Margaret Hodge on fighting extremism, challenges facing the country and what the next Labour government must do

With nearly 30 years of Parliamentary experience, we asked Hodge about some of her proudest achievements as an MP, her views on populist extremism, addressing child poverty and inequality and what she thinks the biggest challenges facing the country are going forward.


Margaret Hodge first entered Parliament in 1994 as the MP for Barking. Her career has been a vastly varied one, spanning over 50 years of elected office, first as a Labour councillor for the London Borough of Islington for 20 years and subsequently as an MP.

Since entering Parliament, Hodge has held a number of ministerial roles, including Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, Minister of State for Industry and the Regions as well as chair of the Public Accounts Committee. Having served under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Hodge has a unique insight and some words of advice for an incoming Labour government. Left Foot Forward spoke to her as part of our series of interviews with retiring MPs.

With nearly 30 years of Parliamentary experience, we asked Hodge about some of her proudest achievements as an MP, her views on populist extremism, addressing child poverty and inequality and what she thinks the biggest challenges facing the country are going forward.

Among Hodge’s biggest political tests in the early 2000s was facing down and defeating the far-right BNP which had found a foothold in Barking with 12 councillors by 2006. She lists it as her first achievement when asked what she’s most proud of over her political career.

Hodge says: “Beating the BNP in Barking, I’m proudest of that. I’m also proud of my role in Sure Start and children’s centres and early years, although I’m deeply depressed how easily and quickly it’s been dismantled by a Conservative government”.

Hodge is a fiercely local politician, deeply proud of her local achievements including getting a maternity unit in Barking open again which she says ‘was important for a community sense of identity’.

In more recent years, she says she is most proud of her fight against Anti-Semitism.

“I wish I never had to fight it but I think it was all about the soul of the party and what we stand for and who we are. I would much rather never had my Jewish identity be so central to my politics but it had to be and I’m pleased we’ve acted so strongly and consistently and quickly in tackling that”, she says.

What lessons does Hodge think others can learn from her far against bigotry and extremism?

“If you can build trust, you can bring back communities to Labour”, she says, highlighting what she says was an inward looking local Labour Party in the 90s, disconnected from the concerns of locals struggling in the local borough which the BNP sought to capitalise on.

“It was a protest vote against an inward looking Labour Party, failure to build enough housing, loss of jobs and no one caring about quality of life on council estates.” What it taught Hodge was to work as closely as possible with the local community. “People’s politics always starts with the local, what’s up I ask, I don’t come with an agenda from Westminster- I write and speak to people directly.”

Under the Tories inequality has increased, with record levels of children pushed into child poverty, which is due to hit 5 million across the country. The End Child Poverty Coalition has

found that an extra 600,000 children were plunged into poverty in a year as ministers got rid of extra support for families on Universal Credit.

The last Labour government prides itself on lifting a million children out of poverty. With the Labour Party emphasising fiscal prudence, in order to spend money on programmes to cut poverty, it will need to raise money elsewhere.

Hodge thinks that the answer partly lies in having a proper debate about tax and spend: “One of the failures of the Blair/Brown years was that we never engaged in a debate around tax and spend. If you look at our expenditure on public services, we’re a bit above OECD levels, but if you look at our taxing we’re below, so we’ve never taxed enough to fund the services that we all want.”

“We’ve got to cut out waste”, she adds.

“Second, we need to get money in from people who are engaged in tax avoidance schemes. We’ve got to introduce a concept of fairness in the tax system… you need to have an equal rate of tax for the benefits people get from work to the benefits they get from wealth, it’s about introducing fairness into the system. It’s about fairness not about punishing wealth.”

What about claims from some that the Labour Party needs to be bolder and more radical I ask. “You only win elections from the centre and I want to win an election”, she says.

Former Tory MP Rory Stewart has written about how he thinks Westminster is broken, how it’s led to apathy and our political culture and system becoming increasingly dysfunctional. After 50 years as a politician does Hodge agree with his assessment?

“I’ve always felt it’s a bit of a pompous institution”, says Hodge.

“I’ve always felt that, if you really wanted to change the world however, bring in things like sure start, all that sort of stuff you’ve got to do from government.” She remains as optimistic as ever that politics can and indeed does lead to changing people’s lives for the better.

What does she see as the three biggest challenges facing the UK going forward?

“I’ll give you four. Inequality, net zero, failure to bring in inclusive growth and fractured public services.”

After Rishi Sunak’s U-turn on net zero, the MP for Barking thinks the Prime Minister has missed a huge opportunity. “We could show not only a leadership role but also create a modern industrial strategy around it. So it’s a crazy opportunity missed by seeking short-term questionable political advantage, I don’t think it will work for Sunak.”

Between 2010 and 2015, Hodge served as chair of the Public Accounts Committee, where she sought to shine a light on corruption and raised awareness on tax avoidance. Given the recent scandals the Conservative Party has been involved in, including the VIP lane to award Covid contracts as well as recent lobbying scandals, how corrupt does she think the current Tory government is?

“Fraud and money laundering is over 15% of the economy each year, it’s a lot of money and that has now infected the public space so its infected the public realm and politics. It’s not just a left right issue”, says Hodge.

“But it is prevalent and you saw it in the Covid contracts, with the fast lane, you see it in who gets appointment, you see it in who has access to ministers and there’s a blurring of the political and the public which is really, really unhealthy.

“That’s the terrible legacy of Boris Johnson, he tried to destroy a lot of the checks and balances in the country. He ignored Parliament, he tried to change law to suit his interests. Corruption has spread in a really scary way and one of the first jobs when we get into government is to clean it up.”

At a time of growing political apathy and disenchantment what advice would Hodge give to others contemplating a career in politics: “I think I’ve had a really privileged, interesting, stimulating experience. I couldn’t have asked for more really than I’ve had. I was on the local authority for 20 years, so I’ve done 50 years, and I only meant to do it for two… so it’s a sort of drug and you get hooked on it!

“I think if you believe in changing the world, making it a better place and you believe in equalising life chances, there’s no better place to do it than through politics and its tough and you’ve got to be resilient and be able to accept all the rubbish you get.

“But the highs when you manage to achieve change for an individual or a change for society through something you do nationally are just irreplaceable.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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