This is part of an election series with all of Bath’s Parliamentary candidates – all interviews can be found on our website. Some answers have been edited for legible clarity
Interview by Genevieve Redgrave
Can you briefly explain your background and why you wanted to get into politics?
Okay, so I’m from Bristol, I grew up in the surrounding area and I joined the Labour Party, 10 years ago when I was a teenager. Currently I’m a counsellor in Bristol for Ashley ward, been doing that since May 2016, and I work for Thangham Debbonaire MP in Bristol West, and I’ve been doing that since she was elected in 2015. Why I wanted to get involved in politics? I suppose I’m from a working class family. I’ve benefited from the work of labour governments and have suffered under Tory governments. I look at the world and I look at our society and I see a lot of injustice, a lot of greed and a lot of misery and so I wanted to be part of changing that. I think the current government and the coalition government before it has had an atrocious record. [Ken loach’s new film] is a really harrowing watch because you know so many people are going through that, the current neoliberal system we’ve got has totally failed. So that really motivates me to keep going; we have to get rid of this Tory government.
You just mentioned that you would identify as working class, what would you say to the critics that say that the current Labour party isn’t representative anymore of the traditional working class?
I’ve been campaigning for a long time in different parts of the country in places like Stoke on Trent and working class areas in Bristol so I understand there’s a sort of cultural issue that’s developed that has to be worked on. I think that if Labour isn’t standing up for working class people, I don’t know what the point of it is. But I do think that, this election, we have the best policy platform and I think the best one we’ve had in decades; if you look at measures like abolishing zero hours contract, bringing in rent controls, a £10 pound minimum wage. We’re reforming the Social Security system that has become so cruel and unjust under the Tories. I think that we will make a lot of progress in making this a more fair society. I think that if any working class people think that it’s now the Tories that really represent them and the Tory majority government is elected then they will find out the truth quite quickly.
The political scene at the minute it quite divisive, if you did get a Labour majority government how would try to attempt to go against Parliament’s tribal instinct and bring everyone together again to benefit the whole country?
One thing I find a bit strange is when people talk about how in Parliament MPs argue with each other. I think if you have very different values, and you’re very angry about what the other side is doing, you’re going to have arguments. But I recognise that there’s a point that since the Brexit referendum, things have become much more divided in our community, even in our own families. And we’ve seen hate crimes on the rise, seen an MP killed, seen other MPs with death threats. And I think that’s been encouraged by the current Tory government and by Boris Johnson. The media as well with the Daily Mail using phrases like enemies of the people to describe the judges when they made rulings on Brexit. The Labour Party position is we want to try and bring the country together. I think it’s very unfortunate that there’s this divide between the leave Britain and the remain Britain and we want to try and bring the country together. Just because you’re remain it doesn’t mean you’re a metropolitan elite. It’s class that unites and divides us more than it is about remain or leave. A lot of us have the same struggles and the struggles are because of neoliberal capitalism, austerity and privatisation.
You briefly touched on the Daily Mail there, but there is a perceived issue with the wider media, do you believe there is an anti-Labour bias in the media?
I think there’s always been a bias towards the Conservative Party in the media, perhaps, the one exception to that was under New Labour. But you go back throughout the history, since the Labour Party was founded and there is definitely a bias which independent studies have proven. I think that what’s been encouraging, is that we’ve seen new kinds of media emerging because of the internet and social media so the traditional forms have been declining in circulation. You can get information out through Facebook and Twitter and other social media, which you wouldn’t have been able to get out in the past. So if the Tories doctor a video, or even the BBC edit in a certain way, it can be rebutted very quickly, which I think is a good thing.
It is the ‘Brexit election’, is it realistic that if Labour got a majority government and went back to Brussels after three years of failed negotiations they would actually be able to get a new deal?
I think we can and I know that Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn have been negotiating and talking to our counterparts in the European Union for the last few years. So it’s not without foundation that we say we can negotiate a new deal as I think we have reason to believe we can. I think the EU will want a deal that protects workers rights, environmental protection, consumer rights, jobs and industry because that benefits them as well as us. I should say of course that the deal will be put to a referendum so we’ll secure a six month extension and we’ll negotiate a new deal and complete the referendum process and then deliver the result of that referendum.
