The new leader of the Women’s Equality Party tells Carrie Lyell what it means to be the first black, bisexual leader of a political party in the UK
BY CARRIE LYELL
“It’s a strange thing for the leader of the Women’s Equality Party to admit, but I think it’s fair to say I was a late developer when it comes to feminism,” chuckles Mandu Reid warmly. “I only really recognised myself as a feminist in my mid 20s.”
Growing up in what was then Swaziland, in the twilight years of the Apartheid regime, young Mandu – with a black mother and white father – wasn’t thinking about feminism, because there was an issue more pressing; inequality and injustice along racial lines, which she says she was “acutely aware” of. “That was most pertinent to my family… Racial inequality was more at the front of my mind growing up.”
Politicians have developed something of a reputation for avoiding questions or diverting the conversation, but not Mandu. Throughout the course of our interview, the 38-year-old is refreshingly honest. A skilful orator, she puts her points across with a punch, never once feeling rehearsed, PR or plastic.
No surprise, really, given that a career in politics wasn’t on the agenda until fairly recently. “It was never a master plan to find myself leading a political party,” she admits, laughing. So how did this latecomer to feminism, who didn’t plan on being a politician, find herself taking over from Sophie Walker as leader of this fledgling political party in April 2019?
“[Realising] that there’s a deep, grave, prevailing injustice along gender lines, and that it has not been solved, put me on this trajectory. Certain personal experiences elevated and accelerated that process. I dabbled with politics; as a member of the Labour Party for a little while. I didn’t find that a fulfilling experience. I was disappointed with my experience there, so I left and vowed never to join another political party.
“But then the WEP came along and I thought, ‘That sounds really interesting’. I sniffed around the activities in my local area, but was reluctant to become a member – to be more committed – until I understood better what the function and purpose of the party was. What the actual policies were. I thought, ‘Hang on a minute. This is something I ought not just to take an interest in. This is something that I ought to throw my energy and passion into’.”
Energetic and passionate are definitely words I would use to describe Mandu, who comes alive as our conversation progresses, delivering fiery monologues on everything from climate change, far-right populism and LGBTQI equality to the current resident of Number 10 and the failures of the larger political parties. “I’m so talkative, sorry!” she laughs. “They should have warned you…”
What would she say to those who might argue that, in a first-past-the-post political system, smaller parties like WEP are unlikely to make much difference? Does she feel her skills could be better utilised in the Labour Party, for example? “To get the things I believe in top of the Labour Party’s agenda is not going to happen on a timeline I’d be happy with, if I was inside, and had to navigate the horrendously bureaucratic, internal politics of quite an ancient organisation… I reject the idea that being inside those mammoth organisations, that are past the sell-by date, is the way to make change.”
Want more? Read the rest of our interview with Mandu Reid in the September 2019 issue of DIVA, on sale now at the links below.
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