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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Labour “rebel” with a cause

INTERVIEW by DAVID WOODING

WANNABE Labour leader Liz Kendall told yesterday of her lifelong “rebel” streak which she hopes will propel her party back into power.

The feisty MP admits she’s a born agitator – making her well qualified to break up the old guard standing in the way of change.

Despite being a new face to most voters, she says that makes her the only “sure bet” to put Labour on the path to government again.

Unlike her two main rivals – Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper – Ms Kendall has never held a Cabinet post.

But she’s been “leading from the front” since she was made head girl at pop star Geri Halliwell’s old school, Watford Grammar.

“I always thought myself as a bit of a rebel,” she declared. “So when they pinned the badge on me I couldn’t believe it.

“On the first day, I had full make-up on and the headmistress called me in and said ‘You’ve got to wipe all that off your face’. I remember thinking I don’t want to do this.

“But being head girl gave me an early taste of responsibility. I relish it and never shirk it. I don’t know why but I’ve always liked leading from the front.”

Ms Kendall, 44, also ran after-school sports clubs and societies and also captained the ladies’ football team at Queens’College, Cambridge.

She said: “I wasn’t particularly great on the pitch but I loved getting people together, building a team, going out to win.

“People want a strong leader. They want someone who listens, debates, decides and then leads from the front.

“I often look at great sportsmen and women and if you saw what happened in the Olympics, all of those gold medal winners always thanked the team. They said it wasn’t just them.

“That’s as true in politics as it is in sport. You need a team player who is able to point their side in the right direction and take everyone with them.

“I think I’m a sure bet because I’m the candidate who is going to change the party so we can win to change the country.”

Ms Kendall, 44, says Labour must wake up to the “catastrophic” scale of its election defeat before it accepts the scale of the changes needed to win again.

Picture 173100685 11/06/2015 at 16:40   Owner : Sun Private Pictures PIC JON BOND. 11.06.2015 LIZ KENDALL MP. SHE IS LABOUR LEADERSHIP CONTENDER INTERVIEWED AND PICTURED AT PORTCULLIS HOUSE IN WESTMINSTER WITH SUNDAY SUN POLITICAL EDITOR DAVE WOODING

Liz Kendall talks to David Wooding

She said: “We need profound change, to put it mildly. A change of face and a bit of tweaking won’t be enough to win back voters who left us for Ukip, the SNP and Tories.

“So we need to turn the page and have a fresh start – and I’m the only person who can do that.”

Fitness fanatic Ms Kendall, who does four 45-minute runs a week, believes her boundless energy and modern thinking will overcome her lack of experience at top level.

“It’s not about the jobs you’ve done in the past,” she said. “It’s about understanding how our country has changed and what people want to get a better life for themselves and their families.

“The painful truth is people didn’t trust us on the economy or with their taxes and we didn’t have a positive vision for a better life that everyone could feel part of.

“It’s their money, not ours. They are busting a gut every week to earn a living and it’s their hard-earned taxes we are spending. So we have got to be more careful with their money and get the best out of every penny we spend.

“We shouldn’t be spending more on servicing our debt than on educating our children. We should be investing in things that really matter for people

“It helps to be a new face but we also have to have a new argument.”

She blasts Ed Miliband’s failed election campaign for being too narrow in its appeal.

He talked a lot about “one nation” but then failed to follow it through by focussing on a single social group.

Ms Kendal said: “I care passionately about people who are struggling but we have got to have a vision of a better life for everybody.

“If you weren’t on a zero-hours contract or the minimum wage or if you own your own home, we didn’t have anything to say. We want to be a government for the whole country and that means having a much broader message to people.”

Ms Kendall’s parents typify the sort of aspirational voters she believes her party needs to win back. Her mum was a primary school teacher while her dad, who left school at 16, studied for finance exams while working at the Bank of England.

Turning on her opponents, she added: “We need big, big changes and I’m the only candidate offering that.

“We don’t want ten more years of opposition. We want five years to set out a better vision and win in 2020.”

Dark-haired Ms Kendall, a svelte size eight, admits her personal life has been a little chaotic since she became MP for Leicester West in 2010.

Her current crisis is the “random splodge” on the white jacket she is wearing for our interview.

“It probably happened on the bus,” she said before asking an aide to dash to collect a pink M&S replacement from her flat.

“I showed my mum the jacket and she just went ‘Tut, tut. It will never last.’

“She was right. It’ll teach me never to wear white again. Other things I have to think about is not having any milk in the fridge . I’ve also run out of toothpaste.

