'Embarrassing’ for Labour to have never had a female leader: Stephen Bush

Image credit: Cambridge Universities Labour Club

The first thing that struck me about political journalist Stephen Bush was quite how tall he is, seated as he was somewhat precariously on an occasionally creaking table at the front of a sizable crowd. Perhaps it is because I am most familiar with him from his articles and the weekly New Statesman Podcast he presents alongside colleague Helen Lewis, neither of which (obviously) do justice to the physical presence of Bush in the flesh. This was due to his body language as much as his height; he was a physically expressive speaker, constantly gesturing and swinging his legs off the table, giving the impression that he had a huge amount to say but not enough time to say it all.

That was perhaps the second thing that Bush’s talk, organised by the Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC), impressed upon me; he really can talk about politics. Without any notes or any indication that he had particularly planned what he was going to say, Bush went over topics from Brexit to the surprise of Labour’s performance in the 2017 General Election to the machinations going on inside the Conservative party, in what could only be described as a highly intelligent ramble. As a professional political journalist who must live and breathe politics, its perhaps not surprising that Bush is so well-informed. However, I was left with the distinct impression that if, possibly in some kind of world-record attempt for longest continuous monologue on contemporary British politics, Bush had been instructed to speak indefinitely, we could have been there for many hours.

It is a credit to Bush that his talk was both informative and entertaining, with most of his particularly funny one-liners reserved for expressing his exasperation at the failure of Conservative politicians and his fellow journalists to have actually read and understood the Article 50 Bill and Fixed Term Parliaments Act, and in fact at the general internal mess the Conservative party has found itself in. Bush spoke eloquently when questioned by an audience member on the generational ‘culture war’ currently being waged in the British media, arguing in favour of the principle of no-platforming by pointing out that ‘if someone comes into my house and is rude to me and my partner, I have the right to ask them to leave’.  He argued that since a university is a home to students as well as a place of study, they have similar rights over who they want to be invited to speak.

After his talk, I asked Bush what a typical day in his working life entailed. His answer somewhat accounted for his encyclopaedic knowledge of current affairs. On waking up, he explained, ‘I read all the British papers, the websites of the Washington Post, All Africa and Japan Today, until I feel like I have a good grasp of what is happening in the world’. He then condenses ‘what is happening in the world’ into his morning email for the New Statesman, The Staggers Morning Call, which he aims to send out between 09:30-10:00am. ‘Then I get up and get dressed’, he continues, so for those of you who receive the Morning Call, bear in mind Bush writes it in bed in his pyjamas next time you read it. The rest of the day Bush usually spends at Westminster, and he describes his ‘unscientific’ method of finding stories as mainly ‘wandering around meeting different people and seeing what’s going on’. I asked Bush if he thought forms of journalism such as his Morning Call, that were concise and convenient, as well as Twitter on which he is prolific, were the future for political journalists. He suggested that they had become increasingly more so recently, with more or less all political journalists now on Twitter.   It is ‘part of the landscape’ and the ‘first way of talking to people’, despite the resistance of some.

With my last question, I decided to return to high politics, asking Bush for his take on who the next Labour leader would be. He replied that he thought Corbyn would remain leader until the next General Election, scheduled for 2022, but that eventually Emily Thornberry or Angela Rayner would likely be a candidate. He suggested that as it was ‘embarrassing’ for Labour to have never had a female leader, he thought it likely that the next leadership election would be an ‘all-women shortlist’ with only women on the ballot. This genuinely thought-provoking and interesting answer to what was a pretty simple question once again demonstrates why Bush is such a highly-regarded journalist, despite his relative youth. Growing up mixed-race in a single parent family, Bush has had to overcome considerable discrimination and institutional disadvantages to get to where he is today. Hearing him speak and interviewing him only reaffirmed the admiration I already had for his writing. Hopefully he will continue to be on hand to interpret the political events of many parliaments to come.  

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