Election ’17: ‘Positive Change for Our Country’ with Stephen Morgan

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?

SM: Our website to see national policy and what it means for Portsmouth and Facebook for Labour campaign updates.

Election ’17: The Marshal and the Mayniac

Portsmouth-based historian and acclaimed author of The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion 1215-17, Richard Brooks, argues that important lessons from the medieval period should be remembered in this current age of Brexit, economic crisis and nationalist bigotry.

800 years ago, England was divided and beleaguered. Through ineptitude and treachery King John had lost the continental empire he inherited from his brother Richard the Lionheart. French warships commanded by the gender-shifting pirate Eustace the Monk scoured the Channel. A French army led by Louis the Dauphin, heir to the throne of France, occupied London, Winchester, and Portsmouth, at the invitation of disaffected English barons. At the height of the turmoil, King John himself chose to die, leaving a nine year old boy as his heir.

Luckily for the future Henry III, he was protected by one of the foremost soldiers of the age: William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Born in the 1140s, younger son of a robber baron from Wiltshire, William had made good as a tournament champion, a knight in the royal household, and military tutor to Henry II’s eldest son. One of Richard the Lionheart’s closest associates, William stood by King John despite every provocation, playing a key role in negotiating the revolutionary charter of legal guarantees that we now know as Magna Carta. When John died suddenly in October 1216, William’s age and prestige made him the only serious candidate for the Regency.

William had no money and few troops, but he had the support of the Church. This enabled him to outmanoeuvre the rebellious barons politically, first by crowning Henry III at Gloucester, then by reissuing the Charter under his own seal. When Louis divided his forces in May 1217 to besiege Dover and Lincoln, William took immediate advantage of the opportunity. Marching briskly to Lincoln, the seventy year old Marshal led his men through an ill-guarded gate to overthrow the rebels on the cathedral steps, charging on horseback down streets too steep for modern motor vehicles. Three months later William orchestrated an unprecedented naval victory off Sandwich, where the men of the Cinque Ports intercepted and slew Eustace the Monk bringing reinforcements for the Dauphin.

Contemporary English opinion saw their double deliverance in biblical terms. Ralph of Coggeshall wrote: ‘And thus the Lord smote the head of his enemies coming to annihilate the English race, and many were captured in many ships, and the Lord drew the waters of the sea over… them as they fled, and they were sunk like lead in the stormy waters’. The Dauphin’s departure on 30 September was a modest triumph, however. He only left after receiving a £10,000 sweetener, in exchange for vague promises to restore the lands lost overseas. Henry III was impoverished and destabilised, vulnerable to further outbreaks of baronial unrest, culminating in the battles of Lewes and Evesham in the 1260s. The loss of the Angevin lands overseas was a foreign policy disaster of the first magnitude. Nobody in 1217 would have indulged in such oxymoronic slogans as ‘making a success of Brexit’. They could recognise a shipwreck when they saw one.

This has not stopped some modern commentators such as the Daily Mail‘s Dan Jones drawing glowing parallels between the events of 1217 and Britain’s imminent departure from the Europe Union. Misunderstanding and misrepresenting the thirteenth century context, they have hijacked historical truth for today’s partisan ends. Thirteenth century England never turned its back on Europe. On his deathbed, the Marshal entrusted the king, now eleven, to a European institution. English political inconstancy was notorious. In his perplexity William turned to the Pope: ‘If the land is not defended by the Apostolic See… then I do not know who will defend it’. Protestant Victorians, their isolationism already obsolete, lamented England’s subjection to papal authority, but in the circumstances the Marshal’s choice was sound.

England remained enmeshed in European power politics. Royal expeditions still sailed for Brittany and Gascony. Henry III married a French princess; his brother-in-law was Saint Louis, the Dauphin’s son. Europe’s political fragmentation ensured that English goods never faced exclusion from continental markets, as soon they may. Medieval England’s main export was wool, shipped to the Flemish weavers of modern Belgium. The trade remained the bedrock of England’s foreign trade until the Tudor period, followed by the exchange of English grain for Gascon wine.

The Marshal would have been baffled by today’s nationalist outpourings. Educated in Normandy, he spoke French. His oldest companion in arms was Baldwin of Béthune, in northern France. His happiest days were probably spent with his Countess in her castle at Longueville, near Dieppe, skirmishing with French knights and begetting children. Isabel’s estates lay both sides of the English Channel, giving William practical experience of the difficulty of having cake and eating it. When he did homage to Philip Augustus, King of France, to save her Norman castles, King John accused William of treason. The old tournament champion only escaped by offering to fight anyone misguided enough to support John’s accusations. The battles of 1217 left intact the social ties between international elites. When William died, King Philip Augustus of France was one of three Frenchmen who pronounced the final words of the epic History of William Marshal, praising his wisdom, prowess, and loyalty: the moral trinity that defined the perfect knight. Among those present at the French court was William’s second son, Richard.

Political separation from Europe had even less effect upon the masses. Most people lived off the land. Modern Britain can neither feed itself, nor supply the labour to pick the crops it does grow. Thirteenth century Portsmouth was a self-sufficient farming and fishing community, three or four hundred people clustered around the Camber and St Mary’s. Its infant dockyard, down by Gunwharf, was soon to fall victim to Henry III’s poverty. Today the city’s most significant economic assets are its university and the international Ferryport, but for how much longer? Only a minority of thirteenth century English people travelled: a few masons and clergy moving between cathedrals and universities, the equivalent of today’s skilled workers and students, whose freedom of movement will soon face bureaucratic impediments unimaginable in the thirteenth century.

Much can be made of the linguistic and constitutional glories that lay ahead for post-Angevin England: the growth of a rich new language from the combination of Norman French and Old English; Magna Carta’s spur to parliamentary government and the rule of law. Eight hundred years ago such developments lay so impossibly far in the future as to lack any relevance to the imagined advantages of Brexit. English today is an international culturally hegemonic language, used for official European business. Brexit can only hasten its descent into Americanised Globish.

Magna Carta’s heritage is widely shared with our European partners. Experience of modern tyranny makes them more aware of its importance than home-grown politicians more interested in repatriating controls over their fellow-citizens than preserving their human rights. Newspapers who attack judges as ‘enemies of the people’ go unrebuked by the very ministers responsible for maintaining the judicial independence that protects the common folk against the arbitrary abuses of power. Parliamentary sovereignty faces as serious a threat from a Prime Minister hell-bent on forcing Brexit through by uncontrolled use of the royal prerogative as from the unaccountable mannekins pis of Brussels. All in all, anyone arguing for a future as rosy as that faced by post-Angevin England seem to care as little for modern realities as they understand about the thirteenth century.

Richard’s book on William Marshal is available to buy here from Osprey Publishing.

All images courtesy of Richard Brooks.

Election ’17: Green Grass Roots Activism with Ian McCulloch

Ian McCulloch, Green Party candidate for Portsmouth South, talks to Mark Wright about electoral reform, the unpleasantness of Laura Kuenssberg and his party’s proposed second referendum on leaving the EU.

Mark Wright: With the General Election coming up, what do you think are the important issues at both local and national level?

Ian McCulloch: A lot of them come down to one issue, which is the fake austerity agenda in place since 2010. Obviously, there is a massive problem with the NHS, but it’s a problem of underfunding. This is the same with public services generally; services being starved of funds, key people being underpaid or put on short-term contracts. They don’t have job security. Brexit is a big issue, although some within what you might call the Westminster bubble, I think, are using Brexit as a bit of a diversion for other things, claiming that Brexit will cure all of our ills. I believe it is responsible for a lot of our ills. It’s an important subject but there are other issues to consider. The NHS is a big concern for a lot of people and, in the longer term, so is their own security and well-being. A lack of security in their jobs, and concern about whether their savings – if they even have any – will be enough to tide them through.

MW: Do you think that the current electoral system is fit for purpose, and do you think it represents the will of the people?

IM: I absolutely don’t, no. First past the post only works when there are two parties involved, like in the American system. In Britain, we’re increasingly seeing people coming from outside the traditional political structures. The Green Party have started to make in-roads. Then you have newcomers like UKIP. I’m no supporter of UKIP, but they got four million votes in the last election and ended up with one MP. You can understand the frustration of people who voted UKIP and felt that their vote just doesn’t count for anything.

We have been hearing a lot about ‘progressive alliances’ lately, where some people, most noticeably the Green Party, have been happy to stand down, or just not stand a candidate in constituencies where there is a clear challenger to the Tory in that seat. People have said, ‘If you do these alliances, if you don’t stand, then you are denying people the right to vote for who they choose to vote for’. But with the first past the post system, people are having to make very uncomfortable choices anyway. They go into the voting booth and they try to decide who the two most likely parties are to win, and then vote for the one that they dislike the least. With proportional representation, we can make every vote count. If the person you wanted to get in doesn’t get in, you’ll still have some sort of say because you’ll have a second choice and maybe a third choice.

MW: How did you come to represent the Green Party?

IM: I have been a member of the Green Party for the best part of twenty years now. I was a Green Party city councillor in Lancaster, where I used to live. The Greens are particularly strong up there; there were twelve of us on the city council then. I came into it really from a concern about environmental issues. In the ’90s I was quite active with Greenpeace in local support groups in various places around the north of England. I started to feel more and more let down by the Labour Party, once Tony Blair got his hands on it.

I actually voted Green for the first time in my life in 1999 purely as a protest vote. But that happened to be the year that the ward that I lived in switched from having three Labour councillors to three Green councillors, which I certainly wasn’t expecting to happen. That made me think, ‘I’d better find out a bit more about this party that I’ve just single-handedly brought into office in Lancaster!’ And the more I looked at it the more I realised that, actually, everything that had previously made me support the Labour Party were these days good reasons to support the Green Party. I got more and more involved with the party, and it’s brought me to this position now.

MW: There has been an argument that the Green Party has been disproportionately underrepresented with regard to media coverage. Why do you think that might be?

IM: I think the media see UKIP, for example, as good value for money. They can get some soundbites out of people like Nigel Farage, they can whip up arguments quite easily with contentious views. That is principally the reason, I think. People see more value out of getting UKIP on TV rather than the Greens because we’re harder to categorise; we’re not, despite how some people try to portray us, a single-issue party in the way that UKIP really was. It’s strange that it goes the way that it does, to why UKIP get so much time on Question Time, especially now they don’t even have an MP. It has certainly been the case that the Greens haven’t had the representation, across the media generally, that our votes suggest that we should have. A lot of the time it just defies understanding.

