In conversation with… Gina Miller, activist, campaigner and business leader
Gina Miller is someone that few would have heard of a couple of years ago. But her legal challenge against the UK government which forced ministers to seek approval from Parliament before starting the formal process to leave the EU changed all that.
In the latest CPI Podcast, she sat down with our director of communications, Nadine Smith, to discuss what it was like to be in the eye of a media and political storm, her ongoing role in the Brexit debate, the state of legitimacy and being an unintentional champion and enemy of the people.
Gina Miller on….
Her legal challenge to the government
I think the press created a feeding frenzy that was about me trying to go against the will of the people. I also think there was also an element of who does this woman of colour think she is? How dare I stand up and do this? How dare I stand up and use my voice? Should I not be grateful for being allowed to be in the UK? Should I not just stay quiet? I do think that if I was a white male bringing this case, the backlash would have been much less.
On speaking up and not backing down
There are three things that I’ve always made me speak out. One, I hate bullies and I will not be bullied by anyone – I have always been that way. Secondly, I will not be lied to. I don’t understand why we should allow people in positions of responsibility or power who lie to get away with it. And thirdly, it was the right thing to do. I grew up in a household that was all about the law, social justice, and a strong sense of right and wrong. And so I have always felt that we have to use our voice when we see something wrong, we have to speak up. No one will change those principles in me.
On Britain’s MPs
I think we’re seeing that people now hold the power and we’re seeing this across the Western world – and it is the beginnings of what I see as, what Karl Marx and Voltaire spoke about, the beginnings of challenging power, revolution. I think people are dissatisfied because they have been let down over and over again by numerous governments, by the establishment, and over time they just say ‘we won’t take any more of this’.
On democracy in the UK
My view is that democracy is in danger. It’s in danger because it didn’t evolve against the backdrop of the contemporary social issues we are facing. We’ve also had politicians who have become professionals, rather than people who really want to change things; for the people. They still want change – but they do it with an eye to power, rather than an eye to change. Brexit is a wake-up call for democracy.
On parliamentary sovereignty
Successive governments have been using ancient powers to bypass Parliament and change our lives. This is not how government and sovereignty should work. The levels of transparency are being eroded on a daily basis and so I’ve been on a sort of watching brief when it comes to democracy and I’m saying we have a very good system but it needs to be used and respected – it can’t be bypassed. The whole idea of parliamentary sovereignty is that we elect MPs – hopefully ones that will speak up and be bold and represent the country and not just their party.
On the government’s confidence and supply agreement with the DUP
This deal is about using public money – money that ordinary citizens have paid in taxes – and using it as a bribe because the government did not win a majority. They bought 10 votes when they needed them. I’m sorry but that’s plain bribery in my view. And they have done so without an Act of Parliament/ If it is set as a precedent, then successive governments can dip into that public fund again without parliamentary scrutiny so I believe we need this to be answered in a court of law.
On educating people in society
I go out of my way to talk to people who don’t agree with me or to people who I feel might have misjudged me. I think it is really important that people understand – not that they like or support me – but because I think that understanding leads to a more balanced society.
We don’t want people feeling that they are misunderstood or they misunderstand others, that they devalue others, because that’s how wars start. We have to have understanding, even if we have disagreement, we have to have understanding and debate.
On fake news
The amount of fake news we have – including ‘deep fake news’ where you can put faces and voices onto other people – is incredibly disturbing. So how do you get the truth to people? How do they trust the messages they are getting or the pictures they are seeing or the newspapers they are reading? This is a huge, huge problem and I think we have to have more involvement from the companies who own social media to put in place more controls because they are capable of doing it, and I think they have gotten away with far too much for far too long.
On government communications
Whatever your position of responsibility, you have a moral duty to tell the truth and, even if it’s uncomfortable, the hard truths. This idea that you’re doing it to stay in post, to get people to like you, is not what responsibility in positions of power is about.
