Theatre and Politics; Twin Passions for Theresa
Monday to Thursday, Labour Euro MP Theresa Griffin (English & Theatre Studies, 1984, Cartmel) is in Brussels, bringing the issues of the North West before the European Parliament.
The rest of the week she is back home in the North West of England, listening and gathering those real stories of under-privilege and aspiration that she believes need to reach her European colleagues, to keep policy relevant.
The main requirements Griffin reckons she needs to juggle her complex political life are the ability to work across different cultures and the capacity to listen - both qualities she says she learned in her time as a Theatre Studies student at Lancaster.
The daughter of a Coventry car worker, who had seen her home town devastated by mass redundancies, Griffin was already politicised when she arrived at Lancaster. She had already been on marches with wives and children of car workers to bring attention to their plight. The university at the time was alight with activity around the Miners’ Strike. Griffin swiftly found herself involved in marches and picket lines. She says:“ My experience made me determined about the need for a level playing field for everyone, where everyone had the right to a job and everyone had the right to earn a living wage.”
She had been drawn to study in Lancaster by the friendliness of the course and had already been taking part in drama and musical theatre productions from an early age. Here in the close-knit Theatre Studies department, she found an instant group of friends and an immediate acceptance as part of a team that was always busy on some production. Two lecturers stand out in her mind - then Head of Department, Keith Sturgess, who was ‘incredibly egalitarian’ and, as well as spotting potential, did everything he could to nurture it. Special credit also goes to ‘the wonderful Margaret Eddershaw‘, as this specialist in the works of Berthold Brecht brought Griffin’s twin passions of theatre and politics together in a production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Suddenly she could see her two worlds working together, and relished the opportunities Lancaster gave her to become involved in community theatre and developed her directing skills in a play by Mike Elliston, which Lancaster took to the Edinburgh Festival.
Alongside her theatre and political activities, she also managed to fit in working for the student listening line, Nightline for three years, which she feels was a great help in further developing her listening skills. At the end of her third year, Griffin was set on a career in theatre direction, so stayed on to do a Masters. She then returned to Coventry to work in community theatre. On the strength of her direction of a large-scale piece of youth community theatre focusing on the impact of the car industry, she was offered a job in community arts in Liverpool. That was where her political career really took off.
She joined the Labour Party and became an active campaigner at local, CLP, national and European levels. She was a member of Unite’s North West Political Committee and represented North West CLPs on the National Policy Forum. She has been a Regional Organiser for the public services union, UNISON and Director of Communications and Research at North West Arts. As a Liverpool City Councillor in the 1990s, she was lead member for Economic Development and Europe and was instrumental in bringing Objective One status and billions of pounds of investment to the Liverpool city region. Griffin previously stood for the 1999, 2004 and 2009 European Parliament elections, before finally winning a seat as the first candidate on the winning Labour Party list in the North West of England, including representing Lancaster and Lancashire.
Her ambitions to do something in politics had already been lit when she arrived as a slightly overawed fresher at Lancaster, but she could not visualise how it might happen. She feels her student years gave her vital skills she uses as an MEP on a daily basis: “It really boosted my self-confidence, “she says. “I also learned to walk onto a room and to talk to people. From Keith and Margaret we were also taught to listen.”