MW: What do you think of the way the mainstream media currently reports on politics in general?

IM: There is still a quest for the soundbite. They will pick on an individual thing that can appear contentious and focus on that to the exclusion of details around it. By and large, I’m reasonably happy with, say, the BBC’s political coverage. Everyone on the Left thinks the BBC has a bias towards the Right, and everyone on the Right thinks the BBC has a bias to the Left. So they might not be doing too bad a job of treading a very fine line. There are exceptions: Laura Kuenssberg has pulled off some rather unpleasant stunts. I prefer to watch Channel 4 News; I like Channel 4 News.

MW: The Greens have a policy proposing a second referendum on Brexit, with the possibility that Britain could remain a member of the EU. With Brexit being described as a strike for some of those who feel left behind by politics, is there any concern that a second referendum that reverses the decision could dishearten those voters?

IM: It would be referendum. The only way that it could reverse the decision would be if a majority of people actually said, ‘Hang on a minute’. It would need a significant number of people who voted to Leave to have changed their minds and said, ‘No, actually we would be happier staying in’. It is a referendum, so it would be the will of the people. I think that the first referendum was characterised by some appalling lies on both sides of the campaign. It was portrayed as being a binary vote, in or out, when actually it’s becoming very clear to a lot of people that there are many different ways in which we could leave.

We have Theresa May saying that no deal is better than a bad deal, when actually no deal is the worst possible deal. So I’m very happy with the idea of having a referendum on the finally agreed terms under which we should leave. I think that would be a much clearer and more democratic result than the first one because I think we’ll have two very clear options to vote for or against.

MW: Are there are contemporary politicians or political thinkers that you admire?

IM: I know I’m not alone in saying Caroline Lucas. When canvassing in the local elections last year, I attempted to canvas someone who turned out to be one of the local Labour organisers. We ended up having quite a nice chat, and he said, ‘Obviously I’m going to be voting very strongly for Labour, I’m always going to vote Labour, but having said that I wish we had twenty more Caroline Lucases!’ And I do find that, people from other parties are huge fans of Caroline Lucas.

There are other people who are good in some areas, not so good in other areas. One example might be, say, David Davis. As Brexit Minister, I absolutely oppose everything he stands for and everything he says. When it comes to issues of civil liberties, though, he’s actually really good. And Caroline has worked with him on those issues when she has been in parliament. For me, it is a question of who is the right person on the right day on the right subject.

MW: A policy unique to the Greens is the decriminalisation of the purchase and sale of sex. Why do you feel that policy is important?

IM: The other approaches that we have tried so far are actually extremely damaging to women who engage in the sex trade. We need to protect these people. It isn’t that I want to say, ‘Oh, the sex trade is brilliant’. It clearly is very damaging in itself to everyone involved in it. But criminalising it is actually doing more harm to the people who need our protection. And I think we can protect people better by that decriminalisation.

MW: Where do you see British politics going in the next five years if the opinion polls are correct and the Tories win?

IM: It is difficult to say. There is clearly a worrying trend. UKIP is just disappearing. They have achieved a double victory: they’ve managed to bring the referendum about and secure a leave vote. And there’s now no need for them to be around because the Tories are using exactly the language that they criticised UKIP for using. There has been a lurch to the Right in Britain, and we’re seeing that mirrored in other places as well. A relief in France, at least, that Marine Le Pen didn’t get in, but the person who did get seems to be a French version of Tony Blair. So I’m not massively happy with that.

We had the American Presidential elections last year. There is a great deal of concern that Donald Trump won, but I was concerned when it was whittled down to a choice between him and Hillary Clinton! I genuinely wasn’t sure which one I was more scared of winning out of the two of them. There is this move to the Right. At a more grass roots level, it has become more acceptable to express overtly racist views. We’re seeing more in the way of racist attacks on our streets. And it is possible that things could just continue to get worse in that direction.

But who knows what is going to happen? It could be that, with those sorts of views getting more entrenched in the political mainstream, we’ll get more grassroots activism working in the opposite direction. It is a fool’s game, trying to predict what’s going to happen in British politics anyway. There is a worrying trend towards the Right, there is a worrying trend towards an acceptability of views and actions that were previously not felt to be acceptable. So I’m concerned about the way things are going, but I’m never going to lose all optimism in the British public’s ability to see right from wrong.

MW: The Conservatives are out in front in the polls right now. What do you think are the reasons for that? In your campaigning, do you see this support mirrored in Portsmouth?

IM: I think we’ve all learned to be wary of placing too much trust in polls.  Campaigning has shown very positive support for our ideas and policies, particularly among people who have seen our party leaders speaking and debating on TV.

MW: There has been a lot of discussion amongst our readers about tactically voting to keep the Conservatives out of Portsmouth South. Who do you see as your main competition in Portsmouth South, and what do you say to tactical voters in the city?

IM: Green Party candidates have stood down in constituencies where there is a clear candidate for tactical voting, both to unseat a Tory and to support the process of electoral reform.  Portsmouth South is not one of those constituencies.  The gap between the Labour and LibDem candidates in 2015 was tiny compared to the gap between both of them and the winner.  Since then, both parties have had a change of leader, and it is unclear what impact that will have on the vote.  This is a constituency where the best thing to do is simply to vote for what you believe in.

MW: What do you think of the way the local press currently reports on politics? What impact do you think reporting has on a broader political understanding and debate in the city?

IM: Coverage from The News has been mixed. There have been occasions where I feel that the Green Party has been badly misrepresented, and others where I’ve been happy with the reporting. I think the other parties would say the same thing.  The main difference I’ve seen since the last General Election is that people are coming to the Green Party for our views, where before we have been excluded.  In 2015, I didn’t hear about the Radio Solent debate until it was broadcast, whereas this time I was invited to join the panel.  I’ve also had requests for comment from The News on several occasions.

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. Here in Portsmouth, those cuts have led to loss of services such as Off the Record, Portsmouth Mind, and SureStart Centres. Do you feel the government is squeezing too hard, or is this simply the reality of running a country?

IM: This is a clear example of squeezing too hard.  This is the fifth richest country in the world, we can afford to support and invest in everyone who needs it.  What we need to do is stop spending money where it isn’t needed (roadbuilding schemes that will just increase traffic, HS2, Trident, etc.) and make sure that everyone pays their fair share of the tax burden.  It’s really just a question of priorities.

MW: Where will Portsmouth be in 5 years time under your representation?

IM: Portsmouth will have had five years with an MP campaigning for the city to use its engineering skills to become a hub for the new green economy.  If we are serious about preventing catastrophic climate change, we need a major investment in the technology that will be required.  Whether it’s new, sustainable energy production or technology to reduce our energy needs, Portsmouth has the skills to fill some of the hundreds of thousands of new jobs a green economy will provide.

MW: Where can people go to find out more information about the Green Party?

They can go to the Green Party website. All Green Party policy is determined by the members at conference. It is absolutely true to say that I have as much influence on Green Party policy as Caroline Lucas does. What is more, whenever policy is determined at conference it is laid down in what we call our ‘policies for a sustainable society’, and if you go to this page you can see all of our policies on everything. If it’s there, it’s policy; if it’s not there, it’s not policy.

That’s a good place to go and find out what we stand for. Locally, come and talk to us. We have our meetings at the Rail Social Club in Fratton, first Tuesday of every month at 7:30pm. It is generally open to non-members. There is also a very good idea called Green Drinks which goes on the second Wednesday of every month. That’s a meeting place for anybody involved in any kind of Green – with a capital or lowercase ‘G’ – activities around Portsmouth. People come along from Greenpeace, from various community groups. That’s a good place to find out what’s happening in the city in a much wider environmental area.

 

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.

Election ’17: ‘May’s Appearances Have Not Done Her Any Favours’

Portsmouth University academic and media analyst Emma Austin talks to Mark Wright about grass roots activism, the disturbing gap between political image and reality, and the fuzzy messaging that could alienate traditional Tory voters on June 8th.

Mark Wright: What do you think are the important issues in this election?

Emma Austin: The important issues are based on the economic situation. It is clear that the gap between rich and poor is becoming even more pronounced. In 2017, in a developed country, nurses are relying on food banks, while the NHS is being dismantled and sold off piece by piece. The threats to the social safety net are very real and need to be addressed.

MW: Do you think the current electoral system is fit for purpose, and do you think it represents the will of the people?

EA: An ideal system would be proportional representation, which would accurately reflect the numbers of votes in particular constituencies and across the country. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to happen in the near future. There was a proposal when Tony Blair was in office to put this forward but he was defeated by people both within his own party and within the Conservatives. I don’t see it changing in the near future but I certainly believe a change to the voting system would represent people’s views more thoroughly.

MW: The Greens and the Lib Dems have a policy proposing a second referendum on Brexit, with the possibility that Britain could remain a member of the EU. What are your views on the prospect of a second referendum?

EA: I would welcome a second referendum, but I don’t think they would be able to pull that through. There would be so much hostility towards a second referendum from those who voted to leave. They would see that as using political influence to go against the will of the people who wanted Brexit. I think it is more likely that the European Union will offer us alternatives. There is currently a European MEP who has proposed that British citizens could opt in to EU citizenship, so there may be a chance to build a better relationship with Europe by offering membership of the state on an individual basis. I would prefer a second referendum given the claims made in the media at that time about the amount of money, touted by the Conservatives, that was supposedly coming back in. And certainly for younger people, who have been completely disenfranchised. This has ruined their generation’s chances, and their economy.

MW: Was Jeremy Corbyn fair in asking questions about UK foreign policy in regards to the recent terror attacks?

EA: I think any politician has the right to ask questions of foreign policy, especially if you are a member of the opposition. There was an interesting exchange between Sir Michael Fallon and Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News, where Guru-Murthy quoted this idea that Britain has, in a sense, hastened the rise of extremist acts by its intervention in Iraq. Fallon said, ‘Oh, I reject that utterly, Jeremy Corbyn is wrong,’ and was told that Guru-Murthy was actually quoting Boris Johnson. There is this interesting idea that even within the Conservative Party there is a recognition that what has happened in the past is influencing what is happening here now. A lot of politicians and media commentators are also calling not just for a political intervention and a state security intervention in terms of terrorism, but also for us to look towards our own communities, to build a sense of belonging. That is something I think Jeremy Corbyn is quite keen to promote: that you can root out extremism by being inclusive, by making sure that people don’t feel excluded.