“But like most people I know what comes in and out of my bank account. I know what I pay for and what it costs for what I buy. But I am not going to pretend I buy things that I don’t. People lead different lives.”

Ms Kendall recently ended an eight-year relationship with comedian and Inbetweeners star Greg Davies.

She is coy about discussing the break-up, adding: “He’s still a good friend and he makes me laugh. I thought the Inbetweeners was hysterical, properly funny and tapped into.”

Would she stand more chance of winning if she had a family?

“I’ve got a family,” she retorts. “Families come in lots of different shapes and sizes and I spend a lot of time – not as much as I’d like – with my nieces.

“They’re aged five and eight and they love Irish dancing and put in so much effort and energy. I danced a lot when I was younger. I love it and know how much you have to work at it.

“I went to see them in a concert. They did a funky 80s neon legwarmer version and they were out there, giving it their all, confident, in front of all these people and I felt very proud.”

The shadow care minister also has a wide circle of friends outside the Westminster “bubble”, which helps her to keep a foot in the real world.

“I try and stay as normal as possible,” she says. “If I don’t, my friends will tell me where to get off. Most of them aren’t involved in politics. They do lots of other things and that helps me.

“But I am also proud that I’m in politics because it is about changing people’s lives.

“That’s why I’ve thrown my hat in the ring. Because I love my party, I love my country. I think the Tories are letting the country down. But Labour is, too.

“And we’ve got to change if we are going to convince people to trust us to govern again.”

LIZ on SCHOOLS

Toddlers would get an early-step on the learning ladder if Liz Kendall becomes PM.

She wants pre-school education to be given equal status to primary and secondary schools.

Ms Kendall said: “My parents taught me education was my ticket to better life but sadly the labour party has stopped talking about education and forgotten what it’s for.

“We’ve got to start really young.  Kids in my constituency start school 15 months behind where they should be in their development and then play catch up for the rest of their lives. That’s my big thing on education. Start young.”

LIZ on JOBS

THE world of work has changed dramatically, she says, and so must Labour’s attitude to jobs.

“We’ve got to be a high-skill, high-wage economy in every part of the country,” she added. “We need a modern industrial strategy right across the country.

“The world is changing, work is changing and we’ve got to change and so have the unions. Women are working full time, part time, in all different sorts of sectors.”

Only 14 per cent of private sector workers now belong to a union and 15 per cent of Britain’s workforce is self-employed.

Ms Kendall said: “We’re Labour, the party of work, but we can be pro-business and pro-worker.

“Great companies know they do better if their employees have good skills. And good union leaders know that if businesses make profits, thrive, grow and expand, their members will do better, too.”

LIZ on EUROPE

LIZ Kendall was first of the leadership candidates to say she was in favour of an in-out referendum.

She said: “It was a mistake not to have done so before the election. Europe has got to change.

“We have to have the courage of our convictions, go out and make the case.  I am very strong on Britain staying part of Europe because I believe it is vital for jobs and investment.”

LIZ’S SCHOOLDAYS

SPICE Girl Geri Halliwell went to the same school as Ms Kendal – in the year below.

She remembers her well and spotted her as a rising star at a talent contest at Watford Grammar School, Herts.

Ms Kendal said: “I remember thinking, God, she is giving it her all.

“She was making the very best she could and was full of guts, passion and energy.”

She added: “I didn’t know her really well. But I couldn’t help but notice her. I remember spotting her for the first time and thinking ‘Wow!’”

LIZ’S PACKED LUNCH

LIZ Kendall never pulls her punches – and socked it to a phantom fridge raider who swiped her packed lunch.

She was stunned to find her tuna sandwich missing when she went to pick it up one day soon after landing her frontbench job.

So she left a hand-written note on the communal fridge door in a Commons corridor.

It said: “Someone has stolen my lunch from this fridge. I do not appreciate this and warn other people don’t leave anything in her unless you’re happy for it to go missing.”

But next day, a riposte appeared on a bright yellow sticky note: “I took it…AND I’D DO IT AGAIN.”

Later, a third message was added, reading: “YOU ARE A VERY SICK INDIVIDUAL.”

Ms Kendal said: “I bought a sandwich and a salad at a supermarket and put the bag containing them in the fridge.

“They only took one thing out so it wasn’t as if they nicked the whole bag. So I wrote a note warning other MPs on this corridor. Then someone wrote another little note saying they’d do it again, so it was quite funny. But I didn’t write the third note.”