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Luciana Berger: ‘This is my party, and my name on the ballot paper’

“The polls don’t look good, but my constituents want a strong voice for them in Parliament and that’s what I’ve sought to achieve over the last seven years.”

    Labour candidate Luciana Berger in Roseman's deli, Liverpool
    Labour candidate Luciana Berger in Roseman's deli, Liverpool

    By rights, Luciana Berger should still be on maternity leave. 

    But just nine weeks after the birth of her first child she is out on the campaign trail in the Liverpool Wavertree constituency.

    Baby Amélie has been dropped at grandma’s house and a challah, hastily purchased for Friday night dinner, is left on the back seat of her office head Noel Hutchinson’s car.

    An afternoon which, if it were not for Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election, would probably have been spent bonding further with her daughter is now cleared for political activity.

    “It’s fair to say this is not how I expected to be spending my maternity leave,” Ms Berger admits.

    “It’s a very difficult juggling act and I’ve relied on family to support me at this challenging moment when I did not expect to be running for election. But I’m focused on getting re-elected on June 8 — I don’t take anything for granted.”

    With a 24,300 majority to defend following her 2015 general election win, you could have forgiven Ms Berger for resting on her laurels. 

    But to witness the 36-year-old’s political drive first-hand is to realise that much of her popularity in Wavertree is derived from an ability to connect and listen to the concerns of the voters on her patch.We visit a local children’s centre in one of the most economically deprived wards in Britain. Staff openly praise her campaign to stop government cuts further impacting them.

    Then we stand outside a school to engage with parents, before attending a visually impaired cricket game at Wavertree Cricket Club. We also walk the leafy streets close to Childwall Synagogue, knocking on doors attempting to gauge how people intend to vote.

    For Ms Berger it is overwhelmingly positive news — constituents like and respect her. But towards her party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the response is decidedly more mixed.

    “When people vote on June 8 it is my name they see on the ballot paper,” says Ms Berger, when quizzed about the doubts voters have about Mr Corbyn.

    “I ultimately joined the Labour Party and became an MP because the country and my constituents deserve a Labour government. Anything less than a Labour win on June 8 is not good enough and indicative that we still have a lot to do. I didn’t join a party of protest.

    “The polls don’t look good, but my constituents want a strong voice for them in Parliament and that’s what I’ve sought to achieve over the last seven years.”

    If Ms Berger has admirably devoted herself to representing her local electorate, she has also never forgotten her Jewish roots, campaigning vigorously against antisemitism within Labour and further afield.

    As parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement she is unimpressed with criticism of two of the group’s leading figures standing as candidates against Conservative “friends of the community” in two London seats.

    “Take a step back,” pleads Ms Berger, in response to the suggestion the JLM is mispresenting overall Jewish opposition to Mr Corbyn.

    “This is my Labour Party. It is as much my party as it is anyone else’s. We need candidates from all different backgrounds and communities. I am not going to let anyone tell me, as some have done, that I shouldn’t be here.

    “I want my party to be what it always has been — a party of social justice, tolerance and equality.

    “That is why the work that the JLM will do for another 100 years is so vital.The JLM has been at the forefront of holding the party to account on issues around antisemitism. 

    “We must remember it is an issue, but it is a fringe issue. It is not endemic.”

    Ms Berger can also take credit for helping improve understanding of mental health care issues in the UK.

    She stood down as Mr Corbyn’s shadow mental health minister last June, citing her leader’s failure to unite the party, but remains president of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health.

    But Ms Berger is angry following the publication of the Conservative election manifesto, in which Theresa May pledged to make sure spending on mental health in the NHS matches spending on physical health. 

    “For the Prime Minister to mention ‘parity of esteem’ — it was a Labour amendment to the 2012 Health and Social Care Act that means parity of esteem is now enshrined in law.

    “On every level the Tories have failed because of the savage cuts they have dished out.”

    If Mr Corbyn does fail, I ask Ms Berger for her thoughts on the potential for a breakaway centrist party, if the hard-left leadership refuses to step down.

    “I don’t see that,” she says. “History tells us breakaway parties don’t work.

    “I grew up when Labour was in power and I was able to appreciate the values and the difference the government could make. I joined the party as a teenager and its values run deep though my veins.

    “I’ve never been an MP in government unfortunately and only know what it’s like to be in opposition. But I want Labour to be in a place where we can get elected. That means answering the questions the country now faces, particularly in the wake of Brexit.”

    What of her own political ambition? A female, Jewish Labour Party leader in the making? 

    “I’m just focused on getting re-elected on June 8,” she says with a determined smile.

    See all our Election 2017 coverage here

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