Interview: Rebecca Manson Jones

The Women’s Equality Party (WEP) will be standing in the London Elections tomorrow. Since forming last year, their party now has a membership of more than 47,000. They’re focussed on gaining equal representation for women in politics, industry, business and working life, as well as equal pay, equal parenting, an education system that creates opportunities for all children, and an end to violence against women and girls. In the past few weeks their campaign has received support from many celebrities, with Emma Thompson and Lily Allen being some of the latest to add their voices.

Last week FemaleArts spoke to Rebecca Manson Jones, who will be standing for WEP in the General London Assembly (GLA) in the elections tomorrow, to learn a little about her recent journey in to politics and how her career in theatre has supported her transition in to working with WEP.

AT: Tell us Rebecca, how did you first hear about The Women’s Equality Party?

RMJ: It was the middle of the night, I was looking after my mother who was very ill, and I got a Facebook invitation from Stella [Duffy], I read it properly a few days later, and thought ‘Wow, that sounds good’. So I said to her, ‘I’m there, I’m with you’. And I joined as a founding member.

AT: You’re now standing in the elections next week for the GLA, which must have been a huge decision to make, how did that come about?

RMJ: I’ve thought about going in to politics for the last twenty years, and every time I’ve considered it, I’ve thought ‘I just don’t see myself in that line up of people.’ Also I don’t align with any of the parties, I was attracted to WEP because they’re non-partisan, and there was something about the Women’s Equality Party that made me feel involved from the beginning. Over the years I’ve always questioned why there aren’t more women in politics, and thought perhaps they were like me and busy off doing other things, so when WEP came around I thought maybe this is the time, maybe it’s my turn. And WEP felt very open to me doing that.

AT: There is something about WEP that is welcoming and inclusive, where other political parties aren't as much so. I’ve never been someone that really considered politics were for me, aside from informing myself of what was going on and voting every year, but I’ve been hugely interested in WEP, because they feel friendly and accessible -

RMJ: That’s very important. And in terms of me being an artist there was a big overlap there as well, because I’ve spent 20 years in the arts, challenging who can be in the arts and ensuring they’re open and accessible. So that doesn’t feel alien, what I’m doing feels in many ways similar to what I do at my day job.

AT: That brings me nicely on to my next question, which was that you have come from working in the arts and theatre, are there any other ways that you feel that has supported you in stepping in to this new role within politics?

RMJ: It’s still early stages in politics, but so far I feel it has, because I’m a natural communicator and am used to meeting people where they are. So knocking on doors and not knowing who’s behind them isn’t a scary thing for me - it’s exciting; listening to people tell their story is one of the best things about what we do. And if someone starts talking to me about something that wouldn’t have been my first thought, or I don’t agree with, I spend time thinking ‘well where does that come from?’, looking at it from where they’re standing, which is what we do in theatre a lot. One of the other things is being able to tell the story of the campaign to people and managing to keep them engaged. And it feels a bit like we’re going in to final rehearsals and tech at the moment. [They laugh].

AT: It’s always good to have a theatre metaphor.

RMJ: It is. We’re at that stage of holding the team together as we approach opening night. Of course the only difference is we have no idea what the audience numbers are going to be.

AT: I guess you’ll find out that on the 6th, if anyone showed up to watch.

RMJ: Yep.

AT: So what are you doing on an average day in the build up to the elections?

RMJ: A lot on social media. A lot of flyering, which is harder than it used to be because people are locked in to their phones now and getting eye contact is difficult. I have to say though, we’ve been getting a very pleasing response from men, who are taking a lot of our flyers, especially when we begin to talk about things like equal parenting. And the thing that’s pulling them in is the fact we’re offering a positive message, I’ve had a few conversations with them they are also fed up and like that we are offering something else to the other parties. They get it, they get that inequality is holding back everyone at the moment.

AT: WEP are currently asking people to give 50% of their vote to equality, so voters can still vote for their normal party, and the women’s equality party. In terms of canvassing, do you feel like you’re persuading people to do this?

RMJ: I think we’re doing quite well. I live in an area with a safe labour seat, but we’ve been focussing on the areas where the vote is undecided, in those areas it feels as through people are looking for something else, and when they find out we’re a new party, they often want to know more. I think they also like the fact that a lot of us are new to politics, we are just regular people that care enough to want to change something, but we’re not idiots either, if we got the job, we could do it.

AT: So it’s about finding a mid-point, I suppose, and as you said, meeting them where they are?

RMJ: Yes, there are very much two sides to politics as well, there’s the side that requires the skill, the expertise and understanding the mechanics of it all, but then on the other side a lot of it comes down to understanding what’s worrying people and how to translate the documentation and language around politics to make it accessible.

AT: Accessibility is hugely important. In my teens I really believed that politics was just a load of men in suits standing around talking, it seemed so distant from my world, I had no idea how to relate.

RMJ: And what I’ve said previously is that there is this suit called ‘politics’, and we keep trying to fit it, but it’s not made for us. Well I’m not going to try to fit the suit anymore, it’s time to make a new suit.

You can vote for the Women’s Equality Party tomorrow if you live in London, Scotland or Wales, you can also vote for Sophie Walker as Mayor in the London Elections.

follow @justRMJ @WEP_UK
Rebecca’s blog:

Interview © Amie Taylor (@AmieAmieTay)

Author's review: