The Defuse Podcast - Taking the guesswork out of protecting your privacy, reputation and status.

The Online Bodyguard with Kim Leadbeater MBE MP – Being a 21st century Politician – Threats and Hopes

May 08, 2023 Philip Grindell MSc CSyP - The Online Bodyguard®
The Defuse Podcast - Taking the guesswork out of protecting your privacy, reputation and status.
The Online Bodyguard with Kim Leadbeater MBE MP – Being a 21st century Politician – Threats and Hopes
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Show Notes Transcript

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP is the Labour party MP for Batley and Spen.

 It is the same constituency that he sister Jo Cox MP held when she was murdered in 2016.

 Kim is a friend of mine, a hugely bubbly inspiring person who had her life changed by the awful events of her sister’s murder.

 Kim is a hugely popular figure, and a very recognisable one. Her story is unique.  She never wanted or expected to be a public figure. She never wanted to be an only child either.

 In this podcast Kim talks honestly about her sister Jo. She shares an insight into their childhood and where their values came from.

 She discusses the subject of identity and how being the sister of Jo Cox is something she is rightly proud of whilst carving out here own legacy in British politics.

 Kim shares her views on the risks associated with being a modern politician in such a divided and hostile society, and how that has changed since her sister became an MP. 

She talks about her own safety and how she follows the advice given to her, whilst she and her colleagues receive daily abuse and threats.

We discuss how some MPs still fail to take the security advice given to them and what she feels needs to change to improve the safety and security of MPs and how the issues discussed may deter good people from wanting to be an MP.

 BIO - Kim Leadbeater MBE MP 

The murder of Kim’s sister Jo in 2016, while she was working as MP for Batley and Spen, was utterly devastating and turned her life upside down, just as it did for her parents. Jo’s murder shook the world. And whatever you thought of her politics you could not meet a nicer person.

 Many people were determined that some good should come out of Jo’s horrific death and, while Kim kept her business going, she threw much of her energy into The Jo Cox Foundation and the local ‘More In Common’ volunteer group. You can find out more about the work they did – and they are still doing – here. There is much to be very proud of.

 In 2018 Kim was awarded the Prime Minister’s 1000th Points of Light Award in recognition of our work to build a positive legacy for Jo, and a Northern Power Women Award for being a ‘Person with Purpose’. In the 2021 New Year’s Honours List she received an MBE for services to social cohesion and combatting loneliness during the Covid-19 pandemic. Kim never thought about these awards being for her, but for the fantastic team working together to make a difference locally and nationally.

 Kim has always been a very driven and determined person and it was her determination to make a difference that prompted her – after much soul-searching – to put herself forward for election as her local MP in the 2021 by-election. Kim took her sister’s former seat in Westminster on July 5th 2021.

https://www.kim4batleyandspen.com/

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Philip Grindell:

So hello, everyone and welcome back to the online bodyguard. Today, I'm absolutely thrilled because I've got a special guest and a lady who I hope I can call a friend because we've known each other for a few years now through horrendous circumstances that neither of us would ever want on anybody. Today's guest is Kim Leadbeater. She's the Labour member of parliament for Batley and Spen. She's doing that job because arguably her sister, who was the previous MP, or the previous MP, but one was killed doing that job and had that not happened. I doubt Kim would ever be doing this job because you had a very different life in, say, 2015 When you were you know, when your sister was an MP, and you were just doing your own thing. You know, what were you doing before all this happened? What What was your life then?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

Yeah, thank you. So, it's lovely to be here on your show. And I'm very happy to call you a friend. And you've been a good friend to me over recent years. So yeah, I mean, I suppose prior to Jo's murder, I had what you might call a normal life. But then hey, what's normal, but I had to various things with my career, I started my career in the private sector, working in sales, selling beds of all things. And then I went back to university and follows my real passion, actually, which was working in physical activity and health and wellbeing. So that's what my degree was in. I run my own business working as a personal trainer, and a group exercise instructor. And doing kind of, even though it sounds a bit cheesy, like coaching stuff with people who were struggling with physical, mental health and wellbeing, but then I was also a lecturer. So I worked out to local colleges, teaching in that subject areas, sport, physical activity, health, wellbeing. And, as you say, I was very happy with my lot. I was about to actually leave my teaching career and go on to do my master's degree, something which Jo my sister was very supportive of Jo was one of these people who would always say you should be doing more, you should be challenging yourself, you should be pushing yourself. And she always felt that, you know, I could have done more with my career, even though I was actually very happy doing what I did. So I was just about to do my master's degree. And then in June 2016, Joe was killed, and everything changed forever.