MW: The Conservatives have lost ground in their poll lead in recent weeks. Why do you think this might be?

EH: I think there are a number of reasons why the Conservatives are losing ground. They haven’t come up with clear policies. They have come out with things they would like to do, but they haven’t come out with a very strong decision about what is achievable, about what they want to push through next. In comparison, Labour’s manifesto presents a very clear offering, and is costed no matter whether you agree with the figures or not. The Tories have not been able to start that narrative in the media.

I would argue that Labour have used social media to really engage with potential younger voters, something the Tories haven’t done quite so well. And, certainly, Theresa May’s appearances in the media have not done her, or the party, any favours. It is making her look like a very isolated figure. She doesn’t seem to have a party consensus, she doesn’t seem to be taking advice from the Conservatives. She is setting herself up as a figurehead of power. If that falls, it will be reflected in how people engage with her as potential voters. You can see definite echoes of how Margaret Thatcher was presented in the press, certainly in terms of positioning the strong female offering what she calls the ‘strong and stable’ leadership. It’s noticeable that that dialogue has been dropped now from her speeches; she has recognised that it is being mocked. Her presentation as an individual is starting to change slightly because she doesn’t tend to react very well under pressure in the press.

MW: What do you think of the way that the media currently reports on politics?

EH: In a 2010 episode of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, the filmmaker Adam Curtis explores the decline of deference in politics. There was an argument that, as mass media increased, so did the coverage of politics, and actually our contempt for politics at the same time. Politicians were presented as human beings, and once you realise they have feet of clay there is a loss of respect. Certainly I would argue that when you look at televised debates, when you think about the insults that pass between members of parliament and within government, there is this sense that perhaps because they have become so mediated we’re not sure which messages from them we should trust, or even if we should trust them at all.

MW: Theresa May has said that the Tories are unsure about the amount that older people will have to pay for care, and will not reveal a social care cap before the general election. What message do you think this sends to voters?

EH: Given – and this is a generalised assertion – that a traditional base for Tory voters are people in the middle classes, middle-aged and older, I think this lack of detail has damaged the Conservatives. People are concerned about their savings. Home-owners are concerned that they are going to lose their homes to pay for care. A lot of people are now worried about inheritance. What is going to be left behind for their children? There hasn’t been a costed care plan and people are expecting the worst. My father has been a life-long Conservative voter; this election, he will be voting a different way. He refuses to vote for the Tories because they haven’t clarified their policies. I think some of us are very uneasy about the idea of suddenly writing them a blank cheque so they can decide later on to give us the details. There is a lot of suspicion around politics, and around the outcomes of decisions made by people who don’t always seem to have much in common with their voters.

MW: Are there any contemporary politicians or political thinkers that you admire?

EH: I think the benefit of hindsight makes it easier to admire historical thinkers, so not contemporary but certainly influential: Emma Goldman. She is a key political thinker whom I have always admired. In recent years, I find it difficult to separate the mediated image of leaders from what I believe they have actually achieved. It is one of those questions where time will tell. While I’m not a particular fan of politics, either Left or Right, I did enjoy some of the changes in policy in America from President Obama, especially the introduction of Obamacare. That was a major step forward. In this country, it is slightly more difficult to say. Most of the time, I would say my political heroes are the people who go on strike: the teachers, the teaching support staff, the railway workers – the guards especially – who are refusing to compromise on safety or on standards. They are really political leaders and heroes.

MW: The Green Party has presented a policy to decriminalise the purchase and the sale of sex; the Lib Dems are talking about raising £1bn per year through legalising cannabis. Do you feel either of these policies should be considered by the other parties?

EH: I think the sex industry is an issue that is going to upset and divide a lot of people. Certainly, any changes to that industry should be spearheaded by the workers themselves. I feel that any direct government interference would tend to be punitive towards the women, or the workers within the industry. Certainly, there should be a decriminalising of their practices because this is what puts women and sex workers at risk. Whether it would be a policy adopted by other parties, I couldn’t tell you.

The decriminalising of cannabis and raising revenue on it is being trialled in various states in America. If you were to monitor the quality, if you had safeguards in place, then yes, that is something that I think political parties should look into. As with tobacco and alcohol there would need to be age restrictions, as studies suggest that cannabis potentially does more damage to your brain when you are younger. There is a female collective in California who are legally growing cannabis and turning it into painkillers by taking out the psycho-active element. You don’t get high, but it still relieves pain. Something like that, where you are looking to relieve pain, to help people medically with marijuana, is the way forward.

MW: Lastly, where do you see British politics going in the next five years if the opinion polls are correct and the Tories win?

EH: In terms of positives, you will see lots more grassroots political activity and activism. You will see a lot more people turning to trade union support to try to mitigate the worst effects. In terms of what it will do to Britain, it will probably erode our safety even further in terms of public services and care services. I think if these polls are correct we can look forward to an NHS that is being pushed towards its death. I think we can look forward to protracted and damaging negotiations with the EU; it is not in their interests to help us out easily. And I think we will see more international tensions as we try to deal with politics at home, and presenting our image to the rest of the world.

Photography by Moshe Tasky.

Election ’17: The May is All for U-Turning, and the Soundbites Can’t Hide It

The great political soundbites are vividly memorable and powerfully persuasive. But, as Mark Wright argues, the current Conservative election campaign is obsessed with empty platitudes that barely conceal the u-turns, flip-flops and mis-steps that have seen the Tories’ opinion poll lead shrink to a single point.

‘If you couldn’t say it in less than 10 seconds, it wasn’t heard because it wasn’t aired.’

Michael Dukakis, 1988 US Presidential candidate.

To cap a defiant speech at the 1980 Conservative conference, Margaret Thatcher underscored her refusal to back down on her tough economic policies – in the face of doubters in her own party – with one simple phrase that was a pun on the title of Christopher Fry’s 1948 play The Lady’s Not for Burning: ‘You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.’

It has gone down as one of the great political soundbites in British history. The media analysts Drew, Lyons and Svehla argue that an effective soundbite is a short and familiar slogan, condensing a larger theme into a memorable phrase. Whatever you think of her policies, Thatcher’s soundbite certainly did that. She was trying to change a social democratic political landscape into a radically reactionary one, and the core of her stubborn determination to do so is encapsulated by those five words.

Barack Obama’s ‘yes we can’ soundbite was designed to signal a shift from the deeply conservative George W Bush era, when the very notion of a black President of the United States seemed fanciful. It embodied a widespread hope for systematic change. Whether it delivered that change is hotly contested, but there’s no denying the rhetorical heft of the language Obama used.

However, we need to think harder about the crucial function of a soundbite: it condenses an argument; it is not an argument in and of itself. Drew, Lyons, and Svehla assert that soundbites run the risk of insulating us from evidence, deliberation and critical public scrutiny, and I would argue that such a risk characterises the current Tory election campaign.

The empty platitudes of ‘strong and stable government’ and ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ are a far cry from Thatcher’s or Obama’s emphatic messaging. They have no substance and nor are they statements of intent. They cannot invite scrutiny because nobody – not least the people who repeatedly say them – seems to know what they really mean. As an article for the Journal of Political Marketing on how soundbites win elections notes, ‘Style has become increasingly important at the expense of content.’

Let’s focus on ‘strong and stable leadership.’ You won’t find an economist who’d bet their house on Brexit benefiting Britain because, as Paul Mason and other commentators have convincingly argued, nobody knows what will happen in the long-term. Amidst this uncertainty, having promised not to call a snap election, Theresa May then calls a snap election. The party u-turns on dementia tax, and then again on its plan to build more socially rented council housing. (So far May has managed an incredible 9 turns since she became PM about a year ago). How, then, are the Tories justifying this pervasive mantra of ‘strong and stable’? Quite simply, they aren’t. But the soundbite appears vaguely reassuring, so long as you don’t question its basis.

How about ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’? This is largely hollow because the Tories – amongst the other main parties, to be fair – have been markedly unclear about Brexit details such as timescales and negotiating positions. Even so, leaving the European Union with no deal whatsoever would leave us beholden to countries that could ask for all sorts of special treatment in return for trade deals. If you’ve ever played poker, see how well you can negotiate when your lousy hand is facing upward.

And then you have the ‘coalition of chaos.’ In 2010, the Conservatives entered into a coalition with the Lib Dems; one side making cuts in the name of austerity, the other side trying to restrain them. On this occasion, the parties under attack have not declared themselves members of a coalition. But even if they did, they’d have many of the same values and principles. What is chaotic about that?

Just to turn our attention to local politics for a moment, Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones came up with an arguably striking soundbite when she claimed last year that ‘Portsmouth has roared like a lion’ after the results of the EU referendum were announced. The problem with her phrase, though, was that it sounded like a cynically jingoistic cliché that made rather tacky and obvious reference to Richard the Lionheart, the British Lions rugby team, the British soldiers in World War I likened to lions and other leonine imagery even a five-year-old could associate with a Tory nationalist vision of Britain and British culture.

Soundbites, when done well, are a shorthand method for politicians to communicate their aims and objectives in a fast-moving, time-constrained modern media environment. When there’s only a half minute of TV or radio time available, soundbites should be able to convey complex ideas in simple terms for the benefit of the electorate.

But they need to have substance and shouldn’t descend into lazy banalities. To put it another way, they must ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’. I have trained young people in interview techniques, and many make the same mistake over and over again by saying things like ‘I am a strong negotiator, I am a good leader, I would be great for this project.’ And every time the same feedback: How and why? Anybody can say, ‘I’m good, I can do this,’ but the requirement isn’t to tell us what you can do, it’s to convince us that you can do it. We don’t accept these low standards from second year university students, yet we put up with them from politicians at the highest level.

Next time we find ourselves attracted to a soundbite, we should take a few of minutes to look at what lies behind it. If the answer is ‘not a lot’, we should be for turning.

Graphic courtesy of Jack Caramac.

Election ’17: ‘A Better Future for the City’ with Gerald Vernon-Jackson

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Liberal Democrat candidate for Portsmouth South, talks to Mark Wright about the problems facing Portsmouth, how the Conservatives ‘buy elections’, and how the Lib Dems have moved on from 2015.

