Q&A with Nadia Whittome
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate influential and inspiring women across the world. To mark International Women’s Day this year, we headed to Nottingham to chat to the UK’s youngest MP, Nottingham East’s Nadia Whittome.
A community figurehead through and through, we held the shoot at Nadia’s Nottingham constituency office, using Nottingham-based brands for the looks at a few staple locations in her beloved constituency. Over the course of the morning we got to chat about politics, being a 25-year old MP and life outside of the commons for Nadia.
Despite being a politician, Nadia is still the down to earth ally we have all gotten to know through social media. After arriving at her office Nadia laughed “I must be the only MP that still lives with their Mum”, confirming for me the relatability I had always felt towards Nadia in her politics but also as a young woman. This authenticity sets Nadia apart from other MPs, she is of course young, but with this she brings a true passion and positive attitude towards her work. She is not aggrieved by her experiences growing up under austerity in a working-class single-parent household, rather she uses her experiences to hold the system and those that run it to account.
“I must be the only MP that still lives with their Mum”
- Nadia Whittome
Nadia’s upbringing means she has different reference points to a lot of MPs, she discusses how she doesn’t remember 9/11 and barely remembers the Iraq war for example. Her first political memory was being a child of austerity, aged 13 when the 2010 coalition government came in. Nadia tells me “politics was always something that happened to me, rather than being something that I was”. This subjectivity bolstered her enthusiasm for community activism. The first organised campaign she was a part of was opposing the 2013 bedroom tax, however Nadia tells me that this wasn’t the first time she understood the disenfranchisement in her community or in her own household: “The bedroom tax didn’t directly impact me, it impacted my neighbours and people in my community”. This allyship to defend not just her own interests, but those of the people around her is something Nadia has carried throughout her entire career.
“Politics was always something that happened to me, rather than being something that I was”
- Nadia Whittome
Community activism on a grassroots level was the inception of Nadia’s political career. After becoming an MP in the national political sphere, she has still remained an important community figure. Nottingham is integral to her identity both politically and personally, and she is genuinely passionate to live in and represent her constituency. Speaking of her community, “Nottingham isn’t just my constituency, it’s my home. It’s always been my home and I love my city, I’m very proud of it”.
We talk about the importance of collective activism, Nadia affirming that the most important thing for young people is to join a trade union, as “it’s not just important for the individual workers, but for the whole of the workforce”. Nadia cites movements like Black Lives Matter, Kill The Bill and Sisters Uncut, as well as community unions, the Tenants Union or even student union politics are good places to start. Despite the disillusionment a lot of young Labour face with the party and its current leadership, Nadia advises that “even if you’re not happy with the direction of the party, join the Labour Party. Although it is far from perfect, it is the vehicle for change and it’s important to be a part of the movement to change it from the inside”.
Chatting to Nadia, our experiences resonate, both growing up in the Midlands and having spent time living in Nottingham myself. What resonates the most for me is Nadia’s experience as a young woman and her continued allyship for womens’ issues in the UK and beyond. Speaking plainly on women’s issues, we discuss our current situations and past experiences as women:
“In the long term we obviously need deep cultural and structural change and material change for women. But in the short term, we need proper funding for domestic and sexual violence services for women’s refuges. We need reform in the criminal justice system. I don’t have hope that the systems will change for us, but I do have hope that we can change the system” .
- Nadia Whittome
For womens’ rights, optical allyship has to be called out. Nadia points out the hypocrisy of having Cressida Dick, an LGBTQ woman, as the head of the Metropolitan Police that violently policed Sarah Everard’s vigils. Priti Patel, the most senior female politician in this country, is a woman of colour, yet has been responsible for deporting so many people of colour back to countries where they will face persecution. Girl boss feminism elevates women in power no matter the cost, however Nadia condemns this:
“We need to call time on #girlboss feminism, because we need liberation for everyone. Working class women, women of colour, disabled women, trans women, sex workers” .
- Nadia Whittome
As an active member of the LGBTQ+ community, she recently displayed solidarity with LGBTQ+ organisations, sharing the concern that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is being influenced by the government’s anti-trans agenda. During our conversation she also brought my attention to a Crossland Employment Solicitors survey of 1000 workplaces, where 1 in 3 workplaces openly admitted that they would be “less likely” to hire a trans person, and highlighted the importance of focussing on real issues like this and not making trans people “pawns in a culture war”. On tackling trans issues, Nadia advises us to “read The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye. We need to move away from talking about toilets and focus on the real issues, the disproportionate rate of domestic violence against trans people, the fact that waiting lists for reassignment surgery are over 2 years long for example”.
Nadia has recently called for a public inquiry into institutional police failings, following the IOPC’s investigation which uncovered racism, misogyny, bullying and harassment involving serving police officers at Charing Cross station. What stands out to me about Nadia is her pragmatism and ability to demand targeted, productive action. On mobilising anger, she notices “a feeling of getting burnt out, [which] is really common and damaging, that’s why it’s important that we nourish each other. History shows us that things can change, we just have to organise our anger”.
On who inspires her, Nadia picks out members of her communities, people like the Sage care home strikers who took strike action and won the London living wage. As an ex-care worker who returned to her job during the pandemic, Nadia recognises their struggle. Closer to home in Nottingham, she celebrates St Ann’s Advice Centre which is ran by women and provides debt advice to the community, and POW, a charity empowering and supporting sex workers in Nottingham. Both of these are organisations she has shared her salary with in the past, taking home less than half of the staggering wage MPs are afforded and donating the rest of her salary to local charities.
“History shows us that things can change, we just have to organise our anger”
- Nadia Whittome
As well as banding together and organising in the face of adversity, it is important for Nadia to have down time and remain “a normal 25 year old”. She jokes “my older male colleagues will go and maybe, play golf or something as a hobby and I have just as much of a right to go out dancing with my friends”. Aside from relatability, it’s important for people to see people like them in Westminster, and not just for the optics. Nadia represents young people and she honours this in a way which makes us excited about the future of left-wing politics.
Article by Phoebe Patrick
Styling by Eleanor Cheatle
Make-up by Sinead Hannan
Photography by Martyn Ewoma
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