Yvette Cooper: I’ll be nobody’s puppet

YVETTE Cooper has told hubby Ed Balls that SHE wears the trousers now as shesteps up her bid to become Labour’s first woman leader.

She insists her other half – between jobs after losing his seat – won’t be pulling the strings from home if she wins.

Mum-of-three Ms Cooper declared: “I won’t be anyone’s puppet. I can think for myself.

“I have my own ideas, my own vision and if I am lucky enough to be elected leader I will be entirely my own person.”

In an exclusive interview, she told how she aims to “smash the glass ceiling” and land the job her husband failed to secure five years ago.

Ms Cooper, 46, believes there has never been a better time for the party of women’s rights to hand the crown to a woman.

And she admits her first task must be to win back millions of voters – including Sun readers – who deserted them on May 7.

Feisty Mrs Cooper, 46, believes she is caring, experienced and tough enough to lead her stricken party back into power – and can do it without Ed’s help.

She pointed at a photo-mosaic portrait of Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, created from tiny photos of famous women, on the wall of her Commons office.

“Remember what they said about her 100 years ago?” she asked. “They said married women shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they would do what their husbands told them.

“Well, here’s a surprise. Women have ideas of their own. They can think for themselves. And that’s what I will do if I become leader.

“I’ll always be my own person. I’ll stand up for women and men across the country who want to do their own thing, have their own ideas and get on.

“Yes, that will mean challenging prejudice, sexism and different kinds of attitudes. But I think we can smash the glass ceiling, do things in a different way and shake up the system.

“But we can do it in a way that includes everybody and makes everybody feel part of this rather than just turning people away.”

Unlike her husband, the former shadow chancellor, smart, elfin-faced Ms Cooper is free of toxic links to ex-PM Gordon Brown.

The comprehensive schooled daughter of a union chief was a twenty-something when she became an MP in Tony Blair’s landslide victory of 1997.

Eighteen years on, the “Blair’s Babe” has come of age and says she’s ready to make history herself.

She vowed to break up the old boys’ club that rules Westminster and put the family back at the heart of politics – with policies she dreams up at the school gates.

Ms Cooper said: “Politicians should go to where people are and not just expect them to come to Westminster.

“Instead of having meeting public meetings or waiting for constituents to turn up at my surgeries, I just go and stand at the school gates, talk to other mums and dads, hand out a few leaflets and chat to parents and grandparents, often, as well.

“Many people come up with problems they are having, maybe about housing, work or something in the town. But you have to chat at the school gates.

Labour grew too narrow in its appeal under Ed Miliband, she says, offering only sticking plaster solutions to problems instead of big visions for the future.

The shadow home secretary added: “Our party needs a strong sense of direction. We have to include as many people as possible .

“I want to have everybody to feel they can be proud to support the Labour party and for us to feel proud to support them in their lives.

“We need to put families at the heart of our politics. As a mum, I feel very strongly about that because my family, my kids are the most important thing in my life.

“That has to be reflected in what we do. We were just too narrow and we’ve got to reach out and rebuild and that means winning back voters we lost to Ukip, the Tories and the SNP.

“We’ve got to be able to do it across the whole country – Scotland, England, Wales, north, south, big cities, small towns, tiny communities.

“What the SNP is doing is dividing us. I care just as much about kids growing up in poverty in Lanarkshire as in Leeds or London. Wherever you live, we should be supporting each other.

“I want us all to have a sense of coming together. So yes, that does mean that the Labour party has to rebuild, it has to change and it has to reach outward.

“Sun readers are incredibly important because it’s about letting everybody across the country know that Labour is supporting their ambitions in life.

“They all share a common desire – to improve their living standards and feel confident about their kids’ future.

“We’ve got to show practical things we can do to help families get on, to know their kids can get an apprenticeship, have a good start in life and go to university.

“They need to know that not only will there be good jobs in the future but that they’ll be able to climb the career ladder and get on.”

Yvette Cooper talks to David Wooding

Yvette Cooper talks to David Wooding

Sitting in her office, overlooking Parliament Square the Ms Cooper expressed dismay at Labour MPs who say it will take 10 years to put the party on its feet – and insists under her leadership it can be ready for power in 2020.

She said: “With me as leader, I’m determined we can win at the next election. We can do that by reaching out to as many people as possible. “

Ms Cooper believes being a working mum gives her the edge, added: “Support for families is not just about childcare. It is really important but we have to support families and understand the things parents worry about for the future.

“I’ve always been a big supporter of SureStart centres, which are about health and parenting support. They’re about mums getting to know each other so they’re not isolated. It’s broader and if you see it.”

Ms Cooper admits she faces a tough battle to finish ahead of rivals Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn when the new leader is picked in September.

But she believes she can unite the party and added: “We have to drop the old labels of left and right, Blair and Brown.