Philip Grindell:

Indeed, yeah. And we'll come to that in a moment. I mean, what was your childhood? Like? Because, you know, from what we mean, I never knew Jo. I mean, I never had the honour or the pleasure of knowing her, but I know her legacy and knowing you, you're one of the most positive, bubbly people. I know. I'm sure she was probably the same. So what was your childhood? Like? How did you, you know, you've got sort of values that are strong values around inclusion and kindness and those sort of things. And I know that your sister had the same. So where does that all come from?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

I think fundamentally, that comes from our parents, we were blessed with two loving parents who supported us, cared for us, nurtured us, and empowered us. And as a result of that, and a wider family network, which was also pretty good. And lots of friends, and each other Jo and I were very close. I think because of that setup, we were really blessed with lots of good role models. We were in, we had instilled in us a core set, you're quite right, a values and beliefs, nothing fancy. You know, but things like treating other people how you wish to be treated, working on compromising on things when you needed to, you know, just treating everybody around you with respect, and understanding and empathy. And celebrating the differences that there were between different human beings not seeing those differences as a negative thing at all. And we were sort of, we had instilled in us this sense of inquisitiveness as well. So we always want to know about other people, we're interested in finding out about other people, and you write deep compassion for other people. And I think that came from my parents, and, but they didn't talk about those things. I think it was just that that's how mom and dad were, that's our family was. And that was just how you treated other people. And Jo and I were very close, we were best mates. Really, despite sort of two school years between us, we did everything together when we were kids, whether it was dancing, or going out on our BMX bikes, or whatever it would be. And that security of that family unit, I think was really important. And I've come to be even more grateful for that as I've grown older and certainly since Jo was killed and and also realised that not everybody's lucky enough to have that and I think that start in life doesn't make a huge difference to where you where you go with your life.

Philip Grindell:

You know, you're the MP for an area where you grew up effectively. So it's a place that you obviously have grown up in you know it as you said, you you know, everything about it, probably better than anybody certainly better than other people. have tried to stand for the election there. It's a multicultural area. So and it's been multicultural, probably all your life, certainly. So does that play a big part then in? Because you've grown up in a multicultural area where it's just the norm to you? Does that play a big part in some of those values that that exist?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

I think it does. Having said that the area's much more diverse now than it was when we were kids. But I think because my dad worked in Leeds, which is not that far away at all, but in that day, it felt like a long way away, but he met with lots of people, lots of different backgrounds. Through his work. My mum worked at the local primary school. So had kids there from from different backgrounds and things. So we were around people who didn't always look like us. And we had opportunities to go. Like my dad's work had a place in London, so we went to London. And it was just as holidays abroad was starting to become fashionable. So we would do the old culture trip to Spain and stuff. And so I guess we had opportunities to meet people from different backgrounds in a way that influenced our views and things on people. But I also think part of it was just that, even though my mom and dad came from very traditional working class backgrounds, the values that they had, around how you treat other people, it's clearly been passed on like that, that both sets of my grandparents were just genuinely really nice people. So I don't know how far you would have to go back to see where that came from. But certainly, I feel that a lot of how I view the world comes from that childhood.

Philip Grindell:

Okay, so I'm not, you know, listen. I think it's a kind of unfortunate label, sometimes when Oh, yeah, you know, Kim, she's Jo Cox's sister, and I don't want to really focus on what happened to your sister, because I think so much has been talked about around that. And I don't want to kind of focus on that. What I want to focus on is you and you come from, as you say, a background that was not political, you weren't had any intention of getting in this role. But clearly, you had a sister who was involved. So you must have had some insight into her experiences, initially of let's be honest, the hostility of being a member of parliament. What do you remember being that those kind of conversations

Unknown:

Going back to identity, this is one of the very strange being? things that happened to me after Jo was killed. I'd always been very confident in my own identity. I was always Kim Leadbeater. That's who I was. Jo was always Jo, and then you're quite right. So I suddenly became Jo's sister. And I've got no problem with that whatsoever, because that's a very, very proud part of my identity. And I'm, I'm perfectly happy being referred to in that way. I think the biggest the bigger issue for me around identity when Jo was killed was that I suddenly became an only child, because there was only me and Jo, and I've talked about our childhood, I've talked about how close we were. And that was a really, really difficult thing for me to, to get my head around. And I still haven't, if I'm, if I'm quite honest. But in terms of being your sister, I've got no problem with that at all. And people will still say that less. So now, I have to say, and I think it was important to me in this job that I did carve out my own identity. And you know, I do think I'm doing that. And I think I've done that. But ultimately, my story is my story. The reason I am doing this job, you're quite right, is because my sister was murdered. You know, and I will not, I have to, you know, be honest about that. Having said that, I was always very interested in politics. And bizarrely at primary school, a corporate teacher said, because I was always pretty confident as a kid, like, Oh, she'll be Prime Minister one day. And by contrast, Jo was very shy. But actually, that made what Jo went on to achieve even more impressive as far as I'm concerned, because she actually really had to work on building her confidence, which she did over a number of years. So even though I still, I guess, out of my comfort zone in terms of where I saw my life going, what I've also learned, and this was by watching Jo do the job was that politics is about people. Everything that happens in parliament in Westminster affects people up and down the country. And I feel really passionately that we need good people in politics. That's something else that Jo would said to me a lot when we were sort of taking the mickey out of her. She said, Well, if you've got people don't put themselves forward, then Kim, what do you end up with? And she's quite right. So I think even though I've had to reconcile what my life looks like now, in lots of different ways, I've got to keep reminding myself that I am here for the right reasons. And you're quite right. My ambitions weren't to be an MP I didn't have 20 years of my life that could have I'm gonna get into parliament, far from it. But now I'm here I'm determined that I'm going to make as much of a positive difference as I possibly can. Even though the route that I got here was the most horrific one you can imagine.

