What books or authors meant most to your younger self?
As a child, I remember being given a Famous Five book by an elderly neighbour as a Christmas present. As someone of immigrant stock, my parents were not arbiters of what I read, and didn’t read, in children’s fiction. My sister, who is six years older and now my constituent, was horrified at this un-PC choice, but I ended up devouring the whole series. Around this time I also really liked Roald Dahl, and then later I got into Judy Blume. As a teenager, I was probably reading revision-type books and the NME.
You have written about the suburbs in On the Edge: The Contested Cultures of English Suburbia. Have you a favourite work of fiction on the subject?
Suburbs took shape in our popular imagination thanks to portrayals in literature. I particularly like George Orwell’s Coming up For Air. He was a lefty, so it’s a searing analysis of the materialism of the suburban way of life, centring on a frustrated suburbanite escaping back to his childhood surrounds of the countryside and its rural idyll, only to discover that it has become suburbanised. More recently, the diversity of suburbia has been captured in books such as Nikesh Shukla’s novel Coconut Unlimited, set in Harrow, about hip hop-obsessed youth, Gautam Malkani’s Londonstani, about mobile-phone obsessed youth in Hounslow, and Disobedience, a novel about gay Jewish London, and specifically Hendon, by Naomi Alderman. I found all three of these novels very illuminating.
The volume you edited, Reading the Riot Act: Reflections on the 2011 Urban Disorders in England, in which a number of academics consider these events, was completed before you were elected MP for Ealing in May 2015. How can academics ensure that their work reaches politicians and policymakers?
I’ve found it refreshing to see more overlap between academia and politics than I imagined. We have had a number of seminars for Labour MPs, including Danny Dorling talking to us on psephological trends and how these coincide with values. Indeed, I’ve poached Dorling for a publication I’m working on – an edited volume examining the politics of the suburbs. Are my fellow MPs interested in what academics have to say? Absolutely, I’d say. We’ve had academic and polling experts address Labour MPs at what are sometimes standing room only meetings. I’ve also contributed to a book on the way forward for Labour by Tristram Hunt, the former shadow education secretary, which has essays by Labour MPs and newly elected and losing candidates from 2015. I could only agree, seeing as when On the Edge came out in 2013, Tristram chaired a panel discussion held in its honour. It was good to write my essay, as the thing I turn my hand to most often these days is a short Ealing Gazette column, where there aren’t enough words to sink your teeth into anything substantial.
What is the last book you gave as a gift, and to whom?
It was probably Aliens Wear Underpants and The Gruffalo’s Child to my younger sister Konnie’s two sons, aged 2 and 4, as birthday presents in March.
Rupa Huq, formerly senior lecturer in sociology at Kingston University, is MP for Ealing. She is editor of Reading the Riot Act: Reflections on the 2011 Urban Disorders in England (Routledge).