1. What will be your number one priority if elected?
Jobs and wages in our city – in the past, Southampton had a massive manufacturing tradition based on the port. We used to have Ford and Pirelli and as soon as people left school they could get an apprenticeship there and get a decent job. Now, a lot of those industries have died away and the only jobs that seem to be replacing them most of the time are zero-hour contract jobs that are on very low wages. I volunteer in the Food Bank near my home in Bitterne Park and it is shocking to see that in Southampton we see so many people who can’t afford to feed their families. Many of them are working – it is just that their wages are so low and the cost of living is so high that you can’t bring up a kid on those wages.
I think that a really good thing for me to do as an MP in the first hundred days is to meet a hundred employers across the South-East and say, “Hey, why aren’t you coming to Southampton? We’ve got a port, we’ve got the New Forest, we’ve got two rivers, we’ve got great universities, we have a fantastic history – why don’t you locate your business here so we have more opportunities for our people?”. We need to pay our people a decent wage so that people can raise their families and have some security.
2. What can you offer to students?
As I was saying earlier to the radio station, I really don’t think that any one MP can change the city. We all know that that it is ridiculous. So what I would like to do is to work with the students of Southampton on the campaigns that matter to them, where our values are shared. A few years ago, some students here had a really good campaign to clamp down on landlords who are exploiting certain students. Not all landlords – but we all know that some do. I was really proud to support their campaign and work with them on that.
In terms of Labour’s national pledges that we will do if we are in government, we want to make sure that the tuition fee comes down to £6000 a year (at the moment obviously, it’s at £9000 a year) and it will kick in as soon as we are elected. So in May, if you still have another year at university, you have £3000 less debt. We also really want to help with the maintenance allowance and grants for students who are struggling with the cost of living at university, such as with buying all those extra textbooks and art materials around the edges. I know that your Student Union is campaigning very strongly for this as well and I am very proud to be supporting their campaign.
On top of that, a lot of students may be privately renting – a lot of the students are asked for a month’s rent upfront, a deposit, and then they are expected to pay a letting fee as well! We will scrap the letting fee. We will make it illegal to have the letting fee – you are already putting so much up and out there. I would say, there are a few solid policies that will really help the students.
3. How do you think we can encourage the students to be more active in politics?
I think the really important thing is that we shouldn’t think of the students as just, “voters”. They are not someone who just comes along and puts a cross in the box and then disappears. They should be leaders themselves in political campaigns and movements that matter to them – whether it is campaigning against the letting fee, campaigning for more student grants, or whatever else that might matter to them locally. I do want to see other leaders come out from Southampton University. I want to see the students here becoming Councillors for Labour or becoming future MP’s for Labour.
So if we win, I hope to come back to the Universities and do more interviews and such so that we can reach out. I would say to any of your readers: Get in touch with me. I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter – and also, one of my pledges is to leave my mobile number with everyone. If anyone needs me, then I am there for them.
I would say that John Denham, who is the MP for the area at the moment – wasn’t born in the city but he started off as a student in Southampton University. So if he can do it, definitely others can as well.
4. What inspired you to run for this position in Southampton Itchen?
Well, you don’t choose where you are born, but you do choose where your home is. I love this city so much. I spent a lot of my school life in London and it is very difficult to do politics in London because people keep moving, sometimes people don’t speak English, sometimes they are too scared to talk to each other, or they just are moving too fast. But, in Southampton, there is a much bigger sense of community and if you believe that politics is about community like I do, then it is a wonderful place to work in. The people are so warm-hearted, it is just so lovely. It is the people that I mostly love about Southampton.
My father and his family come from Hampshire. Although I grew up in London where my mother lived, I always came back and forth both cities. I spent 7 years working as a journalist and I was self-employed. I kept thinking, I am writing about all these social problems, but what am I doing to fix them? So I became a Councillor, and that is when I realized I loved it. So, now I want to become an MP. When I was thinking about where to stand, I felt that I was not too sure about London and whether you can do politics there. So I looked around areas where my family are from, and I went to Southampton and just thought “Wow, this is it”.
I packed up all my bags and I left 3 years ago, and I just came to live here because it is the best place to live.
5. What is it about the Labour Party that accords with your personal beliefs and aspirations?
I went to a comprehensive school and when I was there, we hated our school canteen. They only sold chips, beans and cheese – I don’t know what your canteens are like but our canteens were absolutely horrible. The students wanted to change that but the teachers said you can’t change it because it is with a private company which was a massive multinational company and they have a contract to serve you for the next 15 years and you can’t change it. We were 15 at the time and we thought that was rubbish. We went home, when we should have been studying – and instead we baked, cooked, chopped up ingredients and made all kinds of homemade food like quiches, salads and pastas and sold it next door to the canteen for as much as you can eat for £1, and these hundreds of students came to our canteen and completely boycotted the other one. We were on the front page of the local paper and everything. After 2 weeks of keeping up with the boycott, the canteen changed. They reopened and the canteen changed – they suddenly had new smoothie machines, vegetarian options, and a lot of other nice food.
These kids that are not even old enough to vote took down this massive company and won, which was amazing. But it was not till I went to university and studied politics that I learnt about the history of the Labour party – the history of the working people rising up against injustice, and winning. I thought, “That is the party of the canteen, that is the party of the people, and that is the party I want to serve.”
6. You have made five video pledges over a week over social media.
Could you tell us a little more about them?
The pledges are based on what I have been hearing on the doorsteps. The last two years, the only things I have done is basically – to knock on doors, talk to people, listen to their concerns, and find out what their priorities are. The five pledges respond to the things that people have told me.
The first pledge is to protect the NHS – people are very worried about getting GP appointments and the hospitals are being overcrowded. We need investment in our NHS.
The second is about the cost of living – people find that their bills go up but their wages stay stagnant, and so they are getting poorer. So we need to take action to tackle the cost of living.
The third is about controlling immigration fairly – because people feel that if too many people come in too quickly, you cannot plan for the schools, houses and hospitals that you need. Some do not even speak English, so people feel they cannot even talk to their neighbours and people want to have stable communities. They are not racist people at all – it is just about having a community that works.
The fourth pledge is pride in Southampton. Southampton has got an amazing history and set of traditions and values, and there is a feeling that we want to celebrate that and make more of it. For an example, the Labour Council is building the Royal Pier, which used to be the jewel and the Crown of Southampton and had fallen into disrepair. Now, we are bringing it back. Having pride in Southampton is also about having the community being clean and safe and welcoming, so tourists can come off at the docks and the cruises.
The fifth pledge is to be here for you, the people. That is why I leave my mobile number with everyone. I have already sent my business card with my mobile number on it to 70,000 people and I get hundreds of messages a week, and I call back everyone. If you need it, the number is 07835103090 – if you need it, give me a ring. Even after I get elected, I want to spend a couple of hours every week calling everybody back. I always try and call them back within a week. I can’t always call someone back immediately as there are other things to be doing, but I want to make the time to do it because people feel that politicians are too distant from them, and it is really worth investing some time to do it properly, even if I sleep a bit less.
A list of all candidates running in Southampton and Winchester can be seen here.