Wigan MP Lisa Nandy is down to the final three in the Labour leadership race, alongside Salford’s Rebecca Long-Bailey and Sir Keir Starmer. She talks to our Political Correspondent Hannah Miller:
Lisa Nandy is clearly in her comfort zone at a community cafe in Wigan. She’s been serving people here as their MP for ten years, and even if she hasn’t quite mastered every option on the menu, she knows a laugh and a smile will get her through.
But she’s not just brought us here for a nice time. Fur Clemt (‘very hungry’, in Lancashire dialect) is a cafe Lisa Nandy visits often, she says, because it serves good quality, low-cost food aimed at everyone - young and old, rich and poor. The Wigan MP thinks public services should be like that too.
She grew up in Bury, her father an Indian Marxist academic and her mother a Granada TV producer. She went on to work as a councillor in London and with homeless people and refugees for charity. Elected to represent Wigan in 2010, she went on to serve as Shadow Energy Secretary under Jeremy Corbyn for nine months, before resigning to push for a change of leader. She has some praise for Jeremy Corbyn but it is not uncritical, saying the party leader had been right to push for a ‘break’ from the New Labour era, but failed to break from the the sense that Labour had become ‘deeply disconnected’ from people’s lives.
That diagnosis leads her to her key priority for the country - to get power out of Westminster. During the campaign clips of her talking about towns have been turned into memes - she cofounded the Centre For Towns, which aimed to promote the interest of towns at a time when much more research was going into cities. Lisa Nandy has been banging on about buses for much longer than Boris Johnson has been PM.
Her theory is that enabling local people to make decisions will bring about better high streets, better infrastructure, better jobs. That said, Lisa Nandy isn’t a huge fan of the existing system of metro mayors (except insofar as it provides something for Labour to point to in order to show what it can achieve in power in recent years). The Wigan MP clearly believes Labour activists are already doing great work in the community, and says the party would do better to shout louder about it.
Critics suggest that she’s only a fan of local communities when they come to the same decision as her. She denies that, saying people ‘are not always going to make the decisions that we want to see’ - in Wigan it’s fair to say voters didn’t give her the answer she wanted on Brexit. She sought a middle ground, and now says she was ready to vote for Theresa May’s ‘compromise’ deal, if only it had been brought to the House of Commons (it never was). It occurs to me that you could perhaps describe Lisa Nandy’s approach to these situations as going along the lines of ’we can work it out’ - she firmly believes that people are fundamentally tolerant and compassionate and will find a solution to any problem if they have a way of talking it through.
Lisa Nandy wrote in her local paper to launch her campaign, saying she wanted to ask permission of her constituents to stand in the race and promising to continue living in the town if she wins. Out and about in Wigan there is an enormous amount of goodwill towards her - the parking man checks whether she has got a ticket and then wishes her good luck. More than once people excitedly whispered ‘is that the MP?’, and not just when a camera was rolling - there’s a real sense that Lisa Nandy is their woman, ready to inject a bit more of Wigan into Westminster.
Right now campaigning may be taking her up and down the country, away from the town she calls home - but as one local charity worker puts it - ‘she’s backed us, so we’re backing her.’