Rising through the ranks with a progressive agenda

25 September 2015

Much has been written on the composition of the new Labour Leader’s frontbench team, particularly the ratio of men to women, and appointments to the most senior positions within HM Opposition.

Yet those who eagerly watched a series of confident, forthright and markedly left-wing Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidates enter the House of Commons in May 2015, may not be so surprised by their presence on the newly formed front bench.

Many of these individuals nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership ballot , including Clive Lewis, Catherine West, Richard Burgon, Sir Keir Starmer and Rachael Maskell.

Before the election issued Labour with a crushing defeat, an imminent battle for leadership, and directed the party towards unchartered territory, DeHavilland conducted in-depth interview with Rachael Maskell to digest her plans for Parliament, if elected.

In fact, the former care worker, trade union official, and new MP for York Central has just celebrated her first week as Shadow Defence Minister. Having risen quickly through the ranks, Ms Maskell told us that she would enter Parliament with a “strong mind” and markedly “progressive agenda”.

“We need ordinary voices heard in Westminster”, Ms Maskell declared, and just before the election, she revealed that she had “been working closely with [Shadow Health Secretary] Andy Burnham on the future of the Health Service”. This is certainly experience and knowledge that stood to inform her position as a newly-elected member of the Health Committee.

However, with the reshuffle and allocation of front bench positions, Ms Maskell was been appointed to Maria Eagle’s Shadow Defence team.

Whilst the appointment does little to reflect her background in health and trade unionism, Ms Maskell made it clear that she was “someone with loads of ideas” and was eager to “see them tried and tested”.

In fact, prior to her appointment as Shadow Defence Minsiter, Ms Maskell backed an SNP-led Early Day Motion (EDM) to urge the Government to "ensure that any decision on Trident replacement was subject to a vote on the floor of the house".

Indeed, as Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour Conference delegates are to vote on party policy on Trident renewal, a considered move to reconnect members directly with policy formation, it chimes with the type of approach to politics Ms Maskell was keen to promote.

She explained that she felt politics was based on activism and engagement, emphasising that the importance of helping voters find their “voice” – certainly a wider reflection of Mr Corbyn’s electoral rhetoric, so centred on unity and engagement.

“We need to go back the principles of servanthood in politics. We need to look at how we devolve power and resources for MPs to bring real changes to their constituency”, she said.

Perhaps her innovative approach will quickly extend far beyond her position within the Shadow Defence team.

With the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-16 expected to come before Parliament in the next few months and Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement that Labour will oppose Government proposals, Ms Maskell is likely to be a vocal face of dissent.

In our interview, she readily communicated the struggles of her constituents and what she saw as the failure of the system to address claimants as individuals and meaningfully reengage with society.    

“We should build the infrastructure to help them. The welfare system should neither be a net nor a punitive tool”, Ms Maskell emphasised.

As Labour conference descends on Brighton this weekend, Ms Maskell is an exciting new MP who should be closely observed – and will certainly deserve of a glass of wine if you catch her in the hotel bar, as she plans to travel the route from London to Brighton by bike. 

Jasmine Mitchell
Jasmine Mitchell
Political Analyst

Jasmine Mitchell is a Political Analyst at DeHavilland, where she monitors the UK Parliament and devolved institutions. She first joined DeHavilland as a Research Assistant in January 2015. Jasmine holds a BA in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool and a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from King's College London.