I am a baroness with (big) imposter syndrome

Taking my seat in the House of Lords last month felt surreal and wonderful in equal measure

January 05, 2023 12:11

This is a rather more personal column than I usually pen for the JC, but last month I had one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments: I took my seat in the House of Lords. It was a quite surreal experience that I am still struggling to absorb.

How could I, a working-class Jewish woman whose immigrant great-grandparents had fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe, now be Baroness Anderson? (Anderson because I am divorced and have used my elevation to turn a new page in both my private and public lives. I warned you this would be a personal piece!)

I thought of Nana and Papa, a cook and kosher butcher who settled in the East End, throughout that special day in December.

I don’t think either of them had ever visited the Houses of Parliament, let alone imagined that their only great-granddaughter would one day become an MP and then a Baroness.
Together with Mum, they instilled a compulsion to fight for social justice in me, but they never thought I’d take that battle to Parliament. And neither, frankly, did I.

Meanwhile, for my Mum and the rest of the family the day brought unimaginable kvelling. They would have been incredibly proud of my elevation whatever its context, of course, but the truth is the past seven years have been an emotional rollercoaster.

During that time I went from the joy of being elected to represent my adopted city of Stoke-on-Trent, to experiencing the terror of abuse and even death threats from some in the Corbyn brigade, followed by the humiliation of losing my seat on national television. There have, it hardly needs stating, been easier rides.

But Labour is in my blood. I began delivering party leaflets when I was eight and started canvassing when I was 12. So although I was completely devastated at how antisemitism flourished in Corbyn’s Labour, I now feel utter relief at how Keir Starmer has done everything within his power to expunge it.

Racists have been expelled, the rulebook rewritten and the overall culture slowly changed, one local party at a time. It is no understatement to say Keir has made the Labour Party safe for Jews again.

As Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner put it last month at Jewish Labour Movement’s Chanukah lighting: “I believe it is now time to say the Labour Party is the natural place for Jews.”

So although I suffered not a little imposter syndrome last month, it was absolutely dwarfed by the utter pride I felt at joining Parliament’s second chamber: proud that Keir nominated me, proud to serve him, my party and our country on the red benches.

And here’s the thing. During my first few weeks, every single expectation I had of the upper chamber has been challenged.

The calibre of debate here is extraordinary, the kindness and generosity of members, regardless of their political affiliation, palpable, and the support I receive from parliamentary staff really quite exceptional.

I’ve spent many hours simply listening to my learned colleagues, while I try to absorb the ebb and flow of life in the chamber.

I have heard Lord Dubs and the Archbishop of Canterbury challenge the government on the asylum system, Lord Winston tackle the Genetic Technology Bill, and Lord Hall discuss the future of the BBC.

This is a debating chamber of experts, of people who are determined to make legislation work for those they serve. And it is such an honour to join their ranks.

Immigrant families like mine want to give back to a country that gave them refuge.

In 1914 this newspaper reminded readers that Britain had been all she could to the 140,000-plus Jewish refugees who had reached our shores, my great grandparents among them.

It was therefore, said the JC, our duty to be all we could to Britain by enlisting and serving her.

I will seek to do this every day in Parliament.

January 05, 2023 12:11

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