Interview: Rebecca Manson Jones

We interviewed Rebecca Manson Jones at the start of the summer, just before the GLA elections when she was standing for the Women’s Equality Party (WEP). Five months on and the campaigning is still going strong as she’s now about to stand in the Lewisham by-election, for Brockley Ward. When she’s not out campaigning with WEP, she’s also making theatre, which naturally links to her politics. Here she talks about both with Female Arts’ Amie Taylor.

AT: Last time we spoke to you it was just before the May GLA election, so what’s been happening since then with the Women’s Equality Party?

RMJ: Since then I have been part of a debrief with the Women’s Equality Party on our experiences there, out of that came an invitation to make a candidates pack, so we collaborated on that so new people can get a bit of head start. One thing I’ve been focussed on is looking at how working with branch is important, because Lewisham Branch is one of the strongest and one of the most proactive, we got 18,000 votes in Lewisham alone in May. We kept on working through the summer and upped our membership during that time,. We’ve also been looking ahead to the council elections in 2018, and it was whilst we were doing that the opportunity came up to stand in the by-election. We’ve also just introduce this new event called pub and politics, which we do on the first Thursday of the month. We already have regular meetings where we have the branch leaders, steering groups etc, but we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice for a bunch of people, who are interested to once a month come together and talk about politics, without any formal business being done.’

AT: Which is great, and I think something we talked about last time was how WEP are making politics accessible, I know I certainly felt that for the first time ever I could see a way in to politics and having some say and some power -

RMJ: Yes, totally. Which is what we’re finding, and as we prepare for the by-election, we’re going out door-knocking every night and meeting with people all the time who have been saying ‘I haven’t heard of you, but this sounds interesting, Lewisham needs change and we need to get away from party politics.’ Which is one of the things WEP offers in that it’s non-partisan, we’re bringing something new to the table and people recognise that Women’s Equality is better for everyone. And there are some people we meet that have heard of us and have said ‘I voted for you.’ Which is always gratifying.

AT: Yes, and of course a lot’s changed since May in that we had the election, but also Brexit, and all of the faff in parliament - I think people are looking for something new now. What do you feel you’re offering in this by-election that no one else currently is?

RMJ: One of the things we’re offering is to take party politics out of the discussion and really focus on the people and the residents again. So beyond the Women’s Equality core policies 9equal representation in politics and media, equal education, parenting, caring, equal pay and ending violence against women and girls) it’s about us listening to you, without being influenced by the ideology of a party. Locally, safety is one of our top concerns, which Lewisham Council have started on but we want to push that discussion to the top of the agenda. Looking at flexible working, equal parenting and affordable housing, what that “affordable” actually need to mean because affordable housing isn’t affordable for a lot of people here. There are a lot of private landlords because of the limited social housing supply and a lot of need serious attention. Also supporting carers, and addressing that there aren’t enough primary education spaces. Also we’ve learned that girls are missing out on sporting and leisure activities, so we want to look at that, address gender stereotyping there and sort it out.

AT: Great, and anyone in the Brockley ward of Lewisham Borough can vote on the 13th October -

RMJ: Yes, if they’re register of course, polling stations open at 7am.

AT: So as well as all of your politics you’re working with your company Just Jones &, and you’re currently developing a piece at the moment which ties in with your politics -

RMJ: Yes, totally, because I got furiously interested in politics in 2010, and at the same time I got more actively interested in gender politics. I started making a show about this - why artists aren’t taken seriously by society, but especially why female artists aren’t taken seriously.

AT: So tell us briefly what the title is of your new piece and what inspired it…

RMJ: It’s called Artist in a Happy City (working title) and the inspiration was partly moving to Brockley, because Brockley is a community which works at best like a happy city. It’s all do to with where you live, and finding that community spirit, and how it can form your character, or how you can form it. For the show, we have a city that is set to run up on the equality standards that everyone says they want. Then we test this city by throwing in a problem, and with our city it’s the scarcity of sugar, which is their main crop. And we see how the citizens and the audience behave. And so this happens for real in the room, it’s funny, because what’s happened is when people bring sugar in to the room, it becomes currency, because we’re addicted to the stuff. So when the city comes under test, we’re playing with the idea that some people struggle for responsibility, but also some take on a sense of entitlement. And at the centre of all of this is character of the Artist who isn’t really taken seriously at the beginning but as we get further into the show, we start to realise that there’s more going on with her. And her role become integral rather than peripheral. I see is happening all the time. We’re changing as a community and more and more artists and women are stepping up and saying count me in.

Don't forget to vote this Thursday 13th October if you live in Brockley Ward!

Just Jones & -touring theatre in all sorts of places

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