yikes, that tweet went awry. Oh well! Better tweet again!

What is your favourite song?

It changes all the time. Right now, Waterloo Sunset. I was on a rooftop watching, well, a Waterloo sunset, and in that moment I was truly happy. The Kinks make me smile thinking about it.

Do you have a favourite video game?

Retro: Pokemon Red.

And what was the last film you saw?

Finding Dory. It was amazing. I went to see it with my mum and we had Pizza Hut. It was all very early noughties.

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

Kindness. I know, I'm sometimes a bit abrupt. But I would like to think everything should be driven by kindness and a need to be kind to others, even if moral righteousness sometimes leads any of one us astray.

What fault in others do you most dislike?


And any pet peeves?

As me, being told I am too young, or implicitly, too woman, to understand something. I fear I will never be taken seriously, for real, and I despise people that make young women in particular feel that way.

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

Believe in your voice. Some day, someone will find you worthy enough to listen to.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Netflix and don't touch me. Really. There is nothing more satisfying than clicking 'next episode'.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Ed Balls signed tweet. No, really.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I love Young Adult dystopia. It's sneered upon but for many, especially young people, it's the first taste of politicisation. Or it can simply be escapism!

What talent would you most like to have?

To sing.

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for?

For my mum to be truly comfortable and get everything she deserves. To not have to worry about anything.

And if you were to suddenly win or inherit an enormously large sum of money, would it change you and how would you spend it?

Firstly, a holiday. I could really use one. Come on, we are all indulgent to an extent! But I thought about this as a kid. There's one dorky thing I'd love to do. Because I live on a street I have always thought to be grey, I have always wanted to go around neighbourhoods where maybe kids growing up there feel the same. And I'd paint rows of houses in different colours like Notting Hill. I'm being serious, I've always wanted to do this.

Would it change me? Who knows. I hope not. I hope I would use it for good things. Maybe more useful than a house painting project!

If you could go for a drink with three people, past or present, who would they be?

Again, Bevan. Community-organiser era Obama. John Maynard Keynes, to ask him what he would think in retrospect, post-Thatcherism. Yeah, seriously.

And lastly ... Why are you Labour?

It is the greatest force for justice the United Kingdom has ever known. And it always will be so long as it wants to. My fear is that it doesn't want to be any more. The urge for it to make change in the lives of people closest to me is what made me write in the first place. It's not just the greatest force for justice, in terms of supplanting poverty-causing governments, it is the only force.