Mark Wright: With the General Election fast approaching, what do you think are the important issues at both national and local level?

Gerald Vernon-Jackson: I think a key issue is around lack of money going to the NHS. My mum has been in and out of hospital for the last three months, and I’ve seen hospitals at breaking point. I have been for a meeting today with one of the biggest domiciliary care services in Portsmouth; they say they are about to go out of business. Health and social care are at real stretching point. They need money, and that is why I’m pleased the Lib Dems have said we will put 1p on income tax to fund it.

A second issue is education. The cuts to spending power in schools worry me. The Tories will say the amount of money going into schools is rising – and they are right – but it is not rising per-pupil. It is rising because more and more pupils are going in. And the government are loading extra costs onto schools so the extra percentage they have to pay for employers and national insurance contributions, the extra pension contributions, means there is less money for classroom teachers. Across Portsmouth, we are looking at losing 260 teachers over the next three years.

And people want an MP here who will speak for Portsmouth. We are a very distinct city with real problems, real challenges. They don’t want somebody who will parrot a government line, they want somebody who is going to be independent. That comes out loud and clear to me.

I am extremely worried about what is going to happen to the local economy if we are outside the European single market. Huge numbers of jobs are at risk. 55% of our exports from Portsmouth go to the single market. Trade barriers there will put Portsmouth jobs at risk.

And I am worried about homelessness, and what appear to be almost specifically designed policies to make more people homeless.

MW: Do you think that the current electoral system is fit for purpose, and do you think it represents the will of the people?

GVJ: Absolutely not. Portsmouth South is a good example: at the last election, Flick Drummond won with less than 35% of the vote. 65% of people voted for somebody else, and yet Flick won. That is not a system that reflects the will of the people. I think it is a hugely bad system that forces us to ask people to do things they don’t want to do. The current system favours the Tories, and if people don’t want a Conservative MP then we have to think about asking them to vote tactically. That means asking people to vote against some of their strongly held beliefs, but it is the only way under the current system that people can exercise a powerful vote.

Here in Portsmouth South, Labour has come third in every Parliamentary election since 1984. Even at the height of the Blair government they came third, and yet people are being asked to vote Labour when they know that it only gives the Tories a better chance.

The electoral system is so unrepresentative. If you look at the number of voters that are needed to get an MP elected it varies hugely by party. The SNP do best: I think it is 24,000 voters to get one SNP MP. I think it is around 30,000 for a Conservative, around 300,000 for a Lib Dem, and it is 3.8 million for UKIP. That is insane. And it means we ask people to vote in a way they don’t particularly want to do. But that’s how the system is rigged by the Tories.

MW: How did you come to represent the Liberal Democrats?

GVJ: I moved here because my dad had died, I needed to be closer to my mum to look after her. So I came to Portsmouth, and got elected on the council. The Lib Dems went from being the smallest party on the council to the biggest, and we actually ended up running the council. I had been deputy leader in another council in Newbury, and they needed somebody in Portsmouth with experience. I ended up being deputy leader here and, after a year, the leader of the council. I ran the council here for 10 years. Then I was asked by local people to stand, which is what I did.

MW: The Lib Dems have a policy proposing a second referendum on Brexit, with the possibility that Britain could remain a member of the EU. Why do you think a second referendum would be good for the country?

GVJ: I think it is clear that people voted to open negotiations for us to come out of the EU, to find out what the deal was like. It was departure, not destination. I think it is right that we, as the people of the country, have started that process, but we should also be the ones who finish it. Once we know the terms of the deal, who is going to judge if it is a good or bad deal? Is that going to be Parliament, is that going to be the Prime Minister, or is it going to be the people? The Conservatives have already said they won’t allow Parliament to make that decision. And therefore they are going to leave the Prime Minister to make that decision, to decide if her negotiations have been a success or not. I think it is the only democratic thing to do to allow the people of this country to have the final say on whether they think the deal is the right or wrong one.

MW: The Conservatives are just about in front in the polls right now. What do you think are the reasons for that?

GVJ: The Conservatives are leading the polls, I think, for three potential reasons. The first is the collapse of UKIP, and because Theresa May has taken on so many of the UKIP policies. Strangely, here in Portsmouth, when we talk to UKIP voters a lot of them realise that UKIP is sunk but they tend not to want the Tories.

I think the second reason is that Jeremy Corbyn is unpopular with many voters, particularly traditional Labour voters. He is popular with others: some younger voters really like him. But older voters are uncertain.

And I think the other reason is that Tories get so much money to throw at elections that effectively they buy elections. The amount of direct mail, letters that have been coming through people’s letterboxes in Portsmouth from the Tories is enormous. And that has an effect. The Tories have found a way to buy elections.

MW: What do you think of the way that the media currently reports on politics?

GVJ: Different media report in different ways. On the whole, I think the broadcast media do a pretty good job. The newspapers take a very partisan view in most cases, and seem happy to peddle things where there is little or no justification. And social media is different again. I think my worry is, if you look at both the Trump election and at Brexit, it looks as if you have mechanical bots posting online, and these automated accounts give the impression that lots of people hold a particular view. They often try to influence people with opinions that bear little reality. That is worrying for the future of democracy, as are people who are happy to peddle complete myths. Our UKIP candidate has said that a doctor at QA who is Greek, who doesn’t speak any English, has a translator paid for by the hospital walking around with him. Total rubbish. No truth to it at all, and yet he said that and it has appeared in print. He also doesn’t think climate change exists. In a flat city, on the coast, that is dodgy.

MW: The Conservatives have a policy to scrap free school lunches, albeit by replacing them with the subsidised breakfast, as a measure to cut costs in the latest in a long line of public service cuts. Do you feel like the government is squeezing too hard, or is this simply the reality of running a country?

GVJ: No. It is ill-thought through and barking. And it has come out that they have based their entire funding for this on a pilot run by volunteers with food that was donated. So they are expecting every breakfast to cost 89p, including staff costs, and it won’t. I don’t disagree, it’s a good thing to do to give kids breakfast, but it is probably a better thing to give them lunch. I think stop messing around with things, leave schools to settle down and do their own thing. It is gimmicky, and I think it probably shows politicians at their worst.

MW: The Lib Dems lost a lot of voters over the tuition fee increase. What would you say to reassure voters that your policies for this election would be honoured? 

GVJ: The first thing to say is that I think that the decision that the leadership of the Lib Dems came to over tuition fees was wrong. I told them it was wrong; I will still tell them that it was wrong. I’m pleased that our party leader, Tim Farron, voted against raising tuition fees.

I find it a little rich that Labour criticise the Lib Dems for this. In the 2001 Labour manifesto they said they wouldn’t bring in top-up fees and then, in 2003, they brought in top-up fees.

There was anger and hostility towards the Lib Dems in 2015 from people who had voted tactically in the past and who felt let down. Those people refused to vote tactically again, and the outcome was that we have had a Conservative MP here for the last two years who has been happy to vote to reduce taxes on big business but to cut benefits for people who have got disabilities. I don’t think the people who used to vote Lib Dem to keep out the Tories, and in 2015 voted Labour or Green, wanted that to happen.

When I now talk to people, that anger has gone. I think it is probably the Brexit vote that has done that. Last time, two years ago, I would walk down the street and people wouldn’t look me in the eye, and I should have realised that that was a bad sign. Now, people stop me on the street to talk all around the city and are pleased to see us. People realise, in our bad and corrupt voting system that, here in Portsmouth South, if you don’t want a Tory MP the only people who won here, ever, are the Lib Dems. The question is whether people would prefer a Tory MP or a Lib Dem MP. There won’t be any other result. This time, we are not going to coalition with anybody so that people don’t have that fear.

One of the things that has worried me most in regards to tuition fees is that students from the poorest families used to get a maintenance grant to make sure students from the poorest families weren’t put off going to university. That has now been taken away by the Conservatives. I would love to promise that we could get rid of tuition fees, but I am not sure that millionaire’s sons and daughters should not have to put something into paying for their university. I think that that money is better spent investing in primary schools in Portsmouth, in keeping the NHS going, and in providing maintenance grants for students from families with the lowest incomes.

MW: Are there any contemporary politicians or political thinkers that you admire?

GVJ: Yes, for different reasons. I think Chancellor Merkel took a very principled stand about preserving life from Syrian refugees, and I’m disappointed that our government hasn’t. There are 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees from Syria and nobody knows where they are. Our government was so cold-hearted that it wouldn’t take any of those kids in. Our council was so cold-hearted that they passed a motion saying none of those kids were welcome here. I admire Ms Merkel for standing up against that right wing popularism.

I think Macron is interesting as a liberal to have won the French presidency. And in British politics? I like Hilary Benn. He is an interesting man. Even though Nick Clegg and I have fought a bit over the years, he thinks deeply. He doesn’t get everything right, but I would admire him. As the Conservatives have moved so far to the right, I find it difficult to see anyone there, but in my job in London, as vice-chair of an organisation representing the councils of the country called the Local Government Association, I find it extremely easy to work cross-party with people. For people running councils most of the problems are the same, most of the solutions are the same. Party politics don’t come into it if you are just trying to make sure that your area thrives and succeeds.

MW: Where do you see British politics going in the next five years if the Tories win an outright majority?

GVJ: It depends on the size of the majority. I fear for an enormous Tory majority because I think that will mean various things will go backwards. I think we will see the rolling back of environmental protection, the rolling back of animal rights protection, so hunting with hounds could return. I think we will find a continuing war on people on the lowest incomes, whether those are pensioners, working families or people living on benefits. Those at the bottom of the pile will be squeezed out, and areas where we currently have provisions for people will disappear.

The Tories are very clear: they don’t believe in social housing for rent. They are not interested in the people who live in those properties because they don’t vote for them. That will be under severe pressure, if not disappear altogether. Those right-wing Conservatives who have always wanted to see the demise of the NHS will use gradual privatisation and the financial crisis in hospitals to weaken and dismember it.

If the Tories have a small majority, it is less likely that some of those things will happen. But I have spent my life fighting Tories. They have a worldview that I don’t share.

MW: Where do you see Portsmouth in five years’ time should you be elected?

