Tracy Brabin MP: 'You can vote me out, but I'm going to tell you what I really believe'

Tracy Brain in Cleckheaton. Picture by Simon Hulme.
Tracy Brain in Cleckheaton. Picture by Simon Hulme.

For someone who entered the Palace of Westminster to start their third career less than three years ago and who is “not part of the political machine”, Tracy Brabin MP seems to be getting pretty well stuck in.

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Labour and Co-operative’s member for Batley and Spen, 58, whizzes righteously through a host of issues during an interview at her Gomersal office.

And this weekend she is dashing between constituency events put on for the Great Get Together, an idea aimed at sowing harmony between communities and inspired by her predecessor, the murdered MP Jo Cox.

She resoundingly won the October 2016 by-election – a number of parties did not field a candidate as a mark of respect – and was re-elected in June 2017 with a majority of almost 9,000 votes.

Ms Brabin admits that the first the six months was mainly “listening to people crying”, but is clear that she should represent the constituency with energy and verve – and is not afraid for her own safety in public.

She said: “No. I can’t allow that. If I allow it then they’ve won. They wanted to shut down democracy. They wanted to, by killing Jo, shut down debate.

“Well no. I have to be the most fearless of everyone in that building. Because any chink of fear and that argument wins.

“Batley and Spen needed an MP. It was horrible what happened. This is my community, I’m from Birstall I campaigned with Jo, I felt it was as if this was where I was meant to be and having been a campaigner for decades around the miners, victims of torture – I worked for a number of years with Freedom from Torture – working with the Labour Party. I just feel everything has led to this moment and no-one’s going to make me afraid of doing this job to my absolute 100 per cent capacity, and to do it with love and joy and passion.

“Because if we fall into that fear and tribalism then I might as well just pack up and go home. We have got to come back with a different type of offer. You cut down one poppy and loads more spring up because we’re going to resist.”

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Yet fear and tribalism are arguably very apparent in British politics. And arguably their chief cause, Brexit, only appears to be creating a more toxic kind of discourse, she warns.

“Certainly Brexit has thrown up a very angry group of people, quite rightly, because for the first time in their lives they’ve voted and for the first time in their life they were a winner.

“And we are discounting that win. And they feel it’s being wrenched out of their hands.

“But it’s my job to explain that no deal, which is what a fair amount of my angry social media folk want, is not something that can be taken off the shelf that’s nice and packaged up, and that we just are not taking it and we are just passing it by.

“It is incredibly complicated and massively damaging and if you’ve got the CBI [Confederation of British Industry] and the unions together saying it’s going to be catastrophic, we have to listen.”

Her stance has started to shift towards supporting a confirmatory vote on leaving the European Union because negotiations are “such as mess”.

But some MPs will keep quiet about what they really think on such issues, she says, because they tried multiple times to get elected.

“I don’t feel that same pressure,” she said.

“You can vote me out. I’ll have to go back to acting if you don’t want me to represent you but I’m going to tell you what I really believe and from the heart because I’m not part of that political machine.”

Ms Brabin grew up in a council flat on the Howden Clough estate in Birstall, where her mother Betty still lives.

She was educated at Heckmondwike Grammar School, going on to study drama at Loughborough University and appeared in popular shows such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Eastenders, Holby City and a range of theatre work.

The MP has a masters degree in screenwriting and has contributed to shows such as Heartbeat and Shameless.

She is delighted about Channel 4 coming to Leeds later this year, providing opportunities for neighbouring constituencies such as her own.

But she is concerned about core political issues such as social care - indeed frustrated that “one of the biggest, most important issues of the time...has been parked” - welfare reform, austerity and under-funding in early years, for which she is a Shadow Minister.

She said: “We always have tissues here because we are all crying. It is so overwhelming, the stuff that some people have to live through, often no fault of their own.

"I swear to God: You get ill, your partner leaves you, you have a child with a disability and you have hospital appointments and you can’t afford the bus fare, and then you have to go and sign on and the bus route has changed so you have to walk there and you’ve got children in a buggy and one is poorly. Who would want to live that life?

“It is so important that MPs keep alerting the decision-makers and the lawmakers to the lived experience of people on the sharp end of these benefits.”

She is also is frustrated that Labour cannot get issues on the agenda because politics is mired in Brexit.

“We’ve got this weird zombie government at the moment. And I say, is this how it’s always been? I mean, what’s an ordinary MP like? What’s the day of an ordinary MP when you actually have got structure and there are bills coming through and there is legislation scrutinised?

“Unanimously the people who’ve been in the building for a long time [say] this is the weirdest time to be in politics, when the loudest voices are being heard, there’s no nuance, both parties are divided rather than just one, and you’re not quite sure what’s going on."