To my mind, it is about being moral leaders and being responsible but that appears to be largely gone. I am shocked about the amount of fake news or biased news or skewed news that comes out from politicians – not just in the UK but increasingly around the world. The agenda is about staying in power or needing to get people to like them more to get their next vote.
You could argue that the challenges we are seeing around the world are because people know it. The public is not stupid and they can smell the lies, the power-grabbing and the conflicts of interest. They are saying ‘we have had enough, we don’t trust you anymore and we are going to shake the status quo’.
On whether governments should care
This is absolutely their job. If you put yourself up as a politician, you are almost saying ‘I’m a parent of the nation’. You will be hated some days, you’ll be loved other days, but that’s what you have opted to do – you decided to be a parent of the nation.
The irony is that if people trust you they will probably let you get on with the job an awful lot more than questioning every single thing you do. But every so often, you have to reassure them so you need touchpoints with the public. But the public also have to do their part – it’s a partnership between those in power and the people; it’s a two-way relationship. Too often it is people in power doing things to the people.
On the UK civil service
We, the public, need to better understand how government works because one of the arguments for Brexit is that people don’t understand the business of government – we’re not taught how government works and how they are elected. If you understand something then you buy into it but there is very little buy-in because people don’t know. The civil service probably likes it that way but because of the power they hold it is absolutely vital that they are brought out of the shadows.
On resolving Brexit
I am very worried about how Brexit is resolved – not on a political level, because that will happen, it’s how that solution is sold to the British public and brings us back to one country because we are incredibly divided right now. We need a solution that is going to heal Britain and I can’t see that happening at this moment in time.
On mending Britain’s fractured society
This is absolutely vital because I can tell you from personal experience – from letters, and emails – that people are being physically and verbally abused. The discrimination that’s happening in our society and the intolerance, is building on a daily basis. More and more people are getting angry for very different reasons.
Then there are others who are in stress – I saw some data from the British Dental Association recently that said there has been a 46% increase in people grinding their teeth. We really are a nation in stress and we need to find our way back to being a cohesive and tolerant society.
We can do this through policies and bold statements that talk about localism and policies for the people – NHS, education, and ring-fencing certain policy areas to make them cross-party issues. If we have very bold conversations then I’m sure people will start listening.
On reconnecting government and the people
One of the criticisms that are heaped at Westminster is that it is a bubble and I absolutely agree with that. When I was on the Remain trail there were so many people, especially the politicians, who wouldn’t go outside London, But I did – and I’d come back and tell them what people were telling me and they’d be very dismissive and told not to worry about it. There was very little appreciation or understanding.
So how does government connect and understand people? They have to go and be amongst people. It can’t just be in London – we have the biggest North-South divide of any European country. People in these institutions also have to change and have a different mindset. Firstly, they have to accept that they are not trusted; they’re going to have to put their hands up and admit when they get things wrong and want to get it right. We also have to look at every part of life and society and ask how we got here. Rebuilding trust needs to go all the way through systems and infrastructure. This starts with conversations – we have to be more honest with each other.
On the private sector
Privatisation, the goal of profit at all cost, is one I view as very damaging. I am a proponent of responsible capitalism, where we look at a triple bottom line rather than just profit – people, profit and planet.
One of the things I think really need to change is how the private sector interacts as an estate with the other estates in our society. I think they have become too greedy, too self-interested and disconnected from society, ordinary people and from politicians as well.
I would stop Davos tomorrow because I can’t understand why they think there is this organisation that sits on its own and can make very important decisions, in corners, away from view, about the rest of the world. This should not happen. When institutions become too powerful they need to be checked and I do think that privatisation and corporate power are things that need to be checked right now.
Quick fire questions:
Your hero/heroine? If I had to choose someone who I look up to it’s George Elliot, who many people don’t know was a woman but was one of the first investors in the East India Company, who decided to defy her family, who wrote her books about caring and taking people seriously – she was an extraordinary woman in many ways.
If you could change one thing in the future of government, what would it be? That every MP has to tell the truth.
If you could have been anything else in life, what would you have become? Wonder Woman – even though I know the true, somewhat deviant story behind the comic book character!