Philip Grindell:

What do you remember about you know that Jo talking about her experience as an MP in terms of the the hostility that MPs are receiving constantly.

Unknown:

Well, interestingly, I don't think it was anywhere near as bad. In 2015, when Jo got elected, as it has gone on to be cents, I remember Jo would get the odd, not particularly pleasant email. But but often that was related to something that maybe she'd done politically, particularly big international issues. But I don't remember her. She never felt scared. To my knowledge, she never felt that she was any sort of danger. And I do. From what I can remember at that time, the climate wasn't like that. But unfortunately, then things changed. And when we were leading up to the Brexit referendum, I think that was a real turning point for the political atmosphere. I think, unfortunately, since Joel's murder, we've seen things get progressively worse. However, I know that politics has always been, you know, a tough business to be in, you know, we can look back historically to when people were getting things thrown at them in the streets, and all that sort of stuff. So it's not like it's new for politicians to be attacked in some way or another. But I think there's so many factors in recent years that have made things become much more toxic, and have made politicians targets, which asked who actually is the responsibility of politicians as well. You know, I don't think it's fair to expect people to feel sorry for us as MPs, we've got a very privileged job. But, and I think we have to look at our responsibility as to how we can make the political culture a safer place to be but a more pleasant place to be as well, right. And I do think it's perfectly feasible to have passionate, robust political debate and to disagree on things. But to do that in a civilised manner, and I think we've lost sight of that in recent years.

Philip Grindell:

So looking back from now, back to sort of 2015, when you were or too early 2016, when you were doing what you were doing, how has your life changed,

Unknown:

it's changed to be on record recognition. I mean, being an MP, if you do it properly, is ridiculously full on job, you could literally do 20 477 days a week, and still feel like you've not scratched the surface. The range of issues and subjects that you get involved with, that you are expected to know about that you want to know about is vast, being a really, really good constituency MP. And being a really, really good parliamentary Westminster MP, I think, is a constant battle for me, because, as you said earlier, I'm from the area I represent, I know each town and village Well, I know the issues that there are I want to help people there. But then equally, you want to make your mark in Westminster. And ultimately you want to change the vision for the country, which is an opposition MP is all about trying to win the next general election and trying to carve out what the country could look like under your party's leadership. So during that, it's really hard. I get very, very little spare time. I mean, there's no spare time, social time is extremely limited time with family, friends. But then equally, I'm my own worst enemy. So I say yes to everything. I want to do everything I want to be involved in everything, I get very excited about everything, because my team will tell you. So I've got to kind of look at how I can rein myself in a little bit, which is part of the problem. But the other thing, really important thing to point out in this job is that you're nothing without your team. And I am so fortunate to have a really, really strong staff team, who work extremely hard support me extremely well, when it comes to everything. That's not just getting the work done. It's about safety, security, and your mobile support as well for support and everything else in between. So my life now looks very different. I guess what I had in between was the transition from what was my life before Joe was murdered. And I do sort of chunk my life out in these ways. Then there was a period of time after Jo was killed up to becoming an MP, which was largely working for the Jo Cox Foundation, the charity that we set up in Jo's name. And that was also an extremely busy time. And I think one of my ways of coping with my loss was just to get my head down and try and do as much positive stuff as possible. And initially, that was very much through just Foundation. And what you do at having this job is any time to reflect. And whilst I think that it's actually a good thing in some ways, because if I start to think about what's happened to my life, I'm not sure where I would go with it. But it's also a bad thing because you don't have time to think about, you know, what am I actually achieve, and what difference Am I actually making? So it's a Yeah, it's a bit of a mixed bag really, of being busy, which is a good thing, but also being excessively busy, which sometimes can be a bad thing too.

Philip Grindell:

And how safe do you feel then as an MP as a public figure?

Unknown:

Generally, I feel safe. But one of the reasons for that is because I've taken all the advice I've been given from yourself and from the police be that in West Yorkshire and the West Yorkshire Police have been absolutely fantastic. Be that from the parliamentary authorities team in Westminster I've taken all the advice on board. And why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't anyone in all fairness, and I'm careful, you know, I got offered a grief recently for saying on in a TV interview that, you know, don't do work and surgeries, well, not many MPs to open surgeries anymore. And what we mean by an open surgery is, you don't put yourself in a room where anybody can walk through the door, which actually, in light of the fact that we've now had two MPs murdered, and various other MPs physically attacked and assaulted, then why, why the heck would you do that? And actually, it's not a very efficient way of doing business anyway, there's far more efficient ways of helping people who need your help. So genuinely, I feel I feel fine. But I've had so many conversations with MPs who have had huge amounts of abuse, be that via social media, be that via email be that by people turning up their officers, that you always are aware that there is that underlying level of, you know, this, this isn't a normal life anymore. You know, you are a target in some respects. So that never really leaves you.

