Darren Paffey: From UoS Student to Parliamentary Candidate


Wessex Scene had the opportunity to sit down with Darren Paffey, labour candidate for the Southampton Itchen constituency and current lecturer at the university. Paffey studied languages at the University of Southampton at the start of the millennium: going on to study for a PhD and become a lecturer at the university, making Southampton his home.

Since 2016 he has been part of Southampton City Council, progressing through the ranks as a councillor, cabinet member for education and children, deputy leader of the opposition, and eventually deputy leader of the council. He is now a candidate for Southampton Itchen, one of the two Southampton Constituencies encompassing most of the town centre, as well as the East of the city.

In this interview, we had the chance to discuss his journey from student to parliamentary candidate, his thoughts on higher education, climate change, and his advice to current students.

From student to politician

Growing up Paffey was not from a political nor university family, marking the first to have the privilege to enrol in higher education. During his time at UoS his underlying political opinions came to the surface. His time as a student honed these opinions into a coherent political outlook due to mixing with people from diverse backgrounds, the geopolitical circumstances of the early 2000s, and the increased exposure to these circumstances through his study of languages.

His political interests were sealed during his year abroad in Chile. He described the highly divided society resultant of Chile’s then-recent transition from dictatorship to democracy. The people Paffey socialised with had active opinions because of the increased value attached to newfound liberty, recalling an anecdote in which students in Santiago took to mass protest against an increase in bus fares equating to roughly 1p. The juxtaposition between this highly mobilised society and the UK’s comparatively more comfortable society really sharpened Paffey’s politics.

Paffey began to get involved politically at a local level, joining the Labour Party while doing his PhD. His further involvement in the Labour Party was sparked by his wife telling him to “either shut up or go out and do something about it” in response to him shouting at politicians on the TV screen. Paffey opted for the latter. He supported the campaign of the then labour MP John Denham in the 2010 general election, aiding him to win his seat in Southampton Itchen. This active involvement led him to stand for local councillor in Bargate, winning the seat in just a year, getting involved in the key policy area of education, and eventually overseeing this upon joining the cabinet.

Paffey has previously stood as a labour candidate in Romsey and Southampton North during the 2015 and 2017 elections, a seat labour was, and still is, unlikely to win. Despite this, both campaigns gave Paffey invaluable experience in running a parliamentary campaign. On top of this, both campaigns saw labour’s vote share increase in the constituency, proving these learning experiences to be considered successes.

This time around the story is different. Paffey is now standing in his home constituency, which has seen some extremely close elections throughout the last 14 years, swinging to both Labour and Conservative. The aforementioned 2010 election was only won by 192 votes for Labour, whilst Royston Smith won in 2017 for the Conservatives by just 31 votes. On July 4th Labour only need a 4.5% swing, with Paffey stating that this is “promising” whilst also “taking nothing for granted”.

Southampton and the University

Despite being from the North East, Paffey moved to Hampshire at a young age, eventually moving to Southampton in 2000. This is now the place he lives, works, and raises his family; having spent half of his life here, it holds the strongest notion of home. In contrast to the chopping and changing of Tory candidates across the UK, Paffey stated that “it was my home, or nowhere”.

In this sense, Paffey understands the issues that impact his neighbours, a political authenticity others lack:

These are not issues I just want to fight for, these are things I experience as well

The current societal view towards politicians views them as “all the same”, “untrustworthy” etc. This political authenticity shows an attempt to remodel the current view society has on politicians. Paffey argues that those in Southampton, like himself, “want to get on with their lives, work, and be able to pay their bills”. He was also quick to challenge Rishi Sunak’s claims to Southampton, who “makes a big play of it, despite moving out to wealthier areas at a young age and receiving education in Winchester.”

Paffey also outlined the importance of Southampton’s universities:

  • They attract people from across the country, and even the globe
  • They contribute greatly to the maritime and green tech industries
  • UoS specifically is an important place of ground-breaking research
  • They create employment and career opportunities for people born in Southampton

Higher Education

Focussing specifically on higher education, Paffey believes that over recent years the economic barrier to studying at university has got “serious”. Paffey stated that Labour is interested in removing as many of these barriers as possible, but affirmed this is whilst remaining realistic with what can be done.

