Mark Wright speaks to Labour candidate for Portsmouth South Stephen Morgan about the urgent need to fight the Tory cuts in Portsmouth, his enthusiasm for Labour’s radical manifesto and the necessity for all of us to engage with the democratic process.
Mark Wright: With the general election coming up, what do you think are the important issues at both local and national level?
Stephen Morgan: A range of issues have been brought up on the doorstep, at street stalls and at the community events I’ve attended. It has been fantastic to meet so many people during our positive campaign across every single community in our constituency. The issues have ranged from our policy to abolish tuition fees, to concerns over the Tories’ dreadful plans to penalise pensioners, from car parking to pig farming. Yes pig farming!
The most common issues have been those that require urgent action in our city – dealing with the crisis we see in our NHS and the desperate need to support our doctors and nurses who do a fantastic job by giving them the resources they need to care for everyone who needs our NHS, and significant concerns over cuts to school funding. In Portsmouth alone our schools will lose nearly £10m that’s more than 260 essential teaching jobs in our city.
MW: Do you think the current electoral system is fit for purpose? Do you think it represents the will of the people?
SM: When we had a referendum on this a few years back I was in support of electoral reform. I still believe that our system is unfair and needs change. This isn’t something that has come up on the doorstep but if elected as your MP I would be very interested to hear from constituents about their ideas and concerns on this important issue.
MW: How did you come to represent the Labour Party?
SM: I come from a generation of Labour supporters. My dad was a young socialist, so it came as no surprise I joined the Labour Party when I was 16 years old. Most of my working life has been in jobs where I have been restricted from standing for public office so I did my bit for the party in other ways, becoming a school governor, campaigning on local issues and being a trustee of a local charity. In 2015, I was selected as the Labour candidate for Charles Dickens ward. In the election that followed I was elected as a councillor for the area. It’s been an absolute privilege to serve people ever since on the City Council, and be the party’s Group Leader in the city.
MW: The Lib Dems and the Green Party have a policy proposing a second referendum on Brexit, with the possibility that Britain could remain a member of the EU. Labour has not expressed a similar policy – why do you feel that it is important to commit to Brexit?
SM: As a democrat, I respect the result. The referendum risked dividing our nation and for that reason I don’t want a second referendum. Labour’s position on Brexit is very clear and will protect jobs, rights, and our access to European markets. Under the Tories, we risk getting no deal at all – and that would be an absolute disaster for our country and for working people.
MW: What did you think of Tony Blair as Labour leader?
SM: Blair and his team led Labour to three successive election results, and helped transform our country by investing in schools and hospitals and making a significant contribution to so many things we now take for granted. Labour during that time introduced a minimum wage, delivered devolution and took a million pensioners out of poverty. Like any Prime Minister and government, however, mistakes were made and wrong decisions taken. Like many party members, I personally think the decision to go to war in Iraq was the wrong one.
MW: Where do you stand on Labour’s pledge to renationalise water, energy, bus, rail and mail, and their policy to abolish tuition fees?
SM: We have an excellent manifesto at this election. Our policies are popular on the doorstep and offer a real alternative at this election. Jeremy Corbyn has worked hard to bring together this plan for Britain, alongside a fully costed set of commitments which has my full and complete support.
As a regular rail commuter, I am specifically excited by plans to renationalise our rail and bus networks, and abolishing tuition fees will bring so much opportunity to so many Portsmouth families. As someone who was the first in their family to go to university our plans to scrap fees will help remove the burden of more than £44,000 of debt – what the average graduate now leaves university with.
MW: The Conservatives have seen their poll lead diminish in recent weeks. What do you think are the causes of that?
SM: Local polling from a range of agencies has shown that it is a two horse race between Labour and the Tories in Portsmouth South and the most recent poll puts us 1% ahead of the Tories. Only Labour can beat the Tories in our constituency on Thursday. This election has highlighted the true face of the Conservative Party – taking away meals from school children and creating insecurity amongst pensioners. Only a vote for Labour will ensure an MP who will stand up for the many, not the privileged few.
