Rebecca Long-Bailey and Princess Diana’s poignant meeting thanks to raffle win
It’s hard to imagine that this excited little girl presenting a bouquet to Princess Diana might one day lead the Labour Party.
It was 1988 and Rebecca Long (the Bailey came later with marriage) was only nine years old.
She won a raffle of employees’ children to present flowers at the opening of the Shell Stanlow refinery on the Manchester Ship Canal, where her docker dad Jimmy worked.
Her mum Una prepared her for the role. Rebecca remembers: “It was a huge deal and my mum made me wear rollers the night before.”
Unlike her Labour leadership rival Lisa Nandy, Rebecca has no interest in abolishing the monarchy.
She says: “There are more important things to do, like transforming the economy.”
Now 40, Rebecca Long-Bailey is drawing up plans to do just that – a cradle-to-grave policy for a future Labour Government.
She calls it “aspirational socialism”, which begins with free childcare, free school meals and free education for life. Eviction fears would be banished by more home ownership and secure tenancies and rent controls, with a decent pension on retirement.
Rebecca says: “The role of government is the betterment of its people.
“We need a decent, properly funded society where everyone can achieve their aspirations as a basic right.”
She hasn’t got an idea of cost, but agrees it would run into hundreds of billions of pounds.
Last month she gave Jeremy Corbyn“10 out of 10” as a person – and blames the “mainstream media” and Tory social media for wrecking his election chances last December.
But despite reports JC might like a Shadow Cabinet position, Rebecca doesn’t believe he would take one.
“I like him,” she says. “But I genuinely don’t think he wants to do it.”
Voting begins tomorrow for the next leader with the result on April 4.
RBL, as she is known within the party, trails behind Sir Keir Starmer in both MP and local party support.
She blames Brexit, a disunited party and anti-Semitism for the election loss.
“We’ve got to now build trust with the Jewish community,” she says. “No one who is anti-Semitic should be in the Labour Party. That also applies to sexists, racists and Islamophobes.”
But Rebecca has faced hate campaigns herself on social media.
She says: “Some are sinister and threatening. I try not to look at them. They comment on the way you look. Even my eyebrows have got their own Twitter account.
“If I was on Twitter all day I’d be sitting in a corner crying or driving round to those who said nasty things. I would have a role, if elected, to show how people should behave in public. It costs nothing to be kind.”
Rebecca was just 16 when she saw the effects of deprivation.
Her Saturday job was in a Manchester pawn shop and she remembers an elderly lady coming in weekly to pawn a ring for £10 to give cash to her daughter for food. She would return the next week to redeem it for £12. Once she was a few days late and her ring had gone for auction.
Rebecca says: “She was devastated. So was I. People would come in with rings or whatever and beg for £15. They were worth more but we could only give £10. It was soul-destroying.”
She went to Chester Law School and says of her peers: “Most had been to private school and they wanted to know what my parents did. No one had ever asked that.”
Rebecca grew up in Manchester’s Old Trafford in a fervently political household. She recalls: “Mum would test me on the names of PMs and presidents from around the world. I was only seven.”
A career in law followed and she specialised in legal aspects of the NHS and local authorities providing joint services. Seeing the NHS broken up with private finance deals irked her.
Politics beckoned in 2010 when she took her retired mum to Labour Party meetings. She says: “I remember someone saying people who could afford it should pay for hospital meals and I could feel my anger build up.
“I started campaigning locally but when someone said I should think about being an MP I just laughed.”
She eventually put herself forward for candidate selection but on her first attempt came second.
“In bed that night sat next to my husband I burst into tears,” she says.
But she bounced back and in 2015 was voted in as MP for Salford. She rose through the ranks swiftly to become Shadow Business Secretary.
Rebecca is married to marketing director Stephen Bailey, 46, and they have a son aged seven.
I suggest that adopting a double-barrel name might be something of a hindrance for a Labour leader.
“Nothing is too good for the working class,” she replies.
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