GVJ: Things in Portsmouth could be very different in five years’ time. We just don’t know which way things will go. On the one hand, the economy could be under serious pressure and we might lose major employers like Airbus and Pall Europe if they can’t get access to export their products at a cost their buyers will pay. We could see a big cut in the number of teachers, the NHS in crisis and social services in a state of collapse because no one wants to do the jobs. Finally, we could see even more people living on the streets.

I hope that we would see a different Portsmouth. A city well-connected with our export markets in Europe and the rest of the world. A city where the Conservative cuts to the NHS, schools, and council housing have been stopped and our schools, hospitals and social services have the resources they need. A city where the council has been allowed to build homes on derelict sites, such as Tipner, for local families.

The choice is ours, and I hope voters choose the Lib Dems to get us to a better future for the city.

MW: Lastly, where can people go to find out more information about the Lib Dems?

GVJ: We have the Portsmouth Lib Dem website, or geraldvernonjackson.org.uk. There is our Facebook page, and the national website. I think people should look for websites run by people who are independent of politics. There are websites that will tell you how to use your vote in the most powerful way you can to get rid of a Tory. I have worked with people in the progressive alliance to make sure that we maximise the anti-Tory vote by directing people to support the major challenger. So in Portsmouth South, they say vote Lib Dem; in Portsmouth North, they say vote Labour; on the Isle of Wight, they say vote Green. If people don’t want a Tory MP, don’t ask politicians how to vote! I would recommend looking at third-party sites that aren’t run by one party to find passionate advice about how to make your vote powerful.

Photography by Moshe Tasky.

Election ’17: ‘We Should Show a Brexit Settlement to the People’ with Darren Sanders

Darren Sanders, Liberal Democrat candidate for Portsmouth North, talks to Mark Wright about the need for affordable housing in Portsmouth, the importance of consulting the British public on any Brexit deal and the function of alternative, hyperlocal news organisations in a modern democracy.

Mark Wright: With the General Election coming up, what for you are the important issues at both local and national level?

Darren Sanders: Locally, it is around the future of our city after we have left the European Union. To me, there are three or four key things there. The first is making sure that our health service is fit for purpose. At the moment, there is not enough investment. Queen Alexandra Hospital is full, mainly with people who shouldn’t be there, so we want to put a penny on income tax to deal with health and social care. We want to use the land the NHS is flogging off at St James’s to build a convalescent home to deal with bed-blocking at QA. Health and social care need to be sorted, and they need to be integrated.

We also want to make sure that poor kids have the best start in life. We want to reverse the £10 million the city has lost through cuts the Tories have made since we left government in 2015. That’s the equivalent of 260 teachers. Our education system should be around how good the teachers are, not how rich the parents are. We would also want to increase the amount of money given to schools that have pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The third thing is housing. Many people in the city simply can’t afford a home. The Tories so-called ‘affordable housing’ isn’t affordable for many people, and now they are asking the council to flog off family homes. That is crazy. We want to see more affordable homes built and – because the people in the city don’t want to see a concrete jungle – we want to give Portsmouth the chance to decide how many homes it builds.

And that leads into the fourth thing: jobs. We believe that crashing out of the single market, particularly without any deal with the European Union, will be disastrous for the poor, and for our public services that rely on EU nationals. It would be disastrous for companies like Astrium. So we would fight to stay in the single market, but whatever emerges we want to make sure that Portsmouth is ready to cope with whatever comes out of the Brexit deal.

MW: Do you think the current electoral system is fit for purpose, and do you think it represents the will of the people?

DS: No. It is ridiculously unfair. For instance, in Portsmouth South the Tory candidate was elected on a third of the vote. That is bonkers. That is forcing people to vote against a person they don’t want, rather than for a person they do want. This morning I saw a Facebook ad for an organisation called Compass, which is the Labour Party pressure group, telling me to vote for LibDem in Portsmouth South to unseat the Tory.

I wanted to change the voting system; the Tories didn’t, Labour was split down the middle. I think a fair voting system based around communities would give people more trust in politicians. They won’t feel forced to vote for someone they don’t want.

MW: How did you come to represent the Liberal Democrats?

DS: From my background: I was brought up in council accommodation in Portsmouth. I’m the son of a cleaner from a single parent family. As I was growing up, I became increasingly unhappy with the state seemingly wanting to do everything. That made me uneasy about the Labour Party, which at that time wanted to take everything over. The Conservatives just seem to be in it for themselves. And the values I grew up with – which are treat everybody the same, treat everybody with respect, and stick together in good times and in bad – seemed to be values that the Liberal Democrats embraced. And still embrace. We are the only party interested in the protection of human rights. That is why we oppose the Snooper’s Charter. I also believe that, instead of shouting at each other, you should work together. People of different political persuasions should be able to be civil enough to work together on the issues that matter.

MW: The Lib Dems have a policy proposing a second referendum on Brexit, with the possibility that Britain could remain a member of the EU. Why do you think a second referendum would be good for the country?

DS: I think it would give us a sense of closure. This is very much like a divorce. The British people have filed for divorce, but we don’t know the settlement. At the moment, as with all divorces, we are arguing over access and cash, but there are many ways in which we can leave the European Union. One of the sad things about this election is that the Tories, in particular, are not saying what they would want out of the Brexit negotiations. Say, for instance, we pay for access to bits of the single market, which the Conservatives are interested in doing. Does that mean there is then freedom of movement, that there is unlimited immigration in those sectors? If that is the case, that is going to upset a great number of the Leave voters I’ve spoken with. They feel that we won’t have left the European Union, and they will be angry.

In order to provide closure, having a referendum on the deal – not a second referendum on whether we are in or out because we have voted out, but a referendum on whatever emerges – seems sensible. Just as you show a divorce settlement to the relevant parties, you should show a Brexit settlement to the people and ask them simply, ‘is this OK?’

MW: The Conservatives are just about leading in most of the national polls. What do you think are the reasons for that, and in your campaigning do you see this support mirrored in Portsmouth?

DS: I think it’s fair to say that many traditional UKIP voters are going to vote Conservative. I have heard UKIP voters saying, ‘What is the point of my party any longer? We won.’ But I’m also seeing many Conservatives who are deeply unhappy about the dementia tax. Not just the policy itself, but what it says about the Tories. Policy-making that is dreamt up by a few people and imposed on everyone, and at the first sight of gunfire they back down. If they are backing down on their own proposal then what happens when we get to the top stage of the Brexit negotiations?  If they back down then, that will not be great for the country.

I think increasing numbers of Conservative voters are looking for a plausible alternative, and in Portsmouth I think we provide it.

MW: There has been a lot of discussion amongst our readers about tactical voting to keep the Conservatives out of Portsmouth South. Who do you see as your main competition in Portsmouth, and what do you say to tactical voters in the city?

DS: I’m always keen to make sure that as many people vote for the Liberal Democrats as possible. That’s why I want to see a voting system that gives people positive choices. However, in our unfair voting system, tactical voting is simply a fact of life. If people wish to do that, they shouldn’t be guided by politicians but by independent websites such as Progressive Alliance or Tactical 2017.

In Scotland at the moment you have us, the Conservatives, and Labour going to everybody and saying: ‘Please vote for us to stop the SNP’. The SNP is going around to Green voters saying: ‘Vote for us to stop the Tories’. People should follow independent sites, check what is best for their seat, and try not to be guided by opinion polling or politicians. Politicians of every stripe will try to gently guide the voters into what they want to do.

MW: What do you think of the way the local press currently reports on politics, and what impact do you think reporting has on a broader political understanding and debate in the city?

Now, increasingly, it’s not just the press. We are also looking at online work. What Jerry Brown does in Portsmouth Politics by going to meetings that The News won’t attend is classic community journalism. That is a valuable service to everyone. Star & Crescent did a good job in highlighting the work of Aurora New Dawn when the domestic violence cuts occurred in the city. It was invaluable in highlighting their shameful treatment by the Conservatives and their allies.

The press does some incredibly good work. The News campaign around homelessness highlighted an issue that many people misunderstand. I think that is invaluable.

I’m also deeply uneasy about the Breitbart fake news approach. News has to be sourced, and opinion shouldn’t be passed as fact. Star & Crescent is good at separating out news and opinion. Providing it is rigorously checked, there are many sources we can use.

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. Here in Portsmouth, similar cuts have led to the loss of services such as Off The Record, Portsmouth Mind, and SureStart centres. Do you feel the government is squeezing too hard, or is this simply the reality of running a country?

DS: I think all governments of all political persuasions, whether it’s the coalition, Conservatives, or Labour, see fit to cut local government despite it being the most efficient part of the public service. And it is one that is actually very keen to work with other public services to provide better solutions. My fear is that it has all been around cuts without offering incentives for better integration within the public services. You look at health and social care: the councils do social care, and the NHS does health. The two have got to come together. If they work together, we can provide a more efficient service.

That is sort of what the government is trying to do when cutting, but there are no rewards for being efficient and that is frustrating. I think here, in Portsmouth, the Conservative administration has been cutting the wrong places. It is a scandal that they chose to take away £130,000 from the domestic abuse service. The council has insisted they look at it again, but that has already happened. It is a disgrace to organisations like Mind and Portsmouth Dial-a-Ride that the council have not given them the support to run on their own. We have worked with Dial-a-Ride to provide a business plan.

These organisations provide vital services, and the council should let us support them and allow them to stand on their own, not say, ‘We are taking your money away, now sink or swim’. That’s the wrong way around.

MW: The Lib Dems lost a lot of voters in 2015 over the tuition fee increase. What would you say to reassure voters that your policies for this election will be honoured?

DS: If I was elected and we weren’t able to deliver in government the things that were on my election leaflets, I would struggle to stand again. Affordable housing, education, using the land at St James’ to deal with the bed-blocking at QA: I think those are eminently doable. And if I have failed to deliver, rather than other organisations telling me to get lost, I would struggle to stand again.

As far as tuition fees are concerned, I think we have learnt our lesson. My fear is that Labour is going down the same route we did. They may discover that they cannot deliver certain things that they are promising, particularly around scrapping tuition fees. After all, they brought them in, after they said they never would, and they brought in top-up fees, when they said they never would. They gave us weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that were never there. We’ve had a snap election from a party that never offered a snap election, we’ve had a dementia tax reversed at the first sign of gunfire. Sadly, all politicians have broken their promises from time to time. But certainly, if I did not pursue the three things that are on the front page of my election leaflets, then I would not want to stand again.