“My family are from the northern coalfield towns. Dad was a trade union official, my grandfather a miner and my mum a maths teacher.

“For me politics has always been about giving everyone a fair chance in life – whatever their background.”

Is she tough enough to be PM?

“Experience matters, “ she said, “and it’s made me strong enough to deal with it. I’m really up for this.

“We’ve had over 100 years of fighting for women’s equality in the Labour party – ever since the Suffragettes.

“Today 43 per cent of our MPs are female, which is more than double the Conservatives, and electing a woman leader is long overdue.

“So I think it is time we smashed that one last glass ceiling in our party. We have the chance to shake up the Westminster old boys’ club and do things differently and that’s what I’m going to be fighting for.”

ED Balls has been a perfect “house husband” since he lost his seat on May 7.

The former shadow chancellor is developing his domestic skills – and serving up tasty meals for his young family.

Ms Cooper said: “When we first moved in together, I used to do all the cooking. But then he had a go and he’s really into it.

“Now he’s doing all the cooking. He can do all kinds of things. He likes barbecue dishes particularly but is expanding his repertoire a bit recently.”

There were tears when Mr Balls was voted out in one of the biggest shocks of election night and he’s taking a break before deciding what to do next.

His wife added: “He’s spending a lot of time answering emails. He’s received lots of supportive messages, including from the Tories and people who liked the speech he gave on the night.”

She was a football widow again as Ed went to Wembley to watch his beloved Norwich City clinch promotion to the Premiership after defeating Middlesbrough in the play-off final.

But she had her way a couple of nights before when the family gathered around the TV to watch the Eurovision song contest.

“I really like Eurovision,” she said.

In their spare time they watch boxed sets of series including Friday Night Lights and Nashville.

Ms Cooper manages to juggle motherhood with being a top politician.

But the biggest demand on her time is being family “taxi driver” for Ellie, 15, Joel, 13, and Maddy, 10.

“I feel I spend most of my time being a cab service for the kids,” she joked.

“On the night of the election debate we had two of them in a school performance so we went to watch.

“I came out and all these calls, texts and emails flooded in. I was looking at my phone trying to catch up what was going on as I walked along and bumped into a lamp post.

“But I wouldn’t change anything because being with the kids are such precious times.

FOREIGN visitors should be charged a £10 visa waiver fee to pay for extra border controls, Ms Cooper says.

She thinks net immigration could be cut if everyone was counted in and out of the country.

British tourists who travel to the USA and some non-EU countries have to pay to register their details online – but it’s free for those coming here.

Ms Cooper said: “Why not have the same system of charges that other countries have so we could raise enough money for a thousand extra border staff.

“Let’s have strong enforcement but make sure the staff are in place to do the job – and taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill.”

She admitted the last Labour government got it wrong by not demanding transitional controls for Eastern European migrants.

Immigration should be controlled and managed so that it’s fair, she said.

Under her leadership, Labour would stop undercutting of wages by migrants but ensure those who want to create jobs are given help to do so.

CHILDREN should be taught computer coding at school to get them ready for jobs of the future, Yvette Cooper says.

She believes all kids should learn how to create websites and apps to help get Britain back on track in the modern world.

Ms Cooper says it is now as important a skill as learning the three Rs and vowed that a government led by her would make it compulsory.

“It’s vital we catch up in the skills race,” she said. “People want to know their kids have the best chance in life once they leave school.

“Where are the digital jobs going to be? What chance are they going to have? Are we making sure that all our children learn coding at school?

“So many of the jobs of the future are going to depend on internet and digital and yet 95 per cent of the coding is done by men.

“We want people from all walks of life and from every back ground to have the chance of the best jobs in the future.”

LABOUR was slow off the mark to reform the benefits system last the party was in power, Yvette Cooper admits.

She says work must pay and it is important that people pay into the system when they can.

But she stressed: “We have to make sure that people who are suffering from serious disabilities also get the support that they need as well.” Ms Cooper says Labour was right to focus on getting young people into work when it first won power in 1997.

However, she added: “We were slow to start the incapacity benefit reforms.

“It took a long time to then start changing the systems around incapacity  benefits and making sure there were proper systems in place. We should have done more and acknowledged that things like childcare are really important, too.

“Childcare costs have soared through the roof and families feel really stretched. You have stay at home mums feeling guilty staying at home, mums at work feeling guilty for going out to work, and everyone feeling under pressure. I want to do more to support all families.”

Yvette in brief…

1969: Born in Inverness to trade union official Tony and maths teacher June.

1990: Researcher for Labour MP John Smith.

1992: Adviser to Bill Clinton in the US.

1997: Wins safe seat of Pontefract and Castleford.

1998: Weds Ed Balls.

2007: Lands her first ministerial job – housing

2008 Promoted to Cabinet as Chief Treasury Secretary.

2011: Appointed Shadow Home Secretary.

2015: Launches leadership bid

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