Do you not think a second referendum, could be classed as un-democratic as there has already been a vote?
I do empathise with people who voted leave, who want to leave the EU, and still want to leave. There have been delays which a lot of people say is Labour’s fault which I don’t think is true because after the referendum, the Tories twiddled their thumbs for at least two years. After Theresa May lost a majority in 2017, she could have got other parties around the table and tried to find a solution. But I think a lot has changed since 2016 and I don’t see a way of resolving this until we put it back to the people.
And is this referendum purely on the deal or is it again a remain or leave question?
Well the sensible leave deal will be one option and remain will be the other.
If remain wins that, is that then case closed?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve talked to a lot of people who voted leave and for the first time they could actually send a shockwave to the establishment. I think part of the reason why they wanted to send that shock is because a lot of communities feel left behind by the neoliberal system. Austerity has had a big impact on communities who lost their industries in the 1980s and then they lost the services from local councils that a lot of people relied on.
So I think that in bringing the country back together it’s not just a case of resolving Brexit, it’s a case of addressing inequality – rebuilding industry with a green Industrial Revolution, improved infrastructure, improve transport links. We’ve got such an unequal country where London and the southeast is so wealthy and then other parts of the country are as deprived and underdeveloped as places in Eastern Europe. If I we don’t address it, it will have very toxic consequences.
There is a certain level of distrust with all parties at the minute but what would you say to our Jewish students who are concerned about voting Labour due to the claims that anti-semitism has not been addressed properly?
I think that we have to listen to Jewish communities and we shouldn’t deny their experiences. There have been cases of anti-semitism in the Labour Party and we’ve taken action to address that, to try and speed up the process of expelling members. We’ve launched some educational materials to try to educate members about what anti-semitism looks like, and you know, Jeremy’s tried very hard to send a message that anti-semitism is completely unacceptable in the Labour Party. So, you know, we are trying to address the issue. And of course, more needs to be done. We’re working on that.
There is a suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t fit to be a leader of the country, especially given how high profile Labour politicians have come out against him, how would you respond to this as a member of the party?
Jeremy’s one of the most experienced parliamentarians we have got and I think he has been a very good leader of the Labour Party. It’s because of him that we’ve got half a million members, it’s because of him that we’ve got a bold socialist platform in this election. It’s because of him that in 2017 we increased our votes more than any other Labour leader had since 1945. I’ve met Jeremy many times and work with an MP so know how he runs the Labour Party and I am absolutely confident that he’s fit to be the Prime Minister.
But he has been to the public before and he’s lost?
Well, as I said, we increased our vote share by more than any other Labour leader had since 1945. The defeat we suffered in 2015 under Ed Miliband was so severe that it was almost impossible to gain the majority in 2017. So 2017 is a stepping stone to the majority which hopefully we will get now, and which I think we definitely can get.
Bath is a significant Lib Dem- Tory hold seat and so a lot of students have to vote tactically. How would you entice students to vote Labour here regardless because they feel their vote won’t matter here if they do?
Well firstly I just like to say it’s very unfortunate we have the voting system we do, I am a very passionate believer in electoral reform. I think that the number of seats parties get in parliament, should more closely align with the actual vote shares the parties get. People should be able to feel confident they can vote for what they believe in and that their vote will actually count for something. Some people feel that they can’t vote for what they want, but have to vote against what they really don’t want. If you look at the Lib Dems, they are, I think, a centre right party. They still basically supported the same near liberal status quo of austerity and privatisation and betrayed students. They haven’t gone back on that and Labour would abolish tuition fees. We have a whole range of other measures to help young people, such as our policy on zero hours contracts or policy on rent controls. The £10 minimum wage, free bus travel for under 25 and we would re-introduce the maintenance grants that the Tories cut for students as well. So, you know, I think that there have been other seats that were Tory-Lib Dem battles that became Labour-Tory battles, because enough people actually did both what they believe in that. things can change and if the labour vote builds up, it can be a different battle and we can have a Labour MP in Bath.
You briefly touched on tuition fees there, since their rise we have actually seen more people going to university than ever before, is eradicating tuition fees potentially somehow risking this?