Philip Grindell:

And so, I mean, presumably you'd like many MPs, you kind of travel up and down the country to your constituency about to Parliament. Have you got used to being recognised now?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

That's weird, isn't it? So I hate like, I mean, I'm not that recognisable I suppose I am in the constituency, because obviously, all the work that we did, through just Foundation, we did a lot of stuff at a local level. I guess you get recognised a little bit in London, but not too much. That is weird. Though, I think I particularly like it. But I also don't mind it. Because generally, most people are lovely. And most people come up and say nice things. And that's great. I don't mind that at all. It must be weird being a really sort of famous MP like you're one of the one of the main people in government and what have you. But yeah, it's a weird phenomenon phenomenon.

Philip Grindell:

Would that would that stop you having an ambition? You know, that desire, I suppose that that reflection on enjoying the privacy and the ability to just almost carry on some degree of normality? Would that prevent you then having the ambition to be a cabinet minister,

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

I think is something I think about. Yeah, it is something I think about because bizarrely, I was always quite a private person, a very confident person, a very sociable person, but I really liked, you know, having my private life as well. And we used to say that to zero with Mum, mum and dad, my partner would say, you know, we will help you or support, you will pick the kids, or we'll run around after you and all the rest of it. But we don't really want anyone to know who we are. We're quite happy with our lives as it is. And then obviously, all that changed. But yeah, I think having a high profile, where you, you know, you literally can't walk down the street with people recognising you, whether that's in a good way or in a bad way. is weird, isn't it? I mean, fame, full stop is when you know, whether that's celebrity or sports person or a politician, find it all quite bizarre. But it is something I'm aware of. And then people talk about, you know, in this job in last year, about raising your profile. And I have said repeatedly to my team, I don't want to raise my profile, I actually want to lower profile, if anything, but then inevitably, if you want to get stuff done, part of that is about being out there and showing people what you're doing. So yeah, I find that a bit of a bit of a tricky one.

Philip Grindell:

So when you talk about when you talk to colleagues, and then they talk about, you know, how they feel safe wise, and whether they are getting threats and abuse? And what kind of conversations that do go on, is it? I mean, there's I know, and you know, you know, a female MP has a very different experience to a male MP as an example. And I think of female females generally have very different experiences to males. So it's kind of replicated in and probably exaggerated because of the circumstances you're in. But you touched on it a moment ago about some of the other people talk about their experiences. What sort of things are they saying what's what's the sort of mood at the moment within parliament.

Unknown:

We do have quite a bit of work through Jo's Foundation, around safety and public life and more broadly, and brand stability and public life. So I'd already interviewed quite a few MPs about abuse and levels of intimidation and things like that. So I knew it was a problem. And that was actually across the political spectrum. Men and women but you're quite right, women are far more disproportionately affected by abuse as women particularly from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. So I knew it was a problem. I'd also made a little little documentary with ITV, about about It's not just about MPs, actually, this was it was called Angry Britain. So it was about hostility and abuse towards other people. So in public life, celebrities as well, but also online against just normal, everyday people. But then when I came into parliament, and I started chatting to, again, particularly female colleagues, what really alarmed me was the way that they would just reel off caucuses restraining orders, people in prison, as though it was a shopping list as though it was perfectly normal. And some colleagues in particular, people like Jess Phillips, people, like Naz Shah, who have had huge amounts of abuse, for putting their head above the parapet on certain issues. That really alarmed me that it had become so normalised. And again, it wasn't just female MP. So I made a piece of work for Channel Four dispatches programme, and we interviewed, and I consciously made the effort to interview people across the political spectrum, be men and women, and see with, you know, very different views on very different range of subjects. And even somebody like Peter bone, there was an MP who I've probably got very, very different views of them lots of subjects, and added horrendous time with death threats due to his son. So this is a problem per se. But then within that there are certainly specific issues around women and the abuse that women face. I mean, again, speaking of a cross party basis, people like Caroline Nokes, who's had huge amounts of abuse, you know, it's a problem. And I think that the question is, what do we do about that? And that's one of the things that I've sort of tried to work on through this job now. And it's multifaceted. And I do think, as I said before, part of that is how we behave. And I think standards in public life are really important and, and sometimes not where they should be.

Philip Grindell:

It's difficult, isn't it? Because because, you know, you're a public figure, and politics is increasingly hostile. You know, the divisions between, arguably the right and the left are probably as great as they have been, for some time, although perhaps not quite so bad as they were maybe two or three years ago. And so the public feel it right now. And you know, there'll be I know, when I was when I first went into parliament, you know, shortly after your sister's murder, many of the MPs I mean, we increased reporting by 400%. So from when I first went into when I kind of, I suppose, well, it was actually within probably 18 months reporting or going up 400%, because, as you said, many MPs just thought being abused was part of the job. Now, understandably, after your sister's death, and then and then after the threat to Rosie, and what have you, then, you know, after David as well, we got spikes, where all of a sudden, we get a lot more reports, you said, I've taken all the advice I've been given, and of course, you've got a huge incentive to do that. But the frustration when I was there was so many MPs will talk about it, but wouldn't take the advice. They wouldn't have the security measures that were they were entitled to. How do we how do we break that that chain then of you know, there is lots of money being spent, there's lots of advice out there. And yet, still, plenty of MPs are still quite vulnerable.

