Saturday 1 October 2016

Saturday Interview: Jacqui Berry

Jacqui Berry is a nurse, Unison, and Socialist Party activist from Medway. Jacqui's vlog, Austerity Blows went viral after her message to Jeremy Hunt was featured by Cosmopolitan magazine. When not vlogging, campaigning, or working Jacqui can be found tweeting her thoughts and opinions here.

After the leadership contest, what do you think is next for Jeremy and his support? Can he reach the parts other political leaders cannot?

So I’m not a full member of the Labour Party, but I am an affiliated supporter via my union. I am delighted for Corbyn, his team and for all of us who have supported him. I’m a nurse. I work on an Intensive Care Unit which is about as far away a person can get from the Westminster bubble and there are girls who I work with who have never voted before but bloody love him! His programme, which to be honest is not exactly a radical one, gives people hope.

My concern for him is that despite the increased mandate he got in the most recent leadership election, the Labour right won’t rest. If it’s true that it was representatives from my own union UNISON who led the charge in getting through a package of rule changes, I would be more than disappointed and given that its members voted heavily to support Corbyn I think there would need to be a reckoning for those involved.

And can you see a way back for Progress, Labour First, et al?

Absolutely! If anything they’re in a stronger position now than there were before the election. Now that they don’t have to pretend that Owen Smith is in any way credible they can set their sights on the next plot. By manoeuvring themselves a majority on the NEC, allegedly propped up by trade union allies, the Labour right wing are in a strong position to push through shadow cabinet elections which will give the PLP no end of opportunity to undermine Corbyn. I really liked that Corbyn closed Labour Conference with the Bill Shankley quote “The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other …” but on the football pitch if half your team are trying to put the ball in the back of their own net, as a manager you would replace them before the fans stopped showing up every week.

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

Definitely this one.

You use YouTube to get your point across. Do you think it's a useful outlet for left and labour movement activists?

Vlogging is just another way of popularizing socialist ideas. I definitely think if Lenin was developing is ideas around revolutionary organisation today, he’d have vlogged. I cover local pickets, protests, demonstrations, trade union stuff and comment. The medium allows you to chronicle real life in austerity Britain without necessarily being preachy. It’s recorded in working class homes, using equipment that a nurse can just about afford. People will be able to look back and see how working class people dressed and talked, what was considered funny, where we shopped. If it feels authentic, that’s because it is. Sometimes when people put a camera in front of their face, the patter of their speech becomes very newsy but vlogging should be more relaxed. It’s a video diary at the end of the day and political diaries have been inspiring people for decades. People like the personal. I would urge anybody struggling against capitalism to have a go!

Are you reading anything at the moment?

Last week I picked up a copy of Seeing things as they are: Selected journalism and other writings by George Orwell. Because I want to start writing again but the best parts are the poems he writes about death. It’s one of my favourite subjects.

Do you have a favourite novel?

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

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

Lots! My favourite would probably have to be The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky.

Who are your biggest intellectual influences?

Between the ages of about 17 and 20 I consumed a diet almost entirely of Marx, Engles, Lenin and Trotsky, so obviously that has had a big impact on the way I see the world. I’ve also been influenced not just in my nursing practice but also in how I approach politics by nursing academics like Susan Jo Roberts, whose work on lateral violence and oppressed group behavior have got me through many a night shift!

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

I had a fairly tough time as a teenager. I had some mental health problems, and my family and I didn’t always get on. I was homeless for a bit. Not everything influences you in a good way, but it made me resilient. I know what it is to be dirt poor. I think it’s given me a sense of perspective which means I’m someone who looks for the funny side even in the darkest circumstances. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much as the week me, my mum and her brother spent with my grandma on her death bed. It was a hoot! I try not to take myself too seriously. Some people have real problems.

How many political organisations have you been a member of?

Loads! I think the first one was Greenpeace when I was about 10 and I read a leaflet about deforestation in The Body Shop.

Is there anything you particularly enjoy about political activity?

For me, once the initial enthusiasm had worn off, activism had always been a means to an end. It’s easy to get burnt out, especially in the political period prior to Corbyn’s victory when the situation wasn’t that open. An incredibly conservative trade union bureaucracy stifled the confidence of workers to resist austerity. In the NHS the real value of our pay has fallen by 15% since 2010. This has been met with four hours of strike action. Things have changed now. Corbyn’s victory was based on him tapping into a mood that was always there under the surface, that there is an alternative to austerity. Maybe that’s why some in the trade union movement allegedly don’t like him! Either way he’s enthused hundreds of thousands.

Vlogging also gives my activism a new dimension, I feel like it’s more meaningful. Being able to reach a few hundred people with a vlog from a local picket line not only spreads the message but it builds relationships. People love it when I stick my phone in their face. Also the editing process forces me to work out what’s important. No one wants to see Junior Doctors faffing about trying to decide whether to allow more than 6 on a picket line. People do want to feel like their fight is our fight.

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

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect the re-populisation of socialist ideas to have anything to do with the Labour Party.

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

The other day I was making up a syringe of IV morphine and my line manager came up to me and asked me what a Trotskyist is.

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

Racism and bigotry are always bad. Also, this idea of “wiping the slate clean” as Corbyn puts it is bogus. The definition of madness is making the same mistake over and over again, expecting a different outcome. Purge the purgers or be purged yourself mate.

Do you have any political heroes?


How about villains?

Plenty! Although special mention to Jeremy Hunt who has literally no redeeming qualities, apart from making Patricia Hewitt look not so bad.

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

I would love to nationalise the banks. It would make me really happy. Whatever my sister manages to achieve, I’d always be the sibling who nationalised the banks.

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

Capitalism. Always capitalism.

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

Have a bit of humility. We all sit down for shit and no one gets out alive.

What is your favourite song?

I’m having a Fleetwood Mac revival. Such a millennial.

And what was the last film you saw?

I think it might’ve been Beauty and the Beast.

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

I have a lot friends from many different background and the one thing they all have in common is bravery.

What fault in others do you most dislike?

People who can’t acknowledge their own shortcomings and mistakes.

And any pet peeves?

The lift in my hospital is the bane of my fucking life.

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

Get regular smears, dickhead.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I like micro-pubs! They’re brilliant.

What is your most treasured possession?

Probably my phone. That’s bad isn’t it?

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Nah, I’m shameless.

What talent would you most like to have?

Genuinely wish I could sing but I’ve tried and it really is terrible.

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

I’d lose a stone. I know that’s really shallow but we’re all subject to bourgeois patriarchal conditioning when it comes to body norms.

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?

I’d pay off my mortgage and my mum and dad’s. I’d get my sister a place as well, her landlord sounds like an arse. I’d get some fancy vlogging equipment and have a couple of years travelling. The rest I’d set up a workers co-operative and build a shit ton of wind turbines with solar panels on top. I’d also get Spotify Premium.

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

Natalie from work, Lenin, and Stevie Nicks. I think Lenin would have a really boring night. Poor Lenin.

And lastly ... why are you a socialist?

I really can’t cope with injustice.