Marcus Papadopoulos
Chief Executive of Leonard Cheshire

Justice is in Labour’s DNA

Gloria De Piero, Shadow Justice Minister, tells Marcus Papadopoulos what she will be pressurising the Government on and how Labour should reconnect with its core voters

At this June’s snap General Election, Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party confounded the critics by gaining 30 seats and depriving the Conservative Government of a majority. The result of the election was as much a surprise to the Tories as it was to many within Labour itself.
So what a difference one year makes in politics. Because this time last year, Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party were riding high in the polls and were brimming with confidence. But today, following the election result, the Tory leader and her party are clinging to power and have descended into disarray.
Conversely, the turnaround in Labour’s fortunes, over the last year, has been remarkable. Whereas this time last year Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Cabinet were derided by the Conservatives and others as totally unelectable, today, Labour, under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, appears to be on the threshold of power.
But despite Labour’s successful transition, the party still has considerable challenges. At the election, Labour lost some seats to the Conservatives in areas which are traditionally Labour-voting, such as Mansfield which, prior to this June, had never been Conservative before. Reconnecting with traditional Labour voters will be crucial to Labour if it is to form the next government.
One Labour MP who is well aware of the necessity for Labour to listen attentively to its traditional core supporters is Gloria De Piero.
Gloria, who was born and brought up in northern England, represents the constituency of Ashfield, a traditional Labour area which saw the highest Conservative surge in the country at the election this June.
By being a northerner, and having an intimate knowledge and understanding of the views and needs of her constituents, together with her strong emphatic skills, Gloria is calling on Labour’s leadership to ensure that the next Labour manifesto fully takes into account Britain’s white working-class.
Now that Gloria is back on the shadow front bench, serving in the capacity of Shadow Justice Minister, she will be playing an important role in trying to win back the seats in the north of England which were lost to the Conservatives.
In this exclusive interview, Gloria talks about why she accepted the position as shadow justice minister, how she is approaching the matter of legal aid and what her view was of Labour’s general election campaign.

Justice is in Labour’s DNA

Q. How are you finding being back on the shadow front bench?
A. Whilst I do not come from a legal background, I have found that by immersing myself in matters relating to justice, I have been able to achieve some tangible results, which I would like to talk about later on in this interview. Now, regarding why justice is so important for the Labour Party, this is because crime affects our constituencies the most. In the bottom five per cent of the most deprived areas of England, 16.5 per cent of adults living there are victims of crime. That statistic can be contrasted with the least deprived areas, in which 11.6 per cent of adults are victims of crime. So crime and justice are very much Labour issues because they affect our constituents the most. I see that reality in my own constituency, where people are very concerned about police cuts and anti-social behaviour – matters which, it must be said, have completely disappeared off the radar of the Government.

Q. What made you accept the position of Shadow Justice Minister?
A. At this moment in time, I believe that there is a very real possibility that Labour could form the next government, though I am, by no means, complacent. It is fair to say that we did much better in the election than what most people had expected. That said however, it is vital that areas in which we lost in or where there was a swing away from Labour, such as in my constituency, which saw the biggest Conservative surge throughout the country at the election, is accounted for and that ordinary peoples’ voices are heard on the shadow front bench. I have never been one of those MPs who tells their constituents what to think; rather, I relay to the Labour front bench what people in my constituency want to see happen.
We did incredibly well at the election in cities, in areas with high ethnic diversity and in areas with many university graduates. However, in constituencies such as mine, the Tories massively outperformed Labour. And crime and justice came up time and again on the doorstep when I was out campaigning. So in order for Labour to come to power, we must win back those voters by listening to what their views are on crime and justice. And that is why I took the job of shadow justice minister because I believe that I am very well-placed to understand what it is that our lost voters want from Labour. We cannot rely just on cities – and nor should we. Some people who did not vote Labour in my constituency are lifelong Labour voters – they constitute our core support hence we must regain their trust.

Q. Legal aid and access to justice are your key remits. Can you elaborate on those areas.
A. Both legal aid and access to justice are major areas for Labour, and both were covered by our slogan at the election, “for the many, not the few”. Sadly, in today’s Britain, access to justice is available to people who have money, and this has been accentuated by the Government’s changes to eligibility for legal aid. However, the cruellest aspect to the cuts to legal aid concerns victims of domestic violence. Back in 2016, the High Court ruled that the government’s changes to legal aid for victims of domestic abuse were unlawful, and nine months ago

“We will approach legal aid with Labour principles, ensuring that costs cannot be a barrier to justice”

the government told the House of Commons that changes will be made to comply with the court’s ruling. However, we are still waiting for those changes to be introduced. As I recently said from the dispatch box to the Minister, women who are victims of domestic violence have been waiting since 2016 for justice. Indeed, a constituent of mine, who is now 32 years of age, visited my surgery and told me that when she was 18 years old she was in a mentally and physically abusive relationship and is only now able to discuss her heartbreaking and horrific experiences. But sadly, and at the present time, she would have no chance of obtaining legal aid if she wanted to pursue a case because of the Government’s time-limits on evidence. As the High Court ruled, there should not be time limits for victims of domestic abuse applying for legal aid, and nor should a person have to prove that they were victims of domestic abuse. So I am rigorously challenging the Tories for having introduced changes to legal aid that are terribly unjust and cruel.

Q. How would a Labour Government approach legal aid?
A. We will approach legal aid with Labour principles, ensuring that costs cannot be a barrier to justice. Everyone should have the right to justice, just like education and health; it is a basic principle of a decent society.

Q. Concerning this June’s general election, what was your appraisal of the Labour campaign?
A. We exceeded expectations and deprived the Tories of a majority. The Conservative Party is in a terrible mess now, and the Tories show no signs of knowing how to overcome the tremendous demographical challenge that they are facing, in which if you are under 45 years of age, you are unlikely to vote Conservative. Furthermore, unlike our excellent manifesto, the Tory manifesto was disastrous.
Now, that said, I believe Labour still needs to do more in listening to white working-class people. It is simply unacceptable that 80 per cent of young people in my constituency do not go to university – and this must change. Assuring higher education for young people in constituencies like mine is much more important than solely talking about scrapping tuition fees. It is further education that will change the lives of my constituents for the better.
We need to shout louder about the things that will affect my constituency and constituencies like mine. Whilst my constituents welcomed our manifesto commitment to renationalising the trains, most of them are more concerned about buses because this is their main mode of transport. People in my constituency cannot travel from one side of the constituency to the other after 5pm because the bus service is so restricted – there are hardly any buses in the evening. Further to that, on a Sunday, in some areas, there are no buses at all, which deprives people of working and leisurely activities. So Labour’s message must be as relevant to constituencies like mine as they are to cities.

Q Finally, do you have any Christmas wishes of the Government?
A. The Government has promised that women who have been victims of domestic abuse will not be denied legal aid because of evidence requirements. I hope the Conservatives will stay true to their word and deliver justice to these women in time for Christmas.