Unknown:

I think it's a really challenging problem. I think ultimately, you've got 650 MPs, 650 individuals, who are essentially little self employed businesses, that's something that people probably don't realise. So when you get this job, you get given a budget, you get sent off to go set your office, open your constituency, set your office, open parliament, employees from staff, so you have this little entity. And no one really talks to you in huge amounts of detail about security and safety, and what that might look like, on a sort of consistent basis. But also you're bringing into that job, your own feelings about safety and security. Now, for me, obviously, that was paramount, really, to air deciding to put myself forward and be the decisions that I make as I do the job. But you've got employees who have been here for, you know, decades, who lived in a very different world and probably think, what's all the fuss about? Not Not nothing would happen. And you've then got other MPs, if I'm honest, who think that they are the bee's knees, and are the most important person in the world. And they want to be looked after 24/7 with a personal bodyguard, you know? So So the challenge for anybody who's trying to address the issue of safety and security, when it comes to actually working with MPs is out of those 650 individuals, you've got 650 different conversations. And that means having a structured approach is very difficult. And also because you're your own boss, no one can really tell you that you have to have this training or you have to have this. I mean, I think certainly security training should be compulsory when you come in. I think you should have your staff trained in that regard as well. I think you should have a member of staff who is given the support to take care of your safety and security, they should be paid to do that job because they're not. And the reality there is you've got a lot of very young staff members who take responsibility for these issues without any support or any training. And they're making decisions, you know, particularly when emails are coming, or when you see stuff on social media, that they're measuring the threat level, and they've had no training to do it. And that's totally and utterly wrong. So the system needs to change. Part of that is ensuring that MPs appreciate how important this is. And I think some probably like me do. And some, quite frankly, don't. You, you've then got the challenge of what the job looks like, because you've sort of alluded to so we spend half our time in Westminster, we spend half our time in a constituency, we spend a lot of time travelling, how do you possibly manage that piece of safety and security work, when it's such a bonkers job, and you're here, there and everywhere. And primarily part of your job, the biggest part of your job should be reaching out and working with your constituents. So you want to be in public, you want to be out there chatting to people, but that has its own dangers with it. So it's it is a real challenge. And I think a lot of good work has been done. But if I'm honest, I do think there's more work to do.

Philip Grindell:

It's a constant process. And it's a constant process because even with the best will in the world, training somebody wants is insufficient. They need, you know, reviews and refreshers, and constant, you know, support what have you, as you said, and and it's, you know, you're absolutely right, it's a huge challenge, because everyone has a different Well, everyone has a different level of perceived threat, actually, arguably, everyone's at the same threat. If you look at the, the the kind of methodology of how people are targeted, but people feel differently, people assume if you're more high profile, you're more at risk. That isn't actually true. And we know that because, you know, no one would have put your sister or Rosie or David or any of those people, Stephen and others on any high risk list. So, you know, my argument was always this can happen to anybody. So you've all got to be careful. But of course, that's not, that's not what happens. But then we move on to the next bit, which is, you know, we're coming up to a general election, in the next 18 months or so. And across the country we're gonna get, you will become candidates, again, you stop being members of parliament, you become candidates. And actually, automatically, what happens is, you no longer get the support of Parliament. And you get lots of candidates who are being sent out to, to campaign on their own and, and some of them will be brand new, they're not in politics, they're brand new, others will be seasoned politicians. And I don't think they get sufficient support and sufficient security help, and advice and safety, help and advice around, you know, you're walking down a dark street at night, you've got no idea whose door you're knocking on, no one even knows you're there properly. That's got to be something that that's got to be corrected between now and the time when that next election is called.

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

Do you agree? However, one of the big problems you've got is who's going to pay for that? Absolutely, yeah. Because ultimately, if you try and convince taxpayers, that it's really important that political candidates and potential empezar are looked after, and their safety and security is, is taken care of, at the expense of other things, then that's a really, really difficult argument to make. And the worrying thing there is that, now that we're having much more of a conversation about safety and security in public life, which I think is a very good thing, my worry is that it will put people off wanting to put themselves forward, particularly women, particularly young women, because why would you you see the abuse that that people get, and you see the threats that are made, and, and and all that and why would you bother? And also we lose good people from public life. I mean, certainly in the 2019 election, several MPs, it wasn't the reason for stepping down, but it was certainly a factor in that they just had enough. So I think you're right, I think more needs to be done. But what does that look like? And how is it funded? And they're really challenging questions. Back and I think the other thing is, well, it's thinking about, you know, we talk a lot about the MP or the candidate or whatever, but around that MPs family, there's friends there staff. And so the threat isn't just towards that individual. It's also to the broader network of people around them. And that's that, that's upsetting. Because sometimes you'll get MPs are like, look, I don't mind say what you want about me, but it's family and friends that have to watch that happen. And that's really, really unpleasant and upset.

