17 From ’17: Labour’s Sarah Jones On How She Refused To Be Demonised As A Teenage Mum

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 Labour’s Sarah  Jones, from Croydon Central.

Sarah Jones provided Labour with one of its most high-profile victories of the June election campaign, unseating housing minister Gavin Barwell. 

The mum-of-four had fought the constituency – one of the most marginal in the country – for Ed Miliband in 2015, losing by just 165 votes.  So how did it feel to finally taste victory?

“Amazing.  It was so good.  I think when you’ve gone head-to-head against someone before, it’s a bit personal,” she said.

Jones’s fighting spirit has steered much of her political journey – she has wanted to enter Parliament since she was a teenager and has overcome her fair share of adversity along the way.

She now leads an all-party Parliamentary group tackling knife crime and is harbouring hopes of one day being able to tempt Stormzy into the Palace of Westminster.

Here’s her 17 from ’17:

Where were you born and raised?

Croydon.  I’ve been there all my life and never moved out.

What did you want to be when you were 16?

When I was 16 I would have just done my GCSEs, and I think I wanted to be an MP by that point, at some point.  I wanted to be in politics in some way.

When did you first become interested in politics?

I was always kind of ‘left’ because my mum was a teacher, and I was always interested in politics at school, but the trigger for me was when I was in my first year of university – so I was 19 – and I got pregnant, which was quite a shock.  It was not in my plan.  I wasn’t with the father and I was facing having a child at a young age. 

That autumn it was Tory party conference – the famous time when Peter Lilley, who was the secretary of state for social security, made a speech where he sang a song from the Mikado, called I Have A Little List.

And it was basically a list of people he wanted to get rid of, and back in the day teenage mums were the number one hate figures, who got the blame for everything – them and bogus asylum seekers. 

And he sang: “I’ve got a little list, of ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue, they will not be missed, they will not be missed.”

And everyone was laughing in the hall, John Redwood and all of them – you can see in the clip – and that is what really triggered it for me.  I had always been interested in politics but I don’t think I would have actually been brave enough to do something about it if I hadn’t have been in that situation.

I was thinking: “I’ve got something to contribute, and you think I haven’t and you think I’m a problem.”

Who is your political hero?

That’s easy – Mo Mowlam.  When I’d had Joseph [her son] and I was at university, I wrote to all the Labour MPs asking if they had any work, and Mo’s office got in touch.

I nearly didn’t get the job, because my nanna took the call when I was out.  I came back and she said: “Somebody called…Mo?…just called,” and she hadn’t written it down.

Former Labour cabinet minister Mo Mowlam

So I got a job with her for two years, when she was shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland and she was just unbelievably amazing.  She was quite hard to work for because she expected so much of herself and put in so much effort, and obviously she wanted everyone else to do the same.  But she was amazing, and she was normal as well.

She did so much stuff behind the scenes for Northern Ireland, when relationships were being built, and loads of other stuff about getting the youth vote out, women, things like that.

She was the kind of person where, when I did a visit with her to a Post Office and there was a line of bosses standing waiting to meet her, she went to speak to some of the staff first.  She wasn’t making a point or being rude, she was just nice and wanted to talk to everyone.

Who is your favourite politician from another party?

It’s difficult, but Heidi Allen has popped into my head after I watched her speech about Universal Credit.  That was very moving, and she is brave to speak out against what she thinks her own side are doing wrong.  There are a few good MPs from the other side who I don’t know very well yet, but I have set up and all-party group on knife crime, and there are people like Will Quince who have joined, done some really good things and are terribly nice. 

Tory stalwart Ken Clarke

Of the big beasts, I think Ken Clarke is very impressive and I think if I had to pick one it would be him.  I actually went up to him the other day and told him he’d done a great speech and he looked at me like: “I don’t know who you are.”  I had a real fan moment. 

What did you do before you were an MP?

I worked for 25 years in lots of different jobs – most of them campaigning and communications.  I was a senior civil servant on the Olympics, running government communications.  I ran campaigns at Shelter, I ran campaigns in the health service, I worked for the Gatwick Airport expansion campaign.  I’ve done lots of different things, but most of them in and around the political world. 

If you could run any government department, what would it be?

I was at DCMS [Department for Culture, Media and Sport] when I was a civil servant and that was fun, but now I am on the Home Affairs select committee and that absolutely fascinates me.  It has the gnarliest problems – prisons and immigration – so probably the Home Office.

What was the last book you read?

I’m reading one at the moment called Prisoners of Geography – which is about how geography defines politics.  It’s amazing – it just helps you look at and understand things in a completely different way.  

Who is your favourite band or artist?

Well, the corny answer is Stormzy because he’s from Croydon, and because I am doing a lot of stuff on knife crime and he was in a gang and has gone on to do amazing things.  I’ve written to him to ask if he will come to our all-party group, because he really does understand the issues.  I quoted him once in Parliament and got about a million shares.

Stormzy on stage at the MTV Music Awards in London

I can’t say who my actual favourite it.  It’s too uncool.  But the last gig I went to was Metronomy and that was good.

What is your favourite film?

Beauty And The Beast, because I used to watch it endlessly with my son when he was little.  As soon as you start playing the music, I’ll cry. 

One thing you would change about politics if you could?

If people lie in Parliament, something should happen.  I was talking earlier with one of my mum’s friends, and she was saying we used to bring our children up not to lie, and tell them we didn’t mind if they’d done something wrong, but not to lie about it.

And now we have a situation where politics is lurching from one major development to another, from Trump, to Brexit – and from what I’ve seen so far in Parliament, I feel like people should be held more accountable for their actions.

What three words would your friends use to describe you?

Oh my God, this is like a job interview!  I’ll have to ask them…

(After a brief WhatsApp shout-out request)…

Honest. Determined. Croydonite.  That’s nice, isn’t it?