MW: Are there any contemporary politicians or political thinkers that you admire?

DS: The political thinker that I am probably closest to is John Stuart Mill, whose analysis of a free society is that individuals have the right to do whatever they like, provided they don’t harm the rights of other individuals to do what they like. That should be the touchstone of every single government and every single political party in the country. It’s not, but it should be. That is how I approach every policy I’m involved in.

I did social sciences at University, so people such as Max Weber and Michel Foucault are an important part of my thinking. As far as contemporary politicians are concerned, I would say Martin Luther King, who believed that non-violence could change societies. And what happened in South Africa under Nelson Mandela remains an astonishing example of national reconciliation in a country.

MW: Where do you see British politics going in the next five years if the opinion polls are correct and the Tories win, and where will Portsmouth be in five years under your representation?

DS: If the Tories win, to my mind, they will be going in the wrong direction. We will have a hard Brexit. We may crash out of the European single market and have tariffs put upon us. If that happens, I fear we will become a more divided country as people realise they aren’t getting what they were promised. I fear we will become a more polarised society, and not come together to work out where the future lies. I think we will become increasingly in hock to foreign governments who will see our desperation to secure trade deals and, simply, try it on. The American administration clearly wants private companies to take over healthcare. They want reductions in environmental standards, they want animals injected with human growth hormone. We don’t want that, but we will be so desperate to do a trade deal that, chances are, those things will come to our country.

If I get in, I hope that Portsmouth will be an even more tolerant place. It is already a very tolerant place – unless you are a Southampton fan! I want it to be a place where people can feel comfortable, where people can feel even more accepted than they are now. I want to end the scandal of rough sleepers living in our doorways. I want to start dealing with the problem of people who aren’t able to afford a home through no fault of their own. I want to see more sustainable jobs coming to our city. We have been very good at protecting jobs, but not so good at attracting them. So I want Portsmouth to work together to attract more firms.

And I want Portsmouth more in control of its own destiny. Too many things are decided in London. I want powers to come back to Portsmouth, and we have a policy called ‘devolution on demand’ which would allow that. Under my representation, I want to work with people in the north of the city on their own future, and helping them decide the best future for themselves and their communities.

MW: And, lastly, where can people go to find more information about the Liberal Democrats?

DS: People can go to: www.portsmouthlibdems.org.uk.

 

Photography by Moshe Tasky.

Election ’17: Does Your Labour Candidate Really Support Corbyn?

Uncertainty lingers about Labour candidate for Portsmouth South Stephen Morgan’s true feelings towards Jeremy Corbyn and the progressive policies of the Labour leadership. Mark Wright makes an appeal for transparency.

As part of S&C‘s election coverage, I have been interviewing local politicians and commentators to find out their thoughts on a range of topics. A few weeks ago, I emailed Stephen Morgan to set up a meeting (Update: full timeline below). He replied the same day asking when would be convenient. We agreed to chat the following afternoon.

Appointment arranged, I prepared my questions. Top of the agenda was to clear up an incident from last year that has concerned a number of S&C readers, amongst others on the local Left. In June 2016, Morgan, along with over 600 other Labour councillors, signed a petition expressing no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to lead the Labour Party.

The document Morgan put his name to reads: ‘It has now become clear … that he [Jeremy Corbyn] is unable to command the confidence of the whole party nor of many traditional Labour supporters we speak with on the doorstep … We urge Jeremy Corbyn to make way for the new leadership that our communities so desperately need.’

I wanted to ask Morgan if his stance on the Labour leadership had changed since then and whether he would, if he won Portsmouth South on June 8th, be a supportive team player in the event of a Corbyn government. There may well be (yet) another power struggle within the party, and a lot of voters in Portsmouth South would feel cheated if the man they elected on the understanding that he was pro-Corbyn ended up, once he’d got into parliament, opposing or undermining Corbyn.

To give our readers a clearer sense of which wing of the Labour Party Morgan belongs to, I also intended to ask about his views on the legacies of both Tony Blair’s administration and Britain’s role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

A few hours before our proposed meeting, Morgan contacted me again. He apologised and told me he would have to cancel as he had other commitments to attend to. He went on to state that he was happy to re-schedule but only under the proviso that I submit my questions in advance so that they could be inspected by the Labour Party’s Regional Communications Officer. I did as he requested.

I am still waiting for Morgan’s response.

Update: On the evening of 6th June, we received Stephen Morgan’s interview responses, which you can read in full here.

This has been a disappointing experience. So far I have interviewed Ian McCulloch, Green Party candidate for Portsmouth South; Gerald Vernon Jackson, Liberal Democrat candidate for Portsmouth South; and Darren Sanders, Liberal Democrat candidate for Portsmouth North. All three were happy to meet without prior knowledge of my questions, and all were warm and open. Of the candidates from the main parties, only the Conservatives Flick Drummond and Penny Mordaunt have not given me an interview.

I would not have taken the aggressive Jeremy Paxman approach to Morgan; in fact, I was offering him an easy, straightforward opportunity to clarify his views. Given the level of public scepticism towards politics – and towards the motivations of politicians – such cagey and evasive behaviour is unhelpful. It is more redolent of the Blair age of spin and control freakery rather than the ‘new politics’ of Jeremy Corbyn. If a political candidate wants our vote, we have the right to know exactly what we can expect in return for it.

Just as I was about to give up on any hope of hearing again from Morgan, the plot thickened. Last night, as we were preparing this post for publication, S&C contributor and Labour activist Claire Udy – who has been working with Morgan almost every day of the election campaign – contacted us and agreed to answer some questions about him, though not as his ‘official spokesperson.’

When we asked why Morgan had signed the petition, she claimed he had done so accidentally. ‘It was a vague email that went out to councillors,’ she told us. ‘He clicked to find out more, and it said “Thanks for signing”.’

Indeed, the Labour List report on the petition states that, ‘The list below was edited when it emerged that a small minority of councillors had inadvertently given approval for the inclusion of their names by clicking on an email signature button.’ However, Stephen Morgan’s name remains on that list to this day, which implies he didn’t request it to be removed. We asked Udy why not.

‘No idea,’ she said. ‘Stephen has never been involved in anything controversial at all and, I’ll be honest, when I saw this [his signature on the petition] for the first time my heart sank. A few of us were pretty angry given that we were pro-Corbyn and had helped him on the doorstep during the 2016 local elections. We talked to him and he explained what happened, and we’re happy enough to take him at face value.’

Did she know what Morgan’s view of Jeremy Corbyn is now?

‘He’s in full support of the leadership and is appreciative that this campaign wouldn’t have been half as successful if it wasn’t for the massive intake of members since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Stephen’s been a member for 20 years and seen a lot of history in that time, and nothing ever like this.’

She added, ‘If I thought Stephen was anti-Corbyn, I wouldn’t put my heart into this campaign. Stephen is a well-educated and caring individual who has listened to us all and has been a contributing factor of the reuniting of the party locally.’

She didn’t know what Morgan’s attitudes to Tony Blair and the Iraq War were.

We then put it to her that Morgan’s reluctance to discuss these subjects with us himself and his failure to take his name off the petition might appear suspicious to our readers.

‘I can understand the cause of the suspicion,’ she said, ‘but this has never been brought up by people on the doorstep and, out of all of the media outlets, you are the first to do so. Out of all the questions he has been asked in this campaign as well as the thousands of lobbyist emails, he’s barely been asked these sorts of questions. People want to know his opinion on things that really matter like education, cuts to social care and the NHS.’

While we are grateful for Claire Udy’s perspective on Morgan, we are not much nearer to finding out what the man himself truly believes or why, if he did mistakenly sign the petition, his name is still on it.

There is still time for Morgan to make his position clear before June 8th. He might want to give his potential voters the reassurance and transparency they deserve before they head to the booths this Thursday.

Update, 7th June 2017: This article has received a lot of attention and comment from our readers on social media, particularly on Facebook, with some questions asked about the timeline of the interview.

We first contacted Stephen on 24th May, along with all other candidates. Stephen agreed to an interview for 30th May. He cancelled the interview the day it was due to be conducted and requested the interview questions, stating for the first time that the questions would ‘need to be vetted by the regional comms officer’. We sent the questions on the 1st June and received his full response on the evening of 6th June. At the time of writing and publication, we had received no response, as the original article stated.

All candidates received the same core questions, with some specific questions set for each party, for example, asking the Liberal Democrat candidates about tuition fees.

Election ’17: A Doddering Mob of Cringeworthy Cretins

Looking for a General Election commentator known for his honesty, integrity and rationality? Sir Eugene Nicks, QC, KBE, falls some way short of those standards, but S&C is an equal opportunities employer so we let him have a go anyway.

As you might be dimly aware, readers – and most of you are rather dim, let’s be honest – there appears to be some sort of election going on in a couple of days’ time. Frankly, I don’t know why we bother anymore. After two centuries of these wheezes we should all have realised that they’re utterly pointless. Anyone who hasn’t had their head trepanned by an armless, blindfolded sherry-bibber knows that. Incidentally, that did happen to me the other day when I was being re-initiated into the All-Portsea Conservative, Regressive and Imperialist Association (established 1799). Even after they’d sponged all the gore up with a lock of Peter Griffiths’ pubic hair and given me some laudanum for the ache, I still know the simple truth: elections are a jolly great carton of codswallop.

Why? Because they don’t make any difference at all. And a bally good thing too. By all means you of the hoi polloi may enjoy the fiction that putting a cross on a bit of paper – most of you can’t read and write anyway, thank a Justine Greening-shaped God for that! – might give you a say on something or rather. But the splendid reality is that it’s my very good chums who really run the show: the spies, the soldiers, the moneylenders, the natty bowler hats of the civil service, that Antipodean vampire fellow who owns all the hate gazettes and those salivating perverts hiding in all the drawers around the BBC.

The wonderfully efficient thing about British – ha! – democracy is that none of the above ever have to go through the tedious rigmarole of getting themselves elected or ever being accountable to anyone at all, not least proles like you. When I was an MP back in the eighties, clinging onto the petticoat of Mrs T* – I mean that both literally and figuratively – I was under no illusions that I had any power to do anything but indulge my peculiar urges at the taxpayer’s expense.

