17 From '17: Layla Moran On Her 'Anarchism' And The Demise Of British Politics
The 2017 General Election saw 92 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, HuffPost UK is speaking to new MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, SNP and Lib Dems. This week, it’s Oxford West and Abingdon’s Layla Moran.
Layla Moran, a teacher by trade, is on a mission to try and change education policy in the country. The Lib Dem, who recaptured the seat from the Conservatives at the snap election, speaks about inequality, Brexit and the “anarchism” of Radiohead that sticks with her.
Where were you born and raised?
This is one of my least favourite questions because it’s such a complicated answer.
My mum is Palestinian and my dad is British but worked all his life from the European Union for their Foreign Action Service. So I was born in Hammersmith but moved away when I was one. That’s when dad joined the European Commission. Then when I was five we went to Ethiopia. This is the late 1980s during the famine. Then we went to Greece. My mum’s parents, they were from Jerusalem, a diaspora family, and ended up going via Jorden to Athens. We went to Athens because my mum was pregnant with twins. We were there for a year. Then back to Brussels. Then to Jamaica. Then to Jorden.
Meanwhile I went to boarding school in Britain because in Jamaica the school was so awful. I was bulled because I was white. I was the only one in the family who ended up going to boarding school because we had no other option at that point.
What did you want to be when you were 16?
I was really super into science an not at all in to politics. I think it was a reaction against the fact my dad was a diplomat. I wanted to do something that was totally different. I fell in love with science.
When did you first become interested in politics?
I did a Masters degree in comparative education in 2007. That’s what really politicised me. I got very angry about the fact that having a had a background in countries that are genuinely poor, why in this country do we still have this level of educational inequality? It is still not acceptable that anyone in this country is ever left behind, educationally speaking. I got genuinely angry about hat. There are well meaning politicians in countries that have nothing that frankly have a better track record of dealing with this than our country, a G7 country.
I could see how evidence was being twisted by the government to deliver ideological aims. At the time the big thing was free schools and academies. I was studying how academies had been rolled out in Sweden and the negative impact at that moment in time on their education system. The government was still rolling it out.
Who is your political hero?
I know it sounds trite to say it, but it’s probably why partly I’m a Lib Dem, Shirley Williams. I respect her intellect. As a young female politician you look around and you think who am I going to look to. And Shirley is someone who somehow marries two really tough things for politicians. She has a steely intellect and determination to get things done, but also is very warm and very human.
You could say the first point about Thatcher. But Shirley has an ability to show her humanity. I wear my heart on my sleeve quite often. I don’t know if this is my Arabness or not, but I bring emotion to the table. I was looking for politicians who did that, who were female, and who really shook the world. I think Shirley Williams is one of them.
Something I have now appreciated is how un-tribal she was. She had the strength of character to do what she did with the SDP and lead the Liberals and lead us to where my party is now I think she will be remembered, and already is, as one of the great politicians of the last generation. I look to her. She is my benchmark. So I’ve got to make at least education secretary.
Who is your favourite politician from another party?
I have been inspired by the way that Ken Clarke has navigated parliament. I am actively looking across the House for people I really respect and warm to and can learn things from. I think it’s not just because he is the father of the House. It’s also the way he is speaking up for, in my view, the national interest over Brexit - despite coming under massive fire from not just his party but also the media.
He does it such a way that is so logical and with such oratory. I feel so privileged to be here at a time to see someone like that in action. I have huge admiration for the work he is doing now.
What did you do before becoming an MP?
When I finished my degree I became a physics and maths teacher. And worked in the international school in Brussels, because like many kids, after University I went home going ‘ahhh I don’t know what to do’. I happened to fall upon a job there because they were desperate for a physics teacher which is a common theme among many schools. That’s when I fell in love with the teaching profession.
I did that for three or four years. Then I came back to England and worked in state schools in West London for a while. I got my PGCE, which is the wrong way round of doing it, but it worked in the context of a very good school in Brussels they were very much able to support me.
If you could run any government department, which would it be?
Education, education, education. I would have so much to get on with. I think is going to be a life’s work.
As far as I am concerned I have two jobs here. One is to be the best possible constituency MP I can possibly be, because I believe in democracy and what it stands for. I love local politics and I love pot holes, the stuff that people get really irate about. It matters to people. It is a good thing for democracy to have local representatives who care about stuff like that.
But then on the other hand, my other aim is I think education and the importance of education and education that is genuinely focused on the child, not the voter who are the parents, not the teachers who are also voters, but actually the child. A lot of people pay lip service to that, but don’t enact it in policy.
What is the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could?
I think we need to take the services that really matter, like education and the NHS, we need long term cross-party agreement about the direction of travel. And to have arms-length bodies informed by people on the ground about what is happening with evidence based approaches that doesn’t discount evidence that doesn’t fit ideological aims.
It’s a bit like climate change really, you will always find one or two bits of evidence that support the other side, the vast majority of evidence in education points to the fact that if you focus on parental choice, if you do things like league tables, then it’s much easier for middle class and upper middle class parents to play. All you are doing is creating a system that is rife for parents to do what they do naturally, which is do the best thing by their kids, but it increases education inequality.
Ten years down the line from when I started this rant it’s only got worse. I am delighted to be here has education spokesperson. I feel a bit like a I’m a lone voice sometimes, but that’s fine.
What was the last book you read?
I can tell you I book I recently started but haven’t quite finished reading, which is Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. Which is really about the trade routes that opened up in all parts of the world, particularly Asia and how it swept through the Middle East.
It gives you a really interesting perspective on the world. We spend a lot of our time in Westminster feeling like Britain is the centre of the world. And I have really appreciated how that book sings a different tune to the one we are often sold in this place. At the time Western Europe was not even on the map and these other great powers were at play. And from history you can learn. Every civilization has its day. And every civilization will eventually come to its end. You need to be very mindful of that at this moment, when you are in the middle what looks to me the demise of current British politics. Sorry that’s not very light is it.
Who is your favourite band/artist?
I have several. I am a big fan of swing bands and Ella Fitzgerald. I fee it speaks to me. I love her so much. I took up swing dancing off the back of that.
But the band that maybe formed me as a teenager is Radiohead. Radiohead are just the most amazing band in the world for me. Now Thom York is one of my constituents but I have yet to meet him. I have to say I have yet to meet him. He is probably quite rightly wary of politicians. I would probably just gush and embarrass myself.
Radiohead was a huge influence on me when I was growing up. I wonder sometimes how much influence the politics in their music has had on me now. I know I don’t look very anarchic - but there is a small part of me that still carries that anarchism from Radiohead songs in me.
What’s your favourite film?
I’ve got a confession. I’m a big Disney freak. I love Disney movies. If I had to pick a favourite film it would probably Sleeping Beauty, but the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. Is that going in print? Oh dear God.
Which three words would your best friend use to describe you?
That’s pretty tricky. I think my best friend would call me, ‘loyal’, ‘extrovert’ and ‘fun’. I’d hope. Are ‘extrovert’ and ‘fun’ the same thing? Can I have that?