A: I’ve read that you were once a staunch Labour supporter—
J: Oh, well that’s what happens when you grow up in a family that is [chuckles]. Everyone’s allowed to be stupid once, I always say!
A: On Labour, you once said that it’s a group of people “who think that policy papers can change the world”—
J: They do. Actions speak louder than words.
A: How would you characterise the difference?
J: They think that having a strategy paper […] followed by a work plan paper, followed by a consultation document should take up about three years of government and then they can say that they’ve done something. […] It’s a bit like those people who say things like ‘one day I’m going to run a marathon’, and then never actually put their running shoes on to go and start. I guess I’m someone who feels very aware, Asher, that I have a certain amount of time on earth, I have a certain amount of time and I don’t believe I get to come back here to earth, so—not a buddhist. […] And I am absolutely aware that every single minute has to count.
I think you could apply that to the health system. Labour had dozens of strategies, goals, targets and objectives. Tony Ryall came in and set six or seven clear national goals for the health sector, and we’ve seen some real tangible and important improvements.
A: How does your gender affect you media portrayal?
J: Well, there’s no point moaning about it, because you won’t get anywhere with it, but women politicians are quite clearly judged on an extra set of characteristics than our male counterparts. Our clothes are criticised, or sometimes ever MARKED. Hair, weight, age; all these things are up for grabs, and to the extent that our male colleagues don’t get the same sort of scrutiny. However, that is also an opportunity for us to actually show ourselves as different from what is the norm, and so every difficulty or every problem is actually an opportunity.
A: You’ve said before that you’re “pro-women” rather than describing yourself as a feminist.
J: I’ve never had a problem with saying that I am actually someone who is pro-women, and the trouble with the label feminist, is that it’s used in a derogatory way by many. It’s also used [in] a celebratory way by many. […] Far too often—and not just in Parliament, in business and particularly around boards—we have far too few women. Or the women that some of the men feel comfortable with are the women who play supportive roles. Well… I’m not a supportive role player. Unless it’s part of the team—I’m very happy to be part of the team. But I’m not a handmaiden. And I think that some men, who feel threatened by that, that that’s a bit of a shame, because they hold back the best people, and they spend their time worrying about someone being threatening.