All I did was rubber-stamp – and rubber stamps are one of my peculiar urges, it must be confessed – whatever m’chums (above mentioned) wanted to do for – but more often to – this noble island kingdom we can confidently still call England.**

Be that as it May, a doddering mob of cringeworthy cretins are trying to persuade you to vote for them, so I might as well tell you why they’re all so doddering and cringeworthy. First – and definitely least – is our cherished Prime Minister. She looks like a cross between a sadistic Spanish priest from circa 1680 AD and the matron at my old school who, er, got into hot water for pouring boiling water over poor little [the following passage was deleted by the Star & Crescent editors upon the forceful advice of their legal team]. Have you seen what happens to this woman when she smiles? Griffiths have mercy on her soul.

Image by Andrew Burdett  [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

She’ll be having a high noon, as it were, with Jeremiah Cold Beans. I call him that because if one imagines him with a dust-caked bottle of moonshine and a pair of chaps – not those sorts of chaps; I left all that behind, those behinds, when I was an MP – he reminds one of a town drunk from a Clint Eastwood motion picture. The grey mule hair-like stubble and the crooked yellow teeth when he grins only add to the effect.

Image by Garry Knight [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I was thrilled – and in a somewhat inappropriate manner that took some explaining to my wife Hortensia – when one of my other chums high up in the army said in 2015 that he and his colleagues would ‘mutiny’ if ol’ Jeremiah became PM. So we’re quite safe even if he did win. He dashed well won’t of course because he’s been too busy vomiting over portraits of Vera Lynn and going on a caravanning holiday around North Korea with Leon Trotsky. Both of those allegations are fully and wholly true, by the way. My cohorts in the media said so. Lynn and Trotsky are both still alive aren’t they? Think I heard them talking to Robert Robinson on Radio 4 the other day.

Who else is there on the ballot? They’re all so staggeringly forgettable that I’m struggling to remember. Oh, that jaunty, red-headed nitwit who’s sooo liberal he can’t seem to decide whether he hates homosexuals or not.

He’s like that middle manager you finally get to talk to after you’ve been on the phone for seven hours trying to establish why your electricity meter has inexplicably started giving you read-outs in Cantonese. No matter how much abuse people like him receive – and they should receive plenty of abuse, mark my words – they’re able to hang on to their moronic grin and keep saying, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, sir, I really am’ over and over again and sound like they mean it.

Tom Foregone is he called? If he carries on babbling claptrap like he has been, the annihilation of his party at the polls is a foregone conclusion. Here’s hoping.

By JackWilfred (Tim Farron 02, July 2016.jpg) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The local situation’s just as abysmal.

Flickers, as we know her at the Association, has far too big a forehead to be trusted.

Screenshot GovFaces Q&A [YouTube, 2015]: Flick Drummond, Conservative Party- EU Membership

GVJ looks like – and has the same sort of name as – a minor character from a John Le Carré novel who quietly announces that he’s had some KGB agent knifed outside a Trabant factory in Zwickau.

Screenshot GovFaces Q&A [YouTube, 2015]: Gerald Vernon Jackson, Liberal Democrats- Marijuana Legalisation

As for the Labourite in Portsmouth South, I can’t remember his name or his policies but I will always remember his hairdo. Surely he’s better off in one of these contemporary musical hit parade heart-throb combos rather than in the dirty, nasty game of politics?

Screenshot [YouTube] Fairer pensions, Cllr Stephen Morgan, YouTube channel

Penny Mordor needs to understand that wearing a racy swimsuit won’t make the great Portsmouthian public forget about her rabid, paranoid utterings on the Turks.

By Gareth Milner [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I could talk about some of the other candidates but, if I do, I’ll get so maudlin I’ll have to drink myself to death. And it’s only quarter past eight in the morning. Bit early for that carry-on. Hortensia normally brings me a gardener’s pail full of gin and devilled chloroform for elevenses, so let’s stick to the usual routine.

Quite simply then, reader, I ask you kindly to stay well away from the misery booths on June 8th. Place your trust in your Queen, country, elders, betters and their rubber stamps. They may be as ignorant as you are about how to run this place, but they are already running the place and, well, you’re not. That’s the way it’s been for aeons, which is the best reason I can think of for it to stay that way.

Griffiths be with you!

 

 

*May her name be praised, savoured, licked, tickled and held up to the full moon with a cackle.

**No need to mention the other parts of the United Kingdom because I hate them, as should you.

 

Main image by Jack Caramac.

Election ’17: A Tory Win Will Bring NHS Privatisation and Social Division

Mark Wright talks to a South Asian resident of Portsmouth, “Charu Whitlam” – he requested S&C not to use his real name – about the privatisation of the NHS, the ‘fearful’ attitude of many Britons to migrants and the lack of ‘other’ perspectives on the root causes of terrorism. 

Mark Wright: With the General Election coming up, what do you think are the important issues at both local and national level, and who do you feel is best placed to tackle them?

Charu Whitlam: Before I answer, I should declare that I think that taxes from the people should not end up in the profit margins of private sector organisations. The Conservatives – and many on the right of the Labour party – at best have more faith in the benevolence of the private sector and the market, and at worst, actively despise and obstruct changes to the status quo which might redistribute even a fraction of (their?) wealth among the many, not the few.

Let me focus mainly on one important issue. I think the NHS is on its knees. Doctors are leaving. Nurses are leaving, or choosing other less stressful jobs for similar salaries. They are being told by management across the country to continue to provide services, but to do so with less money. I do not believe, despite layers of management, that the NHS is bad value for money (certainly when compared to, for example, the Ministry of Defence spending) and so I disagree that further savings must be found. It is a question of priorities. Whilst finding ways not to waste money is always important, the resources given to the NHS are inadequate already and declining.

It is not a conspiracy theory to suggest that the current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and his predecessor believe that private provision should take over more and more of the NHS. They say they support the NHS, but they are actually breaking it up. What this means in practice, by definition and if you accept my guiding principle, is that private sector firms will bid for the lucrative aspects of the work of the NHS, leaving the difficult, expensive, high-risk activities, such as accident and emergency and neonatal care, entirely at public expense. And that is not fair nor efficient. The money which will end up in the pockets of, for example, Virgin Care (Dr Branson anyone?), should stay within the tax pool and distributed across all services.

If that sounds familiar, it is because it is just one example where the entry of private sector providers, who ultimately must generate ever increasing profit, will charge – at every opportunity – whatever the market will tolerate. This, to me, is not a controversial proposition. A private company exists to generate wealth for its management and shareholders. True competition exists only where there is an even playing field, and that is simply not the case when one looks at what is happening in the carving up of NHS services.

If you open a restaurant, you are free to charge whatever you wish. If you run a private gym with fluffy towels, then please, by all means, wait to see who will pay to walk through your doors. But auctioning off community medical services to Virgin Care who, at every stage, promise to “pleasantly surprise” everyone by being just like the NHS, should alarm everyone. It is the NHS that should be the NHS. Because a hospital is not a restaurant or a gym with fluffy towels.

Jeremy Corbyn was one of the few MPs to oppose Private Finance Initiative contracts when they were first introduced. These resulted in long-term contracts which continue to cripple NHS trusts. Whilst I see that the promise to wind back PFI no longer specifically appears in the Labour manifesto, sadly,  I don’t think that a Corbyn government Health Secretary would follow the Conservative path to ever increasing privatisation.

In terms of who is best placed to tackle the current problems that the NHS faces, I have low expectations of the small rump of the Labour-party-of-the-willing. But I forgive most of them in advance. I applaud some of them for simply for being there at all. I wish that other talented and experienced Labour MPs (who are clearly credible enough to their own constituents), even those who voted no confidence in Corbyn, did not fall silent and hide behind likes of Liz Kendall and Owen Smith. I think when someone you truly cannot support in any circumstances becomes the leader, twice, you should either leave, or HELP, and support whatever aspects of the manifesto you can sign up to. The no-confidencers had plenty of time to organise themselves and mount a better coup with a better leader option against the wishes of the actual party members, the £3-come-latelys or not, but they didn’t manage it.

Just imagine if more of those talented no-confidencer MPs accepted the Labour party membership’s will and simply served on the front bench, using their talents, and accepting their differences. But no, they are cowering in the corner waiting for the end, keeping their powder dry, and hoping to position themselves for a day in a Jeremy-free future. They fell as mute as the Queen when it mattered most.

MW: Do you think the current electoral system is fit for purpose? Do you think it represents the will of the people?

CW: No. But, as a non-white migrant and a minority, I am a little fearful of the will of the people. The people buy and love the Sun and Daily Mail more than any other newspapers. Too many of the people dislike foreigners and are willing to blame them rather than find common cause with them. Too many of the people go on their first impressions of someone, without waiting to hear what they have to say – without thinking.

These people often seem incapable of imagining me as truly one amongst their number. They will make me a cup of tea and even nod and smile, and then vote for the Tories who instinctively know what they want to hear, election after election: the ambition to cut migration numbers. It feels like the past. They make this promise to because it appeals to those taught to blame migrants: those same migrants cleaning their hospital loos and wiping their parents’ bottoms. It is for this that Lynton Crosby was knighted.

A first past the post system necessitates tactical voting. It forces you to guess whether a Lib Dem really has a better chance of beating a Tory. And it punishes you for following your heart. A preference system where votes are redistributed down a preference order in a series of run-offs is much better, because, for example, you can vote Green without helping a Tory.

A proportional representation system where you count up the number of votes UKIP actually receive and reflect that as a proportion of your legislative body is a nightmare. Recall what I just said about the people. Some would argue that it forces coalitions and fosters consensus as disparate parties come to an arrangement whether they like it or not. I argue that it is a recipe for stagnation and an emboldening of the extremes.

I would prefer an Australian-style preference system where you can rank parties in the order in which you prefer them. But unlike Australia and America, I do think five-year terms as a general rule are about right.

MW: The Greens and the Lib Dems have a policy proposing a second referendum on Brexit, with the possibility that Britain could remain a member of the EU. What are your views on the prospect of a second referendum?

CW: I would like a referendum after a deal takes shape but is not yet signed, but I don’t think there will be one. I am also wary that the telling details, much like the detail that the Trident missile that was tested went the wrong way, will be kept a secret before any vote on the matter.

Given the polarising atmosphere of the last referendum, I think that the anger will be notched up even higher a second time around.

