Richard Burgon on Arise Festival, Trump and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon

by The Editors / July 25, 2018

Photo: Scisco Media

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An interview with Richard Burgon MP: 'We need to be ready for a general election whenever it comes' 983 words / 4 min read

Ahead of ARISE: A Festival Festival of Labour’s Left Ideas, the NS quickly caught up with Richard Burgon MP …

NSHi Richard! How are you?

RBVery well indeed, thanks. I spent the weekend at the Durham Miners Gala and spoke at the Momentum conference there, and on Friday was at the protest in Trafalgar Square against Trump. It was a very busy weekend.

NSThanks for taking the time to speak to us! You’re one of the headline speakers for Arise festival on 27th and 28th July. Firstly, what is it?

RBArise festival is a festival of Labour’s left ideas. It aims to give members the opportunity to come together to discuss current issues, to talk about policy, about internationalism, about socialism, feminism, economics … these sorts of events help us all be part of an education process and workshop ideas, including the MPs that go. Especially the MPs that go. I learn a lot about what the membership wants from events like these.

NSIn terms of radical new policies that aren’t being talked about at the minute, and will hopefully be talked about at these conferences, which areas do you think need most looking at?

RBI think that the manifesto from the last election is the best Labour manifesto in living memory, but that shouldn’t be the end product. We need the manifesto at the next general election to go much farther. With each month that goes by, we announce new policies that have started to do that, such as legal aid, taking probation services back into public ownership … the reason events like Arise are so important is because we can’t build the sort of socialist movement we want if we’re only campaigning. Yes, campaigning is vital, but those campaigners also need the space to be able to reflect, think, discuss, and learn from each other’s experiences. A festival of left ideas is an important step in that process; we must provide that space.

NSPersonally, it was through these sorts of events that I got more involved in politics on a practical level. The World Transformed made politics not only a bit more accessible to me but more of a sociable thing …

RBOh definitely! It helps if there’s a social aspect. The three events I was at this weekend - the anti-Trump march, The Miners Gala (which I’ve attended every year for the last fifteen) and the Momentum conference yesterday - the most inspiring thing about them to me is that you meet so many people from different parts of the country who all believe in similar things, who are all working towards the same goals, who are all fighting the struggles ahead really. And getting together is, in part, where you learn about the political current from which Jeremy Corbyn and his ideas emerged. I mean, Jeremy didn’t just drop out of the sky two and a half years ago when he became leader. He was involved in things like Stop The War … he was a long-standing member of the sort of Bennite left in the PLP, involved in internationalist anti-war civil liberties campaigns … I think it’s really important that we all understand where Jeremy’s politics come from.

NSBut, at the same time, we have a lot of members who joined because of Jeremy who already come from those backgrounds. People who were already involved in politics but felt alienated from party political stuff for being too left and maybe don’t consider us left enough. Like Laura Pidcock has pointed out a few times, the manifesto, although great, really wasn’t all that radical. I know one area you’d like to see change in is prison reform…

RBWell, we want to change the way our prison system works. I’ve made repeatedly clear - and annoyed the government - that I’m not happy with the role the private sector plays in our justice system. It’s been Americanised with ‘super-prisons’ and I believe it’s morally wrong that those with vested interests are clearly most concerned with creating work for the private sector. There are lots of super-short sentences of three months or less handed out that aren’t in the public interest, but rehabilitation is. It helps individual offenders but it also helps protect working-class communities.

NSSpeaking of Americanisation, how do you think Trump’s visit went this week?

RBIt’s really inspiring to see a quarter of a million people in London - and, of course, tens of thousands across the UK elsewhere - speak out against Trump’s policies: his racist policies; his sexism; his policies that are against working-class people and their families. It’s really good to see people united on that basis. One of the problems with Theresa May rolling out the red carpet for Trump is that it helps bolster the emerging far-right in the UK. I think that should worry us all. Seeing the scenes over the weekend of the supporters of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - I won’t use the pseudonym he goes by to make himself sound more working class - on the rampage again … They’re emboldened by his [Trump’s] racist policies and racist language. We must not allow the working class to be divided. When it comes down to it, Trump is not a friend of the oppressed. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon isn’t a friend of the oppressed. All they do is help those at the top get off the hook.

NSDo you think we’re going to have a general election this year?

RBThe sooner the better, is what I say. We need to get rid of this government and we need to get Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. Those who represent the few not the many are determined to cling onto power; they won’t just hand it to us. We need to be ready for a general election whenever it comes.

ARISE: A Festival of Labour’s Left Ideas takes place on 27th and 28th July. Register at


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The New Socialist editorial collective.