MW: What do you think of the way that mainstream media currently reports on politics?
SM: I’m concerned by the lack of engagement by so many in society in the democratic process. Specifically on the campaign trail I have been highlighting the demographic least likely to vote is 18-24 year old women. The media should do so much more (along with political parties) to engage people in the democratic process. Hyperlocal media sites such as Star & Crescent can help in translating national issues into locally focused agendas. I recognise the importance of social media to communicate on local issues and regularly use Facebook and a dedicated website to share information on Labour policy and campaigns.
MW: The Conservatives have a policy to scrap free school lunches, albeit by replacing them with a subsidised breakfast, as a measure to ‘cut costs’ in the latest in a long line of public service cuts. Do you feel the government is squeezing too hard, or is this simply the reality of running a country?
SM: I went into politics because I want to change Portsmouth for the better. Sadly we see too much inequality in this great city of ours. As many as 44% of children in the heart of Portsmouth live in poverty. Life expectancy is ten years less in the heart of Portsmouth than in the leafy suburbs. That’s completely unacceptable in 2017 and sadly with average earning declining, so many people in insecure, low paid jobs, I fear for the future of our city and country under the Tories, or their coalition partners the Lib Dems.
MW: Are there any contemporary politicians or political thinkers that you admire?
SM: It has got to be Nelson Mandela for me, for his tireless struggle to bring about change in South Africa. I’m also always inspired by Gandhi’s ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ message.
MW: Last year, you signed your name to a list denouncing Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to lead the Labour Party. Have you since had a change of heart, and would you be supportive in the event of a Corbyn government?
SM: After the EU referendum my name was added to a list of over 600 councillors who were uncertain if Jeremy Corbyn had the ability at that time to command the confidence of the whole party. That led to a leadership debate and election and Jeremy won again with a decisive result. I was fortunate enough to be present at party conference in Liverpool when this clear result was declared.
Since then Jeremy has brought the party together, set out a range of practical policies which have resonated with the British public and offer a real alternative for our country. He has ensured Labour’s standing in the polls has improved significantly. He has come across very well in the TV debates offering a fresh approach being the honest conviction politician that he is and has run a positive campaign for our party.
I was inspired to take annual leave from my paid work to be the candidate for Portsmouth South, to unite behind our party and his leadership and to stand for the party on a popular manifesto which has my full support to transform our country and city.
MW: Do you think the UK has been right to intervene in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria? And do you support Jeremy Corbyn’s critique of UK foreign policy?
SM: I support the party’s position on foreign policy. Jeremy in our manifesto states that from the Middle East to Africa, in recent years millions of people have been killed, injured or displaced through wars, terrorism and military intervention. In Syria alone, more than 400,000 people have been killed. My party will work tirelessly to end the conflict and get the diplomatic process back on track, while fully supporting international efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict the perpetrators of war crimes. I think this is the right approach to take.
On defence, the primary duty of any government is to protect and defend its citizens. We live in a period of growing international tensions. A strong, viable and sustainable defence and security policy must be strategic and evidence led. As previous incoming governments have done, a Labour government will order a complete strategic defence and security review when it comes into office, to assess the emerging threats facing Britain, including hybrid and cyber warfare. We will ensure that our armed forces are properly equipped and resourced to respond to wide-ranging security challenges. Labour will commit to effective UN peacekeeping, including support for a UN Emergency Peace Service.
MW: Where do you see British politics going in the next five years if the Tories remain in Government?
SM: This is something I don’t want to think about! We have had a brilliant response on the doorstep running a positive campaign about the challenges our country and city faces, and importantly what a Labour MP and government would do about them. If you want to see positive change for our country and city, vote Labour on Thursday. A tactical vote for the Lib Dems will be a wasted vote and will only increase the chances of another May-led government. We can’t allow that to happen.
MW: Lastly, where can people go to find more information about the Labour Party?