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Q&A with British Parliamentarian Lilian Greenwood

Q&A with British Parliamentarian Lilian Greenwood

Lilian Greenwood is a British Labour Party MP for Nottingham South since the May 2010 general elections and is currently Assistant Whip for her party as well as a member of the House of Common’s Transport Select Committee. Lilian worked at a public sector trade union for 17 years prior to 2010. As MP, Lilian works closely with the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and with Yvette Cooper MP on issues relating to Women and Equalities. Lilian has a record of successful campaigning on a range of issues such as increased funding for the National Health Service and workers’ rights.  

She talks to Blue Chip about the parallels that exist between the two seemingly different democracies, and highlights the similar struggles regarding peace, security and economic issues that face both the countries.

How has your trip been so far and what has been your impression of Pakistan?

Lilian Greenwood: I was visiting a school this morning and the children there asked me a similar question: What is your first impression of Pakistan? I said you are the first impression I have of Pakistan. I find the people here incredibly welcoming, very warm and quite interested in what a British Parliamentarian is doing in the country. During my visit to a university here I was talking to the women there and discussing with them how women can be more active in politics and determining their level of interest in politics. I find Pakistan to be culturally diverse and quite different from the UK, however the atmosphere is quite simulating.

Have you seen any similarity between your parliamentary tradition and the one in Pakistan? Since UK is a sustained democracy and Pakistan has had a checkered and difficult experience with democracy, do you still feel there are parallels?

LG: I come from a very old democracy and in some ways Pakistan is a newer democracy since it has had periods of military rule, so that is where the difference lies. But, some of the issues we are struggling with are the same; like in Pakistan you have a coalition government. UK does not have the tradition of a lot of coalition governments but a coalition government is operational at the moment, so that is a similarity. I’m looking forward to working with the young parliamentarians here in Pakistan. A new set of parliamentarians has come in since 2008; obviously in UK we have a big increase in new parliamentarians as there was a big turn over in the last general elections. Therefore, there are some similarities as we too are struggling to find our voices and young parliamentarians in the UK are also challenging ways of doing things. So there are a few things that are common between the two democracies.

Just the experience of being in a different country and seeing how differently other people operate and the challenges they face can throw light on your own experiences. A female student at the university I visited earlier asked me that she felt that women who were involved in politics in Pakistan came from a very narrow range of people. She wanted to know how could they get more ordinary women involved in politics? Despite the different traditions and background the issues facing the two countries are quite similar. Particularly in the Labour party people come from quite a narrow range of jobs and background. They are all highly educated and all of them  tend to work in Westminster village. Therefore, how do we get ordinary voices heard within the parliament? So it’s quite interesting that the two democracies can be so parallel, even though they come from different places.

Did you find similarities in the expectations and demands that we place on our MPs, the role have play in upholding your duties and delivering to your constituencies?

LG: Since I haven’t met the National Assembly members yet, I haven’t had the opportunity to explore that. But, I’m looking forward to meeting them and working with them. I’m looking to explore what pressures they face here and probe through the similarities and differences to the ones faced in the UK.

What are your views on the challenges young MPs face in the parliament?

LG: As a young parliamentarian it is a challenge to balance the fact that you recognise that you’re young and new to the system with having the right voice and opinion that should be taken seriously. I think that is always a challenge and creates tension within the parliament. I’ve always felt it because when I first came into parliament there were some people who had been there a long time and they were of the opinion that you have got to serve a certain amount of time and to achieve a certain age before you have the right to be heard. And I believe that is going to be an issue for young parliamentarians here as well, learning the job but at the same time wanting to get heard and wanting to make a positive difference to the way the country is organised. One of the things that is very encouraging is the very fact that they’ve set up this programme involving the British Council in Pakistan and the Westminster foundation for democracy. There are obviously young parliamentarians here in Pakistan that recognise the things that they need in order for them to come forward effectively and organising themselves to make the changes they wish to see happen. It shows their commitment to democracy. By visiting Pakistan I have the opportunity to learn through international comparisons and see how things are done and what works for the people here. I am looking to see how we can learn from that and use it improve our own capacity and capability.

As a well respected and experienced MP, what advice and guidance would you give to young parliamentarians if they are in a situation where they have to respond to various challenges?

LG: Well, I don’t feel like I’m a very experienced MP because I’ve been an MP for just over a year myself. But, I think one of the things they can do and they are obviously doing is organising as a group so they can share responsibilities and draw on support rather than being isolated. They can develop systems that can support them. Such systems could be mentor programmes or ways of getting outside help when it is required. Sometimes for different issues specialists are required with deeper knowledge and a need to consult research and briefings. I’m sure they are able to apply their intelligence to subjects but sometimes you need people who have a greater amount of experience and such expertise should be accessible to them.

What drew you to a career in politics?

LG: I did not plan a career in politics at all, although is some ways I had been doing politics all my life. I’m very passionate about the importance of struggle free equality and social justice. My passion got me involved in intraginianism as a way of making sure that people are treated fairly and were campaigning on pertinent issues like the pay and minimum wage in the UK. I hadn’t thought about moving into parliamentary politics until somebody made me realise that is the direction my career should take. Following the realisation, I had to overcome barriers within myself since I believed this was not for me. In terms of the core things that I did when I was a trade unionist and the core things that I do now are the same which involves struggling for equality and social justice and proving to be a fair voice for ordinary people and women. These are the things that are important to me and got me involved in politics.

To have a fair voice and to be more included in the political process, do these issues resonate deeply with the women in the UK as well?

LG: At a discussion in the university I visited earlier I told the students that it is things from your personal life that inspire you to raise concern and voice an opinion over issues. My grandmother wasn’t allowed to go to a grammar school in the UK because her dad thought that education was wasted on girls. Thus, fighting for women to have equal access to educational, employment and professional opportunities is really important to me and that significance originates from a personal space. That is real inspiration to me and I’ve got three daughters and for them to be able to achieve every goal they set out for themselves despite their gender and to be able to fulfill their potential is a milestone.

What prompted you to come to Pakistan with the Westiminster foundation for democracy?

LG: There were two things really. One is you know there are hugely strong ties between the UK and Pakistan and probably a million people in the UK who’ve got links with Pakistan. And literally thousands of my constituents are from Pakistani origin within my constituency. So I was interested to come and see the country, see firsthand the culture and meet the people so that was purely out of interest. And also I thought it was a really interesting project, to have the opportunity to work with the young parliamentarians and particularly asking them about issues and if I was able to contribute something towards them. I thought it would be really interesting for me to ask questions for myself and hopefully I have something to offer to the people that I’ll be meeting.

Where do you think the two countries can work together and collaborate?

LG: The two countries can work together in encouraging and supporting women to go into politics. Women of both the countries should be able to think for themselves and organise themselves. Both the countries need to take measures to ensure that women are not just present but involved in the heart of policy and decision making. From the outside the issues and concerns of the two countries might seem quite different, but the basic problems remain the same and both UK and Pakistan can work together in devising solutions to eliminate these social concerns.

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