When Luciana Berger resigned from the Labour Party to found The Independent Group with six other MPs, she became the face of a new type of politics. It signalled the end of a time where MPs expect to stay in their seats for decades – and the start of a more fluid place where politicians risk their jobs to effect change.
Luciana is one of them. And, whether you agree with her move or not, it’s hard not to admire her bravery and principles. Her Liverpool Wavertree seat could be on the line now that she’s left Labour. ‘Politics isn’t a job for life when you get into public office,’ she tells Grazia. ‘My responsibility and duty first of all is to my constituents and the country. This isn’t a career. People should know when they get into public office that it could come to an end at any moment.’ The defiant stance of Luciana, 37, and her new colleagues is sending shockwaves through Westminster, and she expects more MPs to follow their lead: ‘There’s certainly a significant number of colleagues who are talking about it privately,’ she adds.
We meet on her last day in Parliament as she’s due to go on maternity leave for her second child (Luciana has since given birth to a baby boy), but her pregnancy has been anything but relaxed. After enduring months of abuse she railed against anti-semitism in the Labour Party, specifically Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of it. In her resignation speech, she branded Labour ‘sickeningly institutionally anti-semitic’. Just a fortnight earlier, she’d been due to face two motions of no-confidence by members of her constituency. They were eventually dropped, but many acknowledged she’d been a victim of bullying and hatred.
Has the amount of stress she’s had to endure while pregnant worried her? ‘Yes, I’ve been very sensitive to and aware of how important it is to try and not get stressed,’ she says. ‘I’ve had a number of conversations to make sure I’m fully aware of the impact of stress levels on the development of my baby... I’ve tried really hard to do a bit of mindfulness. I use apps on my phone to try to avoid stress.’
She is, still, the subject of anti-semitic abuse. What are her coping mechanisms? ‘I’ve switched off notifications. I try to insulate myself from being exposed to some of that stuff. If I see too much I come off [social media]. I’m sensitive to the fact that at any moment my resilience might break – something might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I try to have time out to look after my mental health. I’m fortunate to have a marvellous husband, family, friends and a great team. I couldn’t do it by myself. I’m very conscious it could just take one thing for that not to be enough.’
Luckily, she doesn’t feel the events of the past few months have cast a shadow over her pregnancy. ‘It’s just been very busy, so I haven’t done as many pregnancy yoga sessions this time,’ she says. Her first child, a daughter who’s nearly two, was less than four weeks old when Theresa May announced the snap election in 2017, which meant Luciana was thrust back into work sooner than expected. This time she’s not making any maternity leave plans as politics is evolving at such speed. ‘Who knows what’s going to happen,’ she says.
Her husband Alistair is self-employed, so doing shared-parental leave will be a challenge, but looking after their daughter is indeed a ‘shared endeavour’. And, as someone who was vocal in calling for the introduction of proxy voting, she will be using it while she’s away – making her the second female MP, after Tulip Siddiq, to do so. It’s hard to imagine her taking too much of a backseat as The Independent Group – already polling at 18% – gets off the ground.
On the day of our interview she has three meetings with her new colleagues and says they’ve assigned some roles. But they’ve already come under serious scrutiny for the sinful act of not ordering peri-peri fries in Nando’s last week, and were mocked for seeming like they were trying to be relatable. ‘We had a limited window in which to eat and come back to the vote, so we decided it was the closest place we could go and get back in a hurry,’ she clarifies. ‘But I was delighted because I really like it. Plus, I did have peri-peri chips!’ Luciana has tried hard to make sure her daughter hasn’t been exposed to everything that’s been going on, although, ‘She’s constantly pointing and saying, “Mummy!” as she’s been seeing me in papers and on TV.’
As Luciana was a member of Labour for nearly two decades, her decision to leave wasn’t taken lightly. In fact, she says it was one of the most painful decisions she’s ever made. But she felt she’d done everything she could to try and change things from within. A lot would have to change for her to consider re-joining again, yet, 10 days on, she says, ‘I’m still processing it. It’s not something that happens and then you move on.’
Her resignation is a sad mark of how toxic anti-Semitism on the left has become. But, despite the turmoil, she seems at peace now, relishing the new beginning. ‘I felt strongly that if I had gone off to have my baby and I was still feeling as awful as I did, I’d have found that very difficult. People do say I look like a weight has been lifted.'