Gina Miller: 'We have a short life. Why not stand up for what is right?'

The woman who challenged the government over Article 50 says she's not fearless, she's fearful - that's why she speaks up.

by Gina Miller
Last Updated: 27 Nov 2017

Gina Miller is the campaigner who challenged the government over triggering Article 50 without Parliamentary approval – and she won.

She’s since dealt with a torrent of abuse, and she remains unbowed. She says 'I have become the person I am today as a result of both the successes and the scars in my life, a life in which I have rarely backed down'. Now she wants to make sure other women have their voices heard.

Here's the keynote speech she delivered at Management Today's Inspiring Women in Business conference 2017.

I’ve been asked to tell you a little bit about my story. Quite a lot of you have probably read a lot of what you think is my story. I’ve often opened the paper or listened to an interview and thought 'Who is that woman?' It’s not me, I don’t recognise her, I’ve not done that, I’ve not said that, I never went to Roedean.

It was touted in the paper as a place where an elite London woman trying to buy her way would go, Roedean. Actually I went to a tiny little school in Eastbourne which was wonderful, non-selective and I never thought anything other than I was going to be whatever I was going to be. That was the school I went to.

But I want to take you back to a question I’m often asked: are women successful individuals through nature or nurture? I think it’s a bit of both.

I can’t ever remember not being that annoying little girl, who wouldn’t do what she was told and who just kept asking questions, why why why, who drove my parents and my teachers absolutely insane. A father who started as a pump attendant serving petrol at the age of 14, and saved up enough money to educate himself to become attorney general of our country. A mother who worked hard, who was thrifty and told my siblings and me – I’m one of five  never take anything for granted, it could all be gone tomorrow, never forget that other people matter, that you might need a helping hand one day.

With two such remarkable people bringing me up, I am who am I today, both nature and nurture. As I’ve grown through my life, I’ve always been ambitious.

As far as I was concerned, I could be whoever I wanted to be, I would not be manipulated by anyone or bullied into being told who I could be. I can’t remember ever thinking any differently from that. But what shapes you in life are as much the failures as the successes.

I came to the UK [from Guyana] ironically because of politics. My father had started an opposition party to our dictator and we were threatened.

The leader of the party – my father wasn’t the leader, he was one of the people who started it  was killed in a car bomb and my brother and I were targets, and we were sent to the UK to be safe. But then, at the age of 12 or 13, our dictator imposed currency restrictions so our parents couldn’t send any money to us. So at the age of 12 coming on 13 I had to live on my own. We were told it would last a couple of years  my brother was a couple of years older  we were told be strong, it’ll be okay.

So I started living on my own with my brother. We hid it from our school, we hid it from the authorities because we knew we would be taken into care. The currency restriction was never lifted, so I just got on with my life because that’s what you do. I was privileged, I lived in Britain, there were so many people in my country with nothing, why would I complain? You just got on with it, that’s what I’ve always done.

Roll the clock forward and knowing how ambitious I wanted to be, how much I loved the law  it was a thing I knew was a tool that could end injustice, that could bring healing to societies that are divided. My father had instilled in me that very strong sense that the law can stabilise societies that are rocking, when people are hurting.  

And so I wanted to study law, but I never sat my finals because something terrible happened to me. The irony is and the real joy, that last month, 30 years to the month that I should have had my law degree, I was given an honorary doctorate of law from my university. It still now brings me to tears, something I wanted so much...

But I knew I was going to be ambitious, and I knew I wanted to be a mother, so I made a very conscious decision to have my baby early, so I decided in my mid 20s that I would have my baby. I had wonderful pregnancy, I so longed for my daughter, but the NHS was in trouble, on its knees in the 80s. On the night she was due, there were no midwives, so she was starved of oxygen.

So my beautiful girl who will be 30 soon has mental age of five or six. And that was my first real battle. Because at that time, everyone wanted her to be taken away and institutionalised. I wouldn’t. I fought the authorities, I fought my family, I fought the doctors and I kept her.

And I said she will be the best that she can be because I’m her mother. I took time out, I brought her up. She’s an extraordinary young lady. She teaches me every day because her empathy, emotional intelligence is so far above us.

We have learned to be socialised in a way that limits us, limits our belief in ourselves, in our confidence, she doesn’t have that, she is so black and white, she is pure, she is a voice that I listen to, and she helps me every day. She helps me to remember that our inner voice is something we should always listen to, that if you see something wrong you need to speak up because silence only adds to the lies.

We have a short life. Why not stand up for what is right? Don’t complicate things, it is about what’s right and wrong. It is about helping others because other people matter. It is about asking yourself the question: what are you for. What am I for?

I am for speaking up, I am for believing that we are all good and we all have goodness to share with others and that we can all be change makers, we can all make a difference. That’s simply what I’ve done.

I don’t believe I’ve done anything particularly brave. I just spoke out about what I believe in. I’m asked if I’m fearless. I’d say I’m quite the opposite. I’m fearful.

That is why I speak up. I’m fearful that silence, as I said, adds to the lie and that we’re in a society where we’ve forgotten to be good, where we’ve forgotten to help each other, where people have risen to position of responsibility and been irresponsible.

That the things that have happened to the world, and the societies that are rocking, didn’t happen overnight, it’s because of economic models that have created division, it is about politicians who only look to their own power, it is because the people at the top have been irresponsible.

Capitalism needs to understand its place, its conscious place – I count myself as a conscious capitalist. I believe as women – and men, because I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist, I believe we all have the ability to help each other to climb the ladder.

It’s not just the climbing, it’s the person who holds it steady at the bottom who counts. We need to be one in our thoughts, and that thought is I am who I am because of you and who you are. Thank you. 


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