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Lisa Nandy


Lisa Nandy is the Labour Member of Parliament for Wigan and the current Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Having obtained a Master’s degree from Birkbeck, she worked as a Senior Policy Adviser at The Children’s Society from 2005 to 2010, specialising in issues faced by young refugees. She also served as a Labour councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council from 2006 to 2010. Her election as the MP for Wigan in 2010 saw her become the constituency’s first female MP and one of the first Asian female MPs.



Today, it is my great honour to welcome Lisa Nandy to a College Fellowship at Birkbeck, University of London.

Lisa Eva Nandy is known for her integrity, compassion, and dedication to her constituency and the wider community. In her early career, she worked as an aide to Neil Garrart (MP for Walthamstow), as a researcher for the homeless charity ‘Centrepoint’, and as senior policy adviser at The Children’s Society, where she has focussed on the needs of young refugees. Indeed, children and refugees have been at the heart of her political mission – which helps explain why she has acted so effectively as advisor to the Children’s Commissioner for England and to the Independent Asylum Commission.

Most importantly, Nandy has been the Labour Party Member of Parliament for Wigan for the past twelve years, winning the seat with a 10,500 majority at the age of just thirty years.

Throughout her time in politics, she has served her Party. She was a Labour Councillor on the Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council, and more recently, she has worked tirelessly as Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities. In between, she has served in numerous roles, including (to name just a few) Parliamentary Private Secretary to Tessa Jowell, Shadow Olympics Minister, Shadow Minister for Children, Shadow Minister for Charities and Civil Society, Shadow Energy Secretary, and Shadow Foreign Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. She is also an intrepid and courageous political figure, fearless in challenged the leadership, including standing as candidate in the 2020 Labour Party leadership election (won by Keir Starmer). She is variously described as on the ‘centre left’ or ‘soft left’ of the Labour Party, even if, as she says, ‘I wish we had a better name for it’ since ‘soft left’ ‘sounds a bit like you’ve sort of collapsed into a jellyfish’.

If this isn’t evidence that Nandy is a consummate politician, then her public speeches provide incontrovertible proof. Nandy is an astute media performer – even taking on Piers Morgan with aplomb.

The ‘big crises’ of our times have absorbed her. She is as vocal about climate change, as she is about political cultures that have allowed anti-Semitism, sexual harassment, and transphobia go unchallenged. Her foreign policy approach has been influenced by Robin Cook’s 1997 speech on ‘ethical foreign policy’. In recent months, she has spoken eloquently about Russian aggression and British responses. She accuses the government’s ‘Homes for Ukraine’ sponsorship scheme of excessive bureaucracy. In contrast to their snail-pace slowness, Nandy praises charities and council leaders who, in a governmental void, have stepped in to help refugees. These women and men ‘spin gold out of thread every day’, she reminds us, as they did during the height of the Covid lockdowns.

Nandy is a firm adherent to Aristotle’s belief that humans (anthrōpos) are political animals (politikon zōion) – that is, we are deeply social creatures. This means that she worries endlessly about towns. Nandy is the co-founder and unpaid Director of ‘Centre for Towns’, which is a Think Tank (conjured up while downing a few pints in a pub in Horwich), dedicated to promoting research on coastal and industrial towns and devising ways to ensure that they thrive. I was thrilled to discover that her passion for towns has resulted in an internet meme, in which she can be seen repeating (often to the music of Pink Floyd or Billy Joel) the words ‘towns, towns, towns’!

The fundamental argument of ‘Centre for Towns’ is that, for too long, cities have been seen as the engines for growth and, in her words, ‘towns have been ignored, patronised, and labelled “left behind”.’ No wonder ‘whole swathes of the country’, she reminds us, feel ‘powerless’. In one speech she spoke eloquently about Wigan’s town centre, which used to be dominated by a Labour Club in Upper Morris Street, where, as she put it,

People used to go, after work on the railways or down the mines, for a pint with their friends, their co-workers, their colleagues, their neighbours.