Despite the above, I would be willing to risk that and the spike in attacks on foreigners if the true consequences of Brexit are somehow made clearer, and there is an opportunity for Leave voters to reconsider their earlier decision. Perhaps a crucial 3-5% of them will have come to resent the lies on the Boris buses, and that could make all the difference.

But I fear the deep core of the vote against was to do with the failure of too many of the Great British public to accept those unlike themselves into their midst. Integration is a two way street. And that core is strong, and resistant to factual pleas.

I do understand the characterisation of the EU as a bureaucratic administration enslaved by unimaginative neoliberal conventions: an institution that can do nothing other than reissue a loan to German banks in the name of Greece so that the charade of servicing the loans could continue.

But there is another side to the EU. There is a side which struggles to set and maintain a floor on workers’ rights. There is a side which sets environmental standards and occasionally dares to enforce them. In this sense, the EU standards protect people within states from the worst excesses of state actions against their interests. Before you scoff or choke on your cornflakes, my question to you is, would you not rather that there be some sort of attempt to move beyond the nation state? Not a bottle-throwing anarchist movement, but one with a possibility of growing? A flawed one, but one which actually exists?

There are legal arguments about workers’ rights and discrimination cases and environmental breaches where the UK and France and Turkey are in the dock, and I actually think that is how it should be. I know I am in a small minority that is attracted to the possibility of literally appealing beyond state borders, but the idea that that is even meaningfully possible is remarkable. It feels like the beginning of the future to me. It may well have evolved by stealth, and it may not work well, but to those of us from outside the EU who have watched the courts up close, in Strasbourg and Luxembourg, and know the key role that Britain plays within those institutions, I feel a certain sadness on behalf of the British. If only the people knew, they might be proud.

MW: Was Jeremy Corbyn fair in asking questions of UK foreign policy in regards to the recent terror attacks?

CW: Yes. It is telling that that is even a question. The question assumes that asking questions of foreign policy might not be fair. And by definition it must be. I suspect the question is referring mainly to the timing of saying anything at all about it, a reference to a sort of sensitivity moratorium, but I think that it is important to question those who are so keen to completely absolve British foreign policy whilst they are doing it.

Much like I think it obvious that private sector companies are looking to make money and will prioritise that beyond all else, I think the continuing support of bombing campaigns and foreign policies which leave vacuums where even-more-extremists thrive, is harming the national interest. The longest running, sore-festering resentments, is the treatment of the Palestinian people. This, long before ISIS or even the Taliban, was the indicator that a brown life is not considered equal to a white life by so many people in this country and around the Western world. I cannot make up my mind how wilful or natural that is, but the indifference to the plight of people in far away places with far away names has always concerned me. Perhaps I would say that, wouldn’t I!

How refreshing it is to have, even for a brief moment on the highest national stage, a leader willing to make that connection between the overseas bombing campaigns, or the selling of arms, or the special sycophantic silence on the Saudis, and the scourge of Islamic terrorism both at home and abroad.

I know that more thoughtful actions of Western powers overseas is not the complete solution, but it will lessen the ammunition used by warped ideologies to justify and radicalise.

MW: The Conservatives have lost ground in their poll lead in recent weeks. Why do you think this might be?

CW: The PM has been shown to be more weak and fearful than even I expected. I have never respected her judgement since she told the story about the cat and the Human Rights Act at the Tory conference. Remember that? It seemed to me not only to lack common sense and judgment, but also reveal the worst kind of cynical opportunism. So the only thing I have never doubted was her raw ambition to be PM. She would seemingly say and believe anything to get there, and now she has. Any intelligent reader of a draft of that cat speech might pause to reflect on the truth of that story. Even the Tory conference, if you listened closely, wasn’t sure whether to applaud that line, as much as most of them hated all things that smelled a bit human-rightsy at the time.

It is a sad day when Ken Clarke, the Thatcherite, Enoch Powell-admiring old man of the Conservatives seemed to be the only one left to indicate that it was nonsense. He was pushed aside after that, along with Dominic Grieve, and other principled Tories.

The Australian dog-whistle expert and nasty political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, clearly has said, just keep your head down Terry and focus on Corbyn. But a fraction of the Great British public might think that not even showing up to even a single political debate was lily-livered. Some of them might also remember the number of times she said that she would not call an election and called an election. Sir Lynton also masterminded the Michael Howard ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ billboards in 2005. I think those billboards were a sort of giant wink and a nod to the racist and xenophobic.

If you think I am too critical of the Great British public, then it is only because I also know some other people, fewer people, who feel deep in their hearts that blaming migrants does not ease their feeling of being left behind.

I am not an optimist. I think that it makes for more interesting news if polls are suggesting a narrowing of the lead. I do think, at this late stage, that Thursday may not herald the complete destruction of the Labour Party in Parliamentary seat number terms. But the Labour Party is doomed either way as an opposition or government unless those no-confidencers (the majority of Labour MPs) get out or get on board. If they leave or are voted out, I hope they all line up for Strictly Come Dancing, where economists can transform back again into human beings, and they can dream, for a moment, of a come-back, if not in this lifetime, then the next.

MW: What do you think of the way that print media currently reports on politics?

CW: I think it does the bidding of its masters. When it counts, as a general rule, the Times op eds support Murdoch wars because it is good for business. The Telegraph is a polite expensive tabloid, with more than a hint of nostalgia for empire 1.0. Most tabloids put fresh young tits and arse next to stories about Muslim paedo rings, generally ignoring the white ones. They put things in bold, and write in short sentences, in case the message becomes too complicated. And the people – see above – love it, apparently. Many people, when asked directly by me the liberal elite, know enough to say, shyly, that they buy it for the sports section. But I don’t fully believe them. I look at what they do in the privacy of the polling booths.

I am a reader and a member and general lover of the Guardian. I am not so radical and disillusioned as to not confess that much. It contains a diversity of views from the centre right to the left, broadly speaking. It even used to publish Seamus Milne. But there are strands within it which occasionally reflect the worst conventionalism of the no-confidencers. In recent days, it has published the worst kind of cheerleading for the latest ‘enough is enough’ line on terrorism. At its worst, it joins in the promotion of the general idea that charm trumps substance.

When I feel like some “alternative” news, I switch to Red Pepper or Democracy Now in America to remind myself that there are other people.

MW: Theresa May has said that the Tories are unsure about the amount that older people will have to pay for care, and will not reveal a social care cap before the general election. What message do you think this sends to voters?

CW: On the fact of the actual cap, I think it is good when any politician sees into the future a little and winds back from something she knows to be wrong and which will be quoted against her time and again. So she decided to reverse her position. But otherwise, see my answer on the weak and fearful PM above.

Unlike treatment in a hospital, for example, on this issue, I do think that there must be a balance between the state and the individual and perhaps insurance in bearing the costs. Not for all individuals, but a meaningful means-tested way of gaining a contribution from a generation who have, through no effort on their part, found themselves unjustly enriched beyond all proportion, by simply occupying a property. In those circumstances, I do not see why the general public pool of taxes should bear the full cost of care. The key to care is to properly regulate both the quality and the charges by private sector providers. I think that it is a very difficult policy area which goes to the heart of who should pay for what and I am not sure of the solutions.

Whilst I would cut down on nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers, I appreciate that in the meantime we still need to be realistic about funding.

MW: Are there any contemporary politicians or political thinkers that you admire?

CW: I admired the Prime Ministership of Paul Keating in Australia on certain cultural issues in particular. His party passed legislation, against the will of the opposition and the majority of Australians, giving Aboriginal people basic land rights in Australia. He acknowledged them as the original owners of the land. He actually argued on talk radio with people calling up saying that they were worried about the Aboriginals invading their back gardens. In other words, he fought back and tried to lead and shape opinion, without using opinion polls to quote people back to themselves in an unproductive loop. On many occasions, he actually took on the UKIPs and BNPs of his world, rather than try to move to the right to capture their vote. He gave off a sense that there was little time and big important things to be done, and he tried to do them. And people hated him for it. And people loved him for it.

MW: The Green Party have presented a policy to decriminalise the purchase and the sale of sex; the Lib Dems are talking about raising £1bn a year through legalising cannabis. Do you feel either of these policies should be considered by the other parties?

CW: I don’t know enough about the benefits of both of those policies, but I do think Caroline Lucas in particular is a sensible leader and an almost pathological optimist. I have seen her up close a few times at events and I find it very difficult to disagree with much of what she says. I am less convinced by Tim Farron promising another referendum, and those who use that as a reason to vote Lib Dem. The reason to vote Lib Dem is to try for one less Conservative in Parliament, in seats where that is actually a possibility.

MW: Lastly, where do you see British politics going in the next five years if the opinion polls are correct and the Tories win?

CW: If JC loses, even if not by much, I see another round of coups by the economist Labour no-confidencers, whilst the Tories trod gaily over our most basic services. This could go on for a couple of years. It depends on how brave they are feeling. The party is hamstrung by its rules at the moment and there will come a breaking point where the disciples will confront the economic liberals and it won’t be pretty.

In some ways, the current PM is not an ideologue in the Thatcher mould. She is rather more vacant and so perhaps willing to be led by the people in the focus group, who might have something to say, for example, on the social care cap. And as mentioned before, as another telling example, there was her willingness to believe that someone was granted leave to remain on the basis of forming a relationship with a cat.

What is most troubling at the moment is her seeming inability to understand the policies herself and explain them in anything other than a three-word slogan that Sir Lynton Crosby has drafted. To be fair, both leaders are not exactly policy wonks at the moment, but with JC, you can probably guess what his line will be. With the PM, it seems to depend on the piece of paper in front of her and who has written it out for her.

I see years of rhetoric like ‘enough is enough’ on terrorism, whilst police resources are cut. I will hear Cressida Dick more and more on the radio in the mornings, now the Met Chief, talking about expertly trained police officers who can shoot terrorists in 8 minutes, but who is silent on the racist and cultural tone-deafness in evidence when she led the operation to shoot Jean Charles De Menezes. What is needed in the intelligence services is more intelligence. It is a tough job and they need to improve their ability to see the world from different perspectives in order to protect the public.

I think British politicians will become even more comfortable with saying one thing and doing another, and I hope that ever increasing numbers of people, people much younger than myself, will resist that.

If Jeremy Corbyn wins, by the way – not that we are asking, and manages to achieve a quarter of what he sets out, given the forces that will align against him, that will be quite some achievement.