Philip Grindell:

And also, you know, my experience was, that's all very well saying that, but everyone's got a tipping point. However robust and resilient. You are there comes a point where enough is enough, you know, and I dealt with a cut, you know, I'm not going to mention names, but I've dealt with one or two MPs who, anyone who you would, would take a straw poll would say that person's a hugely resilient person. And yeah, I would having them in my office, you know, breaking down, clearly terrified about what's going to happen. So You know, and I'm you know, I'm as critical as anyone of the of the standard of some of our MPs. But if we want better MPs, then we've got to encourage them by way of, as you said, ensuring that they feel safe to come into the job that when they're in the job, that they're kept safe, and they, and they're not just kept safe, but they, they feel safer. And I say, be a cliche, because that's kind of my mantra, but but I, you know, one of my things when I was there was that you've got all this money being spent, you've got all these various things, but people still weren't feeling safe. Therefore, what we were doing wasn't working. Because unless you feel safe, you're not going to be as productive or as effective, or, you know, you're not going to want to go out on your own. You know, I remember talking to some empezar, we're going some places, and I said, Where are you going with, I'm going on my own because it's an evening meeting. And I would say that we would never send a policeman on his own to that estate at night, and you're gonna walk in there on your own and assume everything's fine. So I think we do need an overhaul. And I think we need to treat the security and the and the safety of you guys, significantly better than we do now.

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

And as the expert, I take that, I take that on board fully. And I think it's also there's different dimensions to your safety is that there's the physical safety that you feel when you go into places, and that's the area that that you specialise in. But there's also that the online space, there's, there's different ways to do so. And the impact it has on democracy when you've got elected people who don't feel safe. And I would include counsellors within this as well, because we often forget about local councillors, you know, often huge amounts, as well. So, I think that thing about if I say this on social media, I know I'm gonna get a lot of abuse. That's a horrible way to feel about doing your job. But I think we all have that every day. And then your family and friends and staff have to watch that play out on social media. So it does impact democracy. And I've spoken to MP colleagues who have said, you know, when it comes to votes, they've had to really think about how they're going to vote, not because it's how they think they should have, but because they know, the amount of abuse they will get if they vote a certain way, deeply disturbing. Impact on on democracy. I honestly don't know what you do about that.

Philip Grindell:

Yeah, we saw quite a bit of that during Brexit, there was particular MPs, who would say to me, I'm really worried about tonight's vote, because of course, you know, people may not realise but all your voting is public so that we have an open, transparent democracy so everyone can see. And equally, you know, we would you know, that if you're going on Question time, or if you're going on a news or if you're going on, you know, Laura Kingsburg, or whatever it is, whatever show you are always going to, you know, your the abuse and threats and intimidation you get is going to spike. And people don't understand always the psychological impact on have that level of abuse and threats and that kind of tipping point. So it isn't just about are you physically safe? It's also about are you psychologically safe? Are you able to really take in the volume of information that you have to do and process it? And in a represent your, your constituency? Or the country depending on who you are? With all that in the background? And that that must be so challenging?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

Absolutely, absolutely. Because you want to use your energy, you want to use your headspace for doing the good stuff that this job enables you to do you want to use it to help people and to champion causes that people care about whether that's locally or nationally or internationally. But you're right, you're taking up a chunk of your brain every minute of every day thinking, or is that the right thing to do? Is that safe thing to do? Should I say that what a backlash be? If I do say that, I'll do that. And that's just wasting energy, when you could be doing something much more positive and much more productive. And I think you're right about about the, you know, we've got some amazingly strong people in politics, and that's great. But there's only so much anybody can take when you are having horrible things said about you, you know, and and and I guess that's the the layers to it as well isn't that there's the threats and the abuse, some of which is very dangerous, but some of it is just really horrible. And when did we, when did we start being so nasty to our fellow human beings? And this isn't just MPs, I think this is a broader narrative in society. And this is something I've spoken about before, you know, whether it's celebrities, or whether it's sports people, or whether it's just all the people that you come across on social media in particular, that it seems to be alright enough to just say whatever you want.

Philip Grindell:

And how does this How does this how does this fit in with the Joe Cox foundation and what you're doing with that?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

So we're doing a piece of work, they were doing it I'm actually not involved in foundation anymore, because just foundation is very much non political. And it's it works across the political spectrum, but they're doing a big piece of work called the Civility commission. And it's looking at how we can encourage more civility in public life. That's within politics, and more broadly around politics as well. And I think that is about looking at the standards that politician set. It's looking at where is in which we can have those very important debates and discussions about controversial issues sometimes. But without that descending into abuse and threats and intimidation. So that's a really, really important piece of work within the political arena, but I also think, you know, the online safety bill is an important piece of legislation in terms of, you know, what does, what does it look like to have a safe online space, but also, I think, a more respectful online space. But it's really difficult work, because there's this concept of legal but harmful, you know, which, which is one of the massive challenges of the online safety bill. So something might not cross the threshold of being illegal, but actually might be deeply, deeply offensive. But then how do we define offensive? Because what I find offensive, you might be absolutely fine. So these are really challenging concepts. And when we're looking at, you know, some of the controversial issues that that are at the forefront of politics and society at the moment, it's really difficult. And how do you deal with that in the online space, and indeed, in the offline space? So these are ongoing challenges, I would say.

