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Interview Maxine Peake: ‘I don’t know any other paper I can trust’

The people’s paper has a new ‘ambassador.’ PETER LAZENBY reports

ACTOR Maxine Peake is to be an ambassador for the Morning Star. She has taken on the role to support the only daily, socialist, national newspaper in the English language in the world.

Peake is famed for her TV, theatre and cinema roles — including her latest appearance in Mike Leigh’s film Peterloo, marking the 200th anniversary this year of the 1819 massacre of people attending a rally in Manchester calling for electoral democracy.

Peake will promote and support the Morning Star at the many political events at which she is invited to speak.

It is not as a “celebrity” that she will be promoting the Morning Star, but as a socialist.

The Morning Star interviewed Peake at the People’s History Museum in Salford in Greater Manchester. It was an appropriate venue. 

The museum records the history of workers and their struggles over centuries — the Peasants’ Revolt against the poll tax of 1381, the Chartist radicals in the 1800s, the sacrifices and persecution of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the founding of trade unions and the Independent Labour Party in the 1800s.

School trips to the museum do not teach children to recite the names and reigns of kings and queens or the exploits of generals sending workers to their deaths in needless wars. 

They instead learn of Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, the Levellers of the 1600s, and other early strugglers for democracy and socialism.

Peake was at the museum in Salford — her home city — for a sell-out show, Maxine Peake in Conversation with Peggy Seeger, two hours of chat with one of the West’s most famous socialist musicians, Peggy Seeger, playwright, singer and author, writer of iconic songs which include Dirty Old Town and widow of Ewan MacCall. But Seeger is famed as a musician and socialist in her own right.

Peake spoke to the Morning Star before the show, which drew a packed house, about her support for our paper.

“The Morning Star has been in my life as long as I can remember,” she said. “It’s been an important part of my political education. Today it is the only paper I buy and read. That’s through my grandfather. He used to buy it every day. He was buying it when it was the Daily Worker.

“He worked at Leyland Motors. He was always being hauled into the manager’s office for reading or selling the paper. He said: ‘Well the manager’s reading the Daily Telegraph. I’m reading the Morning Star.’

“My granddad died seven years ago, but all through my childhood I remembered it.

“I used to stay with him and my nan at weekends. He used to sell the paper sometimes in Horwich town centre.

“I don’t know any other paper I can turn to that I can trust — its political agenda, I know it will give the right information and the truth. It tackles subjects and situations that other papers are too frightened to touch.

“Recently I went to Turkey on a peace delegation. I got in touch with the Guardian and said I would love to write a comment piece. I wrote it and they said they would get back to me. They didn’t get back to me. I sent them the piece but they didn’t use it. Later I spoke to someone at the Morning Star and he said: ‘Send us it. We’ll use it.’

“There are other issues, like Palestine. Other papers don’t report on Palestine unless there’s a major tragedy. Palestine doesn’t get reported, but the Morning Star reports what’s going on. And it doesn’t do a story and forget about it. It doesn’t have whims.

“People talk about the right-wing press, but what is the left-wing press? It’s the Morning Star. Some national papers claim to be left but they’re not. They may be liberal, yes, but they’re not left.

“And the others, they’re feeding fear. That is what papers do now. They play on people’s darkest fears, blaming someone for what’s happening so that we don’t blame the people really responsible.

“They say: ‘Let’s blame the outsiders, the immigrants’ and they’ve done that for years and years. You can see them sniffing out what the public might go for, and what is popular, and deciding ‘this is what we’ll do this week.’ It’s frightening.”

We asked Peake what she thought of the right-wing media’s scurrilous propaganda campaign against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“It’s obscene,” she said. “It’s absolutely ludicrous. Can anyone believe that Jeremy Corbyn is racist? Anti-semitic? You only have to look at the man’s track record. He has committed his life to humanitarian causes, but the rightwingers in the Labour Party and the Tories have the cheek and the gall to say that he’s racist, anti-semitic.

“But it’s the power of the press. They are frightened of socialism. It’s a constant cycle, a constant fear of socialism.”

Peake recalled her teenage years again, when she stayed with her grandparents at weekends.

“When I was a teenager I used to cut the top off the Morning Star and pinned it up on the wall: ‘For Jobs, Peace and Socialism.’ That was my mantra.”

Since she began to speak out about her socialist political principles, Peake has herself become a target of the rabidly right-wing press.

“I’ve been a victim of the right-wing press, the Daily Mail,” she says. “Every six months they dig something up because I align myself with Jeremy Corbyn. I’m not some disciple. Somebody asked if I fancy him! I thought: ‘Oh my God — is that the level of their agenda’?”

She says she believed that attacks on her in the right-wing media were an attempt to shut her up.

“I could take it on the chin, or do what they want and be quiet,” she said. “But look at what they’ve thrown at Jeremy Corbyn, Chris Williamson, Diane Abbott — what Diane Abbott faces on a daily basis. It’s cruel and it’s vicious. I only get it on a tiny scale but it still hurts.

“So there they are. There’s the right-wing press, and then there is the Morning Star. When I’ve been out in Piccadilly people have said to me: ‘It’s not very big is it, the Morning Star?’ I said: ‘That’s because there are no advertisements it. It’s full of news. It’s a news paper.’”

She said of her new role as ambassador for the Morning Star: “We have to get the paper out there. I thought, if I could play a little part and get more people to read the Morning Star I should do it. We need the Morning Star more than we have ever needed it. It’s a paper that has to fight to survive. We need people to fight for the Morning Star.”


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