It was ‘a busy, bustling heart of the community’. Yet, now, there stands in its place a MacDonalds, employing people on ‘zero-hour minimum wage contracts’. In response, she says to her fellow Labourites:

We understand low pay, we understand zero hours, but do we understand that those institutions like Upper Morris Street Labour Club helped to shape us as we helped to shape them? 

Her voice is a strong one, urging politicians to go beyond economic responses and engage emotionally and honesty with real people living in worlds governed by global capitalism. It is not surprising to hear her lamenting the fact that politicians spend so much time sitting in anonymous rooms having (as she puts it) ‘artificial conversations about people rather than with them’. 

Nandy also speaks eloquently about identity. She observes ‘the messy multitude of conflicting, overlapping identities that we all hold within ourselves’, stating that ‘In the end, identity is a search, for belonging and for inclusion’. ‘Our job’, she tells us, is to unite people:

In a story about ourselves that weaves together this messy multitude of allegiances into a national story. I don’t say this as a substitute for economic and political change, but because this is the only way that will convince people not only that we must change this country but that they can trust us to do it.

What about her life? Nandy is a Mancurian by birth, educated at the comprehensive Parrs Wood High School in Manchester (one of the largest schools in the UK) and then at Holy Cross College in Bury (one of the top Sixth Form colleges in the country). Politics is in her family’s blood. She proclaims her pride to be ‘born in the city that gave the country its first free library and where the Battle of Peterloo was fought’. Nandy’s mother, Luise Fitzwalter, was the daughter of the formidable Liberal Peer, Frank Byers, and she forged a successful career as a social worker and producer for Granada Television, including its ‘World in Action’ current affairs programme. Nandy’s father is Dipak Nandy, the Kolkata-born, Marxist academic and politician who devoted his life to fighting for racial and gender equality. He was the first Director of the Runnymede Trust and Deputy Director of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Nandy’s husband is Andy Collis, a public relations consultant, with whom she has a young son. Family life is important to her.

But Nandy is also fun. As a young person, she was a great fan of ‘Take That’, even camping outside band-member Mark Owen’s house. I must add that she was not stalking him! – after all, Owen’s mother would bring her and other fans cups of tea. Today, she remains a Brittany Spears fan, calling Toxic the ‘most perfect piece of pop music ever written’. She tells great stories about zooming with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and also Spain’s premier Pedro Sánchez in their kitchen (thinking he was off-camera, Sánchez made himself a sandwich!). She enjoys running (‘slowly’, she says) and going for a pint, preferably in the Swan and Railway Tavern which used to be ‘the worst pub in Wigan’ but has now been restored. She has a Donald Trump mask in her office, which her assistant uses to scare her.

She is also witty. I think many high-flying women can relate to the way she rolled her eyes when asked what it is like being a female in a male-dominated occupation. ‘It’s very hard to answer the question’, she immediately quipped, ‘because I’ve not been anything else’!

Nandy is also a Birkbeckian. After taking her first degree at Newcastle University, she came to Birkbeck in 2003 to take an MSc in Politics and Government, excelling in modules in ‘Modern British Politics’ and ‘Political Theory’. This means that she understands the struggles of working at a profession while studying for a degree in the evening. Her parliamentary office not only has posters showing women supporting the 1984 miners’ strike, but also the books of Birkbeck’s own Eric Hobsbawm. Like Hobsbawm, she believes that her immigrant background gives her an edge. She quotes his lines that ‘As an immigrant, I see things at a tangent to the world’. We all keenly await her book Where Next? Finding Our Place in a World Falling Apart, coming out in September this year. If I was to summarise what Nandy believes in, I would say: maximising the common good, honesty, community, and the pursuit of inclusion, equality, and basic fairness.

By accepting this College Fellowship, Lisa Nandy signals her support of our mission to make a difference to the people and communities around us. We are thrilled that she has agreed to become a Fellow of Birkbeck.