Whilst the promise of free education is maybe what all students want to hear, Paffey was clear that because of the current economic state this is simply not possible and labour will remain “utter realists”, exemplifying the fiscal conservatism of this evolved labour party.

However, he did not rule out the possibility of this happening in the future, stating that “when the economy is stronger, we might be in a different place”. Whilst this seems a long way off, other Labour policies highlighted by Paffey will be more relevant to current and prospective students:

  • They plan on creating fairer repayment schemes on loans, “which currently works for nobody”. Students currently accumulate extreme debt, even over £100,000 on longer courses such as medicine.
  • On a wider level, they plan on mitigating the cost of living crisis by growing the economy and paying jobs with adequate salaries, relevant to not only current students but also those leaving university
  • They plan on scaling down the cost of education – however, Paffey was quick to affirm this will be done in a constructive and realistic manner
  • For those who travel to Southampton to study, Labour’s plan to nationalise rail in the long term will attempt to bring down the extortionate price for rail travel

The strikes of the 22/23 academic year greatly disrupted all those at the university. Paffey was clear that this was a “last resort” for university staff and that they would much rather be in the lecture hall. He also mentioned that this disruption is an opportunity for students to not only understand the importance of joining a union but also the responsibility of only taking industrial action as a last resort. He emphasised the sympathetic feeling between student and lecturer, ensuring that they are very much on the same side, with the current lack of financial incentive to undertake post-graduate studies threatening the long-term viability of our university.

With regards to reducing the likelihood of this happening to the same extent in the future, Paffey stated that he would “at least sit down and be round the table to deal with these issues”, implying that this has not been done under the current government. He was again clear in the fact that these problems won’t be solved from day one.

The word ‘change’ has been the centre of Labour’s election campaign, and whilst Paffey embodies this message, he often affirmed that this will be long-term, realistic and constructive.

Climate Change

The climate emergency is close to the heart of most students, and Paffey’s message to young people campaigning for a greener future is that “it is possible”.

Looking closer to home, he has campaigned against the current state of sewage dumping in the River Itchen, something wilfully taking place under Royston Smith. If you live near the Itchen and have left your house to the disgusting smell of human waste, this is the cause. Sewage dumping is one of the biggest environmental critiques sustained against the current government from multiple parties. Paffey is clear that sewage dumping should be a last resort, criticising the current inexplicable rates of human waste going into the river Itchen.

Looking at the university and climate change, he praised those training to work in industries that promote green-tech, as well as research that the university does towards providing the infrastructure and technology to enable a greener future.

Paffey’s approach to climate change embodies the idea of “think globally, act locally”.

Paffey’s Advice to UoS Students

It is clear that Paffey’s time at UoS has had a great impact on his life. The following are his main pieces of advice on how to get the best out of your university experience and approach life after your degree:

  • Embrace your studies. He critiqued the fact that University is seen as the “done thing”. For Paffey, university should be a place to question things around you, speak up in debates, and crucially, not a place just to get talked at by a lecturer. Learning at university is about working with those in positions of academic “authority” and understanding new ideas together. For Paffey personally, it was through this embracement of his studies at university that he gained confidence he never had as a teenager.
  • Get involved. He praised the wide range of societies at the university, and how getting involved at base level to committee positions equips people with valuable experience (anyone is welcome to get involved with Wessex Scene!). He stated the importance of community volunteering to greater understand the important values that communities uphold. Finally, he suggested getting involved in positions at SUSU to gain valuable experience in complex structures.
  • Find a way to make your mark. Embrace the privilege of studying at UoS and all that it provides, and be open to all of these opportunities from studying to gaining valuable friendships. The values gained at university are relevant for all walks of life, and the diverse professions students will find themselves in.

Leave A Reply