Philip Grindell:

And it's interesting that one of the things I found when I was working in Parliament, was coming from a law enforcement background and working in the sort of justice system, I suppose my threshold for what was offensive was a lot higher than everyone else's. I remember distinctly coming home one day and said to my wife, or this happened today, and my wife's not got that's all for and although is it? She said, Yeah, God, if I had that, I'll be horrified. And I remember coming into work the next day. And so, you know, having this conversation and recognising that what was happening was that, you know, politicians or members of public was saying to ask the police, I'm offended. And we were saying, effectively, oh, no, you're not. Because the law says you're not. And that's got to be wrong. If if, you know, the public is saying I'm offended, and the law says, No, you're not, no, it doesn't hit this threshold, you're not offended by it, you know. So that's got to be something that's got to be addressed. And I know that the online safety bill is supposed to do that, although it's been going on for years, isn't it really? So when we ever actually say it? Who knows? I mean, do you think it's possible to end up with a safe internet? That's a big question.

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

Yeah. It's probably impossible to end up with a 100%, safe internet and certainly 100% in offensive internet. Yeah. Largely because of, as we've said, so much of the subjectivity that's involved in that, but I think we can do a damn sight better than we're doing now. And I think, you know, the social media companies have got to take responsibility and got to step up. And this is across a range of issues. This isn't just about abuse in public life, this is really deeply disturbing issues, like, you know, childhood pornography, and abuse and suicide, self harm. You know, we've had some deeply traumatic testimonies from people, when I was sitting on the online safety bill committee, you know, people whose children have committed suicide, people whose children have been groomed online, you know, these are really serious issues. And it's that kind of bread crumbing, where you might see one piece of information in isolation and think, Well, that's not a problem. That's not offensive, but actually, the way that evil people online work is they will breadcrumb, and they will lead on to deeper and darker and more disturbing and horrible things. So I think there's a lot more that can be done, and that the social media companies, it's their algorithms that make that happen. We've all seen it happen where you start researching, you know, cats, suddenly, everything on your feet is about cats. So equally, if you start researching extremism, or right wing extremism, even if it's just initially in a fairly innocent way, suddenly, that's all that pops up on your feed. So same with self harm suicide. So I think there's a lot more that can be done. And again, it's good to have those conversations and not just start shouting at each other about freedom of speech, because of course, freedom of speech is a fundamental pillar of our democracy. And I'd be the first one to defend it. But we've also got to look at the dangers around that, you know, freedom of speech narrative, which actually sometimes is just about the freedom to offend. I can't understand why anybody would would want to defend that. Yeah.

Philip Grindell:

And so, you know, we see increasingly younger people being drawn into what effectively are terrorist organisations, be they extreme right wing, Islamic or otherwise? And you see, you know, young people going to prison for long sentences because it's terrorism legislation. Something's got to be wrong there in terms of these, they're often different disenfranchised, sometimes troubled young people who are looking for some sense of identity, arguably, something to hang on to something to some belonging. You know, there's no simple answer to that. But where are we going wrong? Is it is it does it come back to that better you were talking right at the very early part of the Have the podcast around around community and around compassion and engagement. And, you know, many of the things that the Joe Cox foundation certainly started out very much focusing on.

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

Absolutely, I would agree. I think prevention and early intervention are the keys to so many different subjects, whether that's around health and well being, which is a piece of work that I'm doing at the moment. But certainly, whether that's around young people being drawn into bad behaviours, whether that's within the criminal justice system, starting with anti social behaviour, or whether that is being drawn towards extremism. And I think you're right, I think the work that you've used there, that sense of identity, that sense of belonging, we need communities that give every young person that sense of identity and sense of belonging, because if we don't, extremists will, and that's been shown time and time again, and I've worked with a number of organisations, X right wing extremists to talk about how that process happens. And sometimes, unfortunately, they'll use something like sport and football, to give people that sense of identity and belonging and that, that I find that really upsetting has been really angry, because for me, with my background in sport sport as the answer to so many ills that we get give kids, you know, a sport or a recreational activity to get involved with that can be their salvation, that can be the thing that gets me out of trouble. I was at a boxing gym at the weekend, and the guy who runs that is absolutely amazing. And he does lose a really good work with local kids who could easily go down the wrong path. So I think that prevention piece is really important. Because if you're happy in your life, and you're feeling good, and you feel like you've got a future, you don't want to get involved in bad behaviours. And equally, you also have a much more positive relationship, pretend to your mental health and well being because, you know, the kids in my constituency badly and spent across the whole country, who will reach a junction in their life when they've got choices to make. And those choices are taking them down a very different path. And we're talking about things like knife crime, antisocial behaviour, extremism. And while ever we have got communities that have nurturing our young people, schools, obviously, we're part a part of part of that, but also making sure that families who are struggling are well supported. So there's lots of different dimensions to it. And I think, unfortunately, without getting into the politics of it, we're not seeing much leadership in that regard. At the moment, we're not looking at that community building piece of work, we do invest properly in things like, you know, the sport and leisure sector, where we can provide those opportunities for young people to get into positive behaviours. You know, grassroots sports, for me is an obvious one, whether that's rugby league, football, boxing, cricket, whatever it is, getting children to positive behaviours. So I think I would always go on prevention, but then early intervention as well. And looking, you know, I spent a lot of time because in primary schools, you can tell who the vulnerable children are at a very early age, and that early intervention by an appropriate level of services, and again, unfortunate, we've seen a huge amount of cutbacks on youth services in the last decade. So how can we build those services up again, so that those kids can be scooped up when they are vulnerable?

