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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Tom Gray, Labour MP Candidate for Brighton Pavilion: GENERAL ELECTION 2024

Ada Carpenter

ByAda Carpenter

Jul 4, 2024

On election day, in a nation that seems primed to vote for a Labour government after 14 years of Conservative leadership, anticipation and tension is high amongst Labour candidates. The Badger had a short conversation with musician Tom Gray, the Labour MP candidate for Brighton Pavilion, on all things politics, passions, and plans for the constituency.

You’ve had a lot of success in your music career over the years, from winning the Mercury Prize with your band Gomez to being elected chair of the Ivors Academy, the British association of songwriters and composers. What’s driven you to join politics at this key moment for the Labour party?

I’ve actually been involved in politics since I was 15, and volunteered for the Labour party back then. But my music career unexpectedly took off; when I was 20 I was about to go and work for a senator in the US when I got signed to a record contract instead. It’s actually been quite a slow road back to politics – I stopped touring over a decade ago but did a lot of other work in the music industry, and the more I looked around, the more I realised the creative industries really have a problem. The sector’s really been getting the thin end of the wedge from the government, and I started getting involved in activism. I launched a big campaign called Broken Record that forced a parliamentary inquiry into the economics of music streaming, and I wrote the Brennan Bill that got into the House of Commons. 

So I’ve been a very effective campaigner, and have established myself as a voice for my sector in Westminster. When Caroline [Lucas] stood down, a few people approached me to say “Have you thought about doing this?” 

Brighton Pavilion has indeed for a long time been a Green stronghold; do you think Caroline Lucas stepping down has provided an opening for other party candidates?

Rather than a Green stronghold, I think it’s been a Caroline stronghold. It was a Labour seat from 1997 to 2010; Caroline’s only been in as long as the Tories have. There’s very much an opportunity at this election for this seat to produce a Labour MP who is actually part of the government, who has the ability to change primary legislation. That’s a considerably different proposition to electing another different Green MP at a moment in time when there’s a national movement back towards Labour.

How do you see Brighton fitting into Labour’s broader national agenda?

We have a massive creative industry here. Brighton has one of the biggest freelance per capita populations in the country, and I would say, is the creative cultural capital of the South East. So to have an MP who comes directly from those industries, pushing that agenda from a city that represents that agenda as we create legislation going forward in a Labour government is a huge opportunity. People here are used to having a badge of honour of being the first green seat; how about the badge of honour of electing a working creative freelancer? There’s nothing more Brighton than that.

Brighton of course isn’t just a creative hub, but is regarded nationally as an LGBTQ+ capital. In light of Keir Starmer’s recent comments against the rights of trans women, how would you support LGBTQ+ issues for Brighton constituents in parliament specifically?

For someone who’s come from the music industry, which I would say is the most progressive sector, it’s taken as given that we have very diverse groups and members of queer and trans communities. Leading and representing these groups is something I already feel like I’m doing in my day-to-day life. My politics very much comes from a place of community building, holding people together. I don’t want to push anyone away, and I think if people really want to talk about solidarity, you have to have the ability to strike paths where everyone can be held, where communities that are being discriminated against are absolutely protected.

Labour plans to massively improve the quality and accessibility of services relating to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), and make it a lot easier for people to deal with their gender identity. At the moment it’s really really tough, and I think a quite humiliating process that people have to go through. We’re going to also push forward a full ban on conversion therapy; there’s lots of things to be done moving forward.

What messages do you have for student voters who might be voting for the first time in a general election?

Students are already in the education system, already trying to find the right path forward for themselves and their future. The really important thing is that we can get a Labour government that can change and improve the work environment that these young people are about to enter. We want to improve the social contract: property rentals should be more regulated and stable; workers’ rights need better protections; everyone should feel safe and protected by the system. It’s really about having a government that is intent on rebuilding that social contract.

Young people should not make the mistake of listening to this nonsense that we live in a two party system. We do not. In the past 100 years, the Conservatives have been in for 70 of them. When Labour just about manages to break through, we make things better for a while and then it goes right back to the Tories. We need to not only deliver a Labour government now, but commit to two or three Labour elections in a row if we are going to get back on track. Our first majority has to be almighty; we need a mandate to stay in government for a decade at least. This is not an election for messing around, wasting your vote, making a comment, or punishing people for having slightly the wrong views to you. This is an election about rebuilding our society and community in this country.

How would you summarise the central messages of your campaign in three words, with student voters in mind?

My tagline has been “Neighbour, Campaigner”. I’ve lived in Brighton for 25 years, very different from some candidates I’m standing against, and I’m a very successful campaigner who can make real change inside parliament. For the third, it’s got to be “Change”. If you want it, you have to vote for it.

Polling stations are open today, 4 July, until 10 p.m. Make sure to take a valid photographic ID with you to vote, and participate in making history.

Image taken by Labour Party

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