Final interview with former Brent Central MP Sarah Teather

Sarah Teather has now left Brent. Picture credit: Jan Nevill

Sarah Teather has now left Brent. Picture credit: Jan Nevill - Credit: Archant

Sarah Teather will not be swayed on the politics of today. Having sensationally announced that she would quit her Liberal Democrat parliamentary role two years ago, her constituents for the last 12 years haven’t seen her for months, even though she pledged to stay by them until now, the day of the general election.

Just before Christmas she left Brent to live in London’s East End.

She said: “I felt it was right to be out from under my successor’s feet. I had quite a strong sense, particularly as my profile is pretty high in Brent, that it’s not helpful to hang around being a quasi MP.

“I just thought if I’m going to leave and leave the role, it’s important that I make a fresh start, both for myself and whoever is lucky enough to win on Thursday.”

A charity worker employed by the Royal Society, Ms Teather became active in Liberal Democrat politics during the 2000 London mayoral election, unsuccessfully fighting the Finchley and Golders Green seat in 2001.

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She was elected MP for Brent East at a by-election when she became the youngest minister to sit in the House of Commons, earning her the title of “Baby of the House”.

She said: “It was a useful tagline for getting the cause you wanted in the media. Because I came in on a by-election, because I was unusual, because I was a young woman, it meant that people were a bit more interested in what I had to say and I was conscious of trying to use that for the good of my constituents.

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She added: “I never really enjoyed the celebrity and I’m sure there will be people who’ll say ‘come off it’ but it never has sat comfortably with me. I won’t miss that but I also know that the fact that I was the youngest MP gave me an influence on behalf of my constituents.”

She was a party spokesperson on issues such as housing and education, before being made a children’s minister in 2010. She almost resigned in 2012 over the Welfare Reform Act but was sacked in a reshuffle and returned to the back benches. In 2013 she decided to stand down all together, although she remains a member of the party.

“I wanted to make a difference, it’s as simple as that. I used to say when I went into schools that there are lots of ways that you can make a difference but politics is ultimately about changing the system.

“You can achieve a great deal in politics. There are times when it’s very frustrating, and the party system can be frustrating. Ultimately I fell out of love with the party system and party politics. Nonetheless, by working with other people you can achieve huge amounts. There are all kinds of jobs that might have that sense of vocation, doing something for others. Politics is genuinely about solving problems when it’s working well.

She cites the release of Dollis Hill resident Jamil el-Banna from Guantanamo Bay as her greatest success. “It’s a campaign the Brent & Kilburn Times and I ran together. It took a long time but it was an amazing feeling seeing him re-united with his family, undoubtedly one of my high points.”

For the next six months she has a short term contract with the Jesuit Refugee Service, an International Catholic organisation that aids refugees, forcibly displaced peoples, and asylum seekers.

“It’s a short contract until Christmas working specifically on the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and on the conflict in South Sudan.

‘‘I’m going to be supporting their work, trying to get access to education for refugee children, using some of my experience as government minister for education and the work I’ve done campaigning for refugees.

“I’ve no idea what I’m going to be doing after that.

‘‘It’s quite an unstable, uncertain period, but I’m excited about the new challenge.”

She said she “doubts” she will return to politics, looking forward for now to her next challenge.

“I want to say thank you. It’s pretty humbling that they were willing to vote for me three times. Thank you for working with me to make a difference over those 12 years and for the amazing way people welcomed me into their lives.”

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