Philip Grindell:

So last easy question. There are two easy questions. One is how do we rebuild trust in politics?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

Oh, my gosh, easy question. I'll

Philip Grindell:

tell you why. I tell you, I asked that, because I noticed that I saw a press release today that Theresa May is publishing a book about this very subject, which I thought was slightly ironic if I'm honest, but we're not gonna get into politics. But it seems to me, you know, the greatest threat to our democracy is probably the lack of trust in our politicians and the lack of belief in them, and therefore, why would I bother voting for you? Because you're not going to do what you say you're going to do? So, you know, come on, what's the simple answer to this, then?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

There's no, there's no one thing. There's different ways to this. One. First thing is, we need to look at our behaviour. Now that I am a politician, even though that sounds still sounds a bit weird. How do I behave? What standards do I hope to hold? And all MPs have got to do that? We've got seven principles of public life, things like honesty and integrity and leadership and things like that. We need to be looking at those every day. And thinking, Am I doing this and I upholding the standards. We also need to be looking at, again, the type of people that we bring into politics. And part of that is about having a better culture within politics to attract the right sorts of people. So it's also I guess, trying to create a political culture where we are allowed to be a bit more honest and open about maybe the things that we don't know, MIT because that there's various reasons why I said I'd never get involved in politics. One was because you never allowed to say you don't know. And actually, the reality is, we all say that day in and day out. I'm not sure about find out or I'm not sure let me do a bit of research. And we found out a bit more about that subject. You're not allowed to change your mind. And therefore, that's why you end up with a lot of this fudging of questions, you know. So you don't actually five years ago that that probably was the right thing, but now I'm not sure it is. Yeah. And that's why I want to revisit it. You kind of not allowed to do that. So it's that political culture of You know, we are human beings. So some

Philip Grindell:

of the some of that's about expectations. So from the public, of what we want our politicians to be like, we want you to be more honest, we want you. So therefore we have to be more forgiving of you. When you do change your mind, or when you do get something, you get a stat wrong or you get, you know, you say something that isn't necessarily aligned with your leadership. But that's because you have a slightly different view on it.

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

Yeah, yeah. And I think I think that should be allowed. You know, I think you're right, I think there should be a bit more understanding about that. But these are big cultural changes, you know, I think we should focus again, more on Common Ground. I think what we should also do actually, is make sure that people are aware that politics of Westminster is not just about that half an hour on a Wednesday lunchtime, where we have pm cues, and people stand and shout at each other, which for most MPs, is the most frustrating time of the week, because that is not representative of what goes on in Parliament. We've got fantastic select committees, which are on a cross party basis, we've got fantastic old party parliamentary groups, which work on a cross party basis, we've got good friendships across party lines. And that's where a lot of the magic happens. And a lot of the really good work is done. So that 30 minutes of combat every week, I think is incredibly unhelpful when no one else has the questions anyway. So what's the point, and it's very aggressive. So I think there's so much that we could change about politics. The other big thing for me actually, is political education. So we should be teaching young people about how the country is run, what it all looks like, what MPs do, what councils do, who makes the decisions that affects their lives, that then might be a bit more engaged, they might then turn out to vote, because voter turnout is really poor. In my election, it was 47%. And everybody celebrated how great that was. And I said, That's rubbish. That means 53% of people haven't voted. You can't blame them. They don't feel interested, they don't feel engaged, it's our responsibility to try and engage them in the system. Because if you don't feel that you're part of the system, then why would you bother? I don't blame people at all. So I think we've got responsibility to try and deal with that as well. So there's lots of different ways to the media should cover some of them are positive stories around politics, not just a stuff where people shouting, screaming at each other, the 650 MPs, and I bet most people could probably name 20. And they'll probably be the most controversial 20, they'll be the ones who are always doing the bad stuff, or the not so good stuff. And actually, there's another section 30 MPs are working socks off, day in and day out to try and help people in their constituencies. And to try and make a difference. But that doesn't get covered, because it's not quite as exciting.

Philip Grindell:

And one last question then came with the would there be one thing that would make you feel safer?

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

Gosh, well, I guess the one thing, but it is a big thing is that change of culture. It's just a change of culture around focusing, I guess, you know, as my sister said, on the things that we have in common, rather than the things that divide us. And that's not just in politics. I think that's in society, more generally, just reconnecting on a human level, and being a bit more understanding about other people's lives.

Philip Grindell:

I think that's a brilliant way to end this podcast, because that's probably the best message that could be, isn't it? Thank you. Well, now Kim, thank you. It's been and as always let me know I can always chat to you forever. So it's, it's brilliant. And thank you for doing this. I know how busy you are. So to take an hour out of your day is is wonderful. So you know Kim, thank you so much for giving us a an insight into what it actually is like to be a politician in the 21st century.

Kim Leadbeater MBE MP:

No, thank you Phil, and thanks for all the work that you do and yeah, I'm probably not a typical politician but I'm not quite sure what one of those days

Philip Grindell:

well, maybe we need more like you then perhaps that's that's probably what million many people will be will be thinking when they've listened to this hopefully. But anyway, we're not going to go on that thing because we'll be here all night. But Kim, thanks very much again. Cheers. Take care.