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Rachel Riley: ‘Every country is going to benefit from a strong opposition’

The Countdown host on the Labour Party’s efforts to tackle antisemitism and being targeted on social media.

Rachel Riley has backed Keir Starmer over his handling of antisemitism in the Labour Party and says becoming the target of online abuse made her change how she uses social media.

The Countdown presenter started campaigning against Labour’s handling of antisemitism accusations under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn back in 2018.

Three years on, she thinks Starmer is making some progress.

“I think he’s in a very difficult position,” she told The Big Issue. “He took over from someone who gave the worst result in 80 years for Labour.

“It’s a poisoned chalice because he’s got such a tough job to try and bring his party back to what it was.

“In terms of antisemitism he’s definitely tackling it. They’re doing what they’re legally obliged to. I know that he’s got some great people around him that are actually dedicated for the right reasons of wanting to get rid of the problem.”

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Riley added that tackling racism and antisemitism is not only the right thing to do morally, but the only way to win more votes.

She said: “They know that they’re not electable in that position. But I think they actually want to do it for both reasons so good luck to them.

“Every country is going to benefit from a strong opposition. I don’t think anybody’s fully happy with either party at the moment so good to have an option that you can vote for.”

After Riley became more outspoken on social media, she became the target of a lot of abuse.

She said: “I had to change the way I used it because there was a lot of abuse over a period.

“I had a daughter. She’ll be two in December and, you know, priorities change. I enjoy dotting in and out but it’s much better to have it as a little aside that you do every now and again, that’s not running your life.”

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Riley is now an ambassador for the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

“They use science and actually analyse what happens, the ecosystem of hate and the ecosystem of conspiracy theories, why people get targeted and what’s actually going on,” she explained. 

“They gave me advice just to block people. It’s a tiny minority that are trying to influence you and get their opinions out there. If you react to them you’re just giving them a platform. 

“It’s a bit of a trap to fall into, to think – oh I have to listen to everyone’s opinion and everyone’s got free speech, I shouldn’t block anyone – because they’re trying to get to you when you’re at home with your daughter or you’re going to bed. You wouldn’t accept it in the real world.

“If someone was ringing up your house phone and saying these things you would block that number. If someone came up to you in the street, you wouldn’t accept it. So there’s no reason why you should have to on social media either.”

“I had to change the way I use social media and unfortunately it’s meant I don’t see as many of the maths problems as I used to because my settings are different. That’s the downside. But I have to take responsibility for my own welfare.”

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Riley was speaking to The Big Issue on her last day before starting maternity leave. Her second child with Strictly Come Dancing partner Pasha Kovalev is due by Halloween.

She said: “That’s the real world, that’s what matters. Your family. Having a baby, a toddler, really puts you in the present. All your focus is on what’s happening now or what’s happening in the next hour.”

For more with Rachel Riley about her new book At Sixes and Sevens: How to understand numbers and make maths easy buy The Big Issue next week

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