We have a bold left-wing socialist platform and one of the tenants of that is that education should be a right not a privilege. We have a national education service being proposed in this manifesto so not only will we have free tuition fees, but we will have free right to lifelong learning, so people can get an education at later stages in life, they can train to change careers. We think that’s very important. So I’m very proud of our tuition fees policy and I think that we can make it work as long as the Higher Education sector gets adequate funding.
Is this just for new students or wiping previous debt?
In my understanding, it’s just new students
Are there any proposals to eradicate the interest rates?
I think that’s definitely something we can look at. I don’t know the policy in enough detail but you know, students were told interest rates would match inflation and then they change the system which I think is incredibly unfair.
In Bath, we have a massive problem with affordable student housing, what proposals do the Labour Party have to make it more affordable?
So under Tory governments, the amount of affordable and social houses being built has fallen off a cliff. What labour would do is we would have a target of building 150,000, affordable homes every year: 100,000 of those homes will be council. So, definitely more affordable housing being delivered but also there’s an issue with rents and the conditions in this sector are often incredibly substandard. So we’d have a renters’ charter where we would bring in rent controls and special powers for areas with runaway high rent. We would also protect tenants from unfair evictions, and would ensure that all privately rented homes, kept inspected to make sure that people aren’t in such terrible conditions as a lot as a lot of people are.
Do you think that’s realistic in the size of the country to be unable to monitor every single property?
One of the worst effects of austerity has been the cuts of local authority – I think it’s 60p in every pound. One of the areas of this that has really suffered is enforcement so we will return local authority funding to the kind it was under the last Labour government to make sure we can deliver these aspirations.
Your manifesto seems to be funded by a rise in higher income tax for those over £80,000 and matching corporation tax to that of 2010. Do you think that’s off-putting for business at all, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit?
My understanding is we wouldn’t raise it to the level it was until the last Labour government and the 26% is still a lot lower than a lot of other European countries have it. I think that the very richest in our society and big business have been given a lot of tax cuts and breaks by the Tory government and tax evasion hasn’t been clamped down on. But I don’t think what we want to do is just funded by these measures because austerity and poverty have actually had a huge cost to our economy so by reversing austerity, by investing in our industries we will help boost it. We will help people get good jobs that are well paid and that will increase the overall tax base which will help deliver our manifesto. One of the reasons they brought in austerity was to reduce the debt but the debt has more than doubled since 2010 and I think that’s because austerity actually doesn’t work – it’s shrunk the economy and tax base. I think labour’s policies will actually bring down our national debt.
You just mentioned there the green industrial revolution, the manifesto suggests being as close to carbon neutral by 2030 as possible which is the earliest of all the major parties – is this realistic?
I think is realistic because not acting to prevent climate change is not really an option. We can’t wait decades before we get a handle on this because it has already begun. If we wait decades it will be irreversible and that threatens the whole existence of humanity. With our green industrial revolution policies, we can get there. But I think on a global scale, people’s habits have to change but we have the technologies to be able to do that.
It will be irreversible. And that threatens the whole existence of humanity.
Can you expand on the green industrial revolution proposals a bit more?
So we’ve got a green transformation fund of £250 billion on power, more offshore and onshore wind turbines and enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches. Expand on and upgrade all homes to the highest efficiency standards which will save people money and help eliminate fuel poverty. We’ll upgrade public buildings like libraries, community centres, hospitals with energy efficiency measures and solar panels and improve the transport system as well because obviously a lot of our emissions come from private vehicles so we give people loans to upgrade to electric cars.
So you just mentioned there, part of your plan is also to re-nationalise the railways, could you explain a bit more how this will happen? Will it be a complete or gradual takeover?
It’s a gradual process because we would let the franchises expire and then they automatically go into public ownership then. By doing that, we’ll save commuters money and we’ll have better service as well. We spend a lot of our GDP on the railways, but passengers have to pay extortionate fares. If we can re-nationalise then we can address those two things.
Finally, his three reasons why you should vote for him?
- We will end austerity and rebuild our public services to tackle poverty
- Labour will tackle climate change with the Green Industrial Revolution
- We will deliver the final say referendum in order to try to bring our country together again and get Brexit resolved