Paliamentary Candidate Interview – Labour’s Darren Paffey


In the run up to the 2015 General Election, Wessex Scene are interviewing the candidates running in Romsey and Southampton North. Here I interview Labour’s Darren Paffey.

What will be your number one priority if elected?

My number one priority, given that I would be the first ever Labour Party MP in Romsey and Southampton North, would be to get out and meet with people, to understand much more about their aspirations. From the lots of conversations I’ve had already, there are people who are concerned – largely I think the topic that’s come up the most is the NHS. People use it across all income brackets, all ages and social classes – everyone. And people are really concerned about that, so I’d want to ensure that local people are able to get to their GPs when they need them. Labour has a guarantee of 48 hour appointments, where at the moment lots of people are awaiting a week or even two. We’ll be ensuring that people with serious illnesses can be tested as soon as possible – so we’ve got a guarantee on cancer tests within a week. And just ensuring that people are getting the most out of the institution that is the closest thing we’ve got to a national religion – which is the NHS. So, getting on top of that would be one of my first priorities. There’ll be lots of priorities really, but that’ll be the first one.

What can you offer to students?

As someone who hasn’t left university in 15 years, I think I understand pretty well what the student experience is like, how things have changed since I was a student. When I came to Southampton, they had not long introduced £1000 fess, and there was uproar at the time. We then saw them increased to £3000, and yes that was under a Labour government, but that was to directly bring in more money to universities. We’ve since seen them trebled to £9000, which has shifted the entire burden on to students, so I can definitely offer them an understanding of how things have changed, the pressure that I know they’re under – often because of their lecturers, like me – but also the extra-curricular side of things, where you’re worried about the cost of living. University’s a unique experience, and people want to make the most of it, and I think we need to ensure that, as well as the degree and all the that come with it, students are able to go through university without worrying about how they’re going to put money into their bank account.

I’m certainly fully behind the Labour Party’s policy to reduce fees by 1/3 to £6000 – which would come in September 2016, so within 18 months of a Labour government forming – and we think that’s a fair way of ensuring that students themselves, and any family members who fund them, can have some of the pressure taken off of them. It would also be fairer for the rest of the country, because at the moment, projections are that 3/4 of students will never fully repay the debts that they owe – which are now on average around £44000 – which is a lot more than most of the MPs who put these laws in place were ever paying. Because they will never pay it back, a lot of that goes onto the national debt, which, if left unchecked, would be upwards of an additional £250bn by 2030 – which is a significant amount. For a government which claims economic competence and wants to balance the books, I think it was a huge error to whack up fees and to end up in this state of affairs.

Since you’ve been a Southampton City Councillor, what achievement are you most proud of?

I think the biggest one is the apprenticeships enquiry that I ran. I became a chair of the scrutiny panel and could have focussed on any topic, but the one I really wanted to look at was apprenticeships. Whilst I work in a university and absolutely fully support the university route, it’s not for everyone, and what we have ended up with is almost an academic route which is most prestigious and then everything else – which is not as well organised, and certainly not as well valued. Labour want to bring in much higher quality apprenticeships, and we ran an enquiry into what was happening in the city – why take up of apprenticeships, particularly amongst 16-18 year olds, was going down. From this we came up with a set of 10 recommendations, including making sure that information and guidance at schools was much better, because depending on which school you’re at you might get really good careers advice, or you might get rubbish careers advice.We want to improve that within the family of schools in Southampton, and we want to create more incentives for smaller local businesses to take on apprentices, and we’ve got an incentives scheme for that. We want to do an apprenticeship graduation day, putting it on a level footing with the really fantastic day that university graduation day always is, and to give it that public recognition – we’re going to be doing that for the first time in October. So there’s just under £1,000,000 worth of investment going into apprenticeships in the city – which for me is one of the biggest things, because that will change people’s lives at 16 and 18, and will give them much better access to the jobs that they want to do, and will give them a lifetime of work in this city, because it’s all tied to into what our local industries are – so that would be the biggest thing.

The Labour Manifesto pledges that “The first line of Labour’s first Budget will be: ‘This Budget cuts the deficit very year.‘” Does this mean that the country faces five more years of austerity regardless of who wins the election?

The country faces ongoing difficult decisions, definitely, but I wouldn’t agree that it’s just the same austerity which we’ve seen over the last 5 years. The Conservatives are planning much, much bigger cuts than we’ve seen even under this current government, and they’ll go through that much quicker because of their target of balancing the books by 2017 – although they promised to balance the books by this year, and haven’t managed it. Labour have said that outside of protected areas like education and health, then departmental budges are going to have fall.

In local government we’ve seen budgets fall, and in many cases that has been pretty damaging in many ways, because of the scale and the pace at which the Conservatives have done it. In other ways it has led to much more innovative thinking about how we deliver services, and how we can deliver services in partnership – so health and local authorities are working much more closely together now, local government and the faith sector are working much more closely now, and I think those kinds of things are positive.

We’re talking about doing it in a much more balanced way and we’ll make different decisions about cuts, to make it a lot fairer. Things like the bedroom tax, which is a completely punitive policy that hasn’t worked, but was mooted as being part of their balancing the books package – it hasn’t. So, we’ll make very different decisions on where the solutions fall, and we’ll ask those with the broadest shoulders, those who earn over £150k a year, those who’ve done very well out of the schooling, business and what our society offers as a whole, to pay a little more tax, which we think is a fair way of trying to narrow that gap between what we bring in and what we spend.

What role do you see for Britain on the world stage regarding international security, as threats from, for example, the Middle East and Russia, continue to evolve?

Britain has historically played a leading role in this – arguably if we go back as colonialism than a less positive role – but I think that we should be leading the way in negotiations and finding democratic solutions to problems. I think that part of the issue is when there are dependencies on places such as Russia for our energy, so a Labour government would need to ensure that we’re looking properly at the mix of energy that we have. Fracking has been mooted as the Conservatives’ saviour policy – but there is no guarantee of that. We need to get back to looking at a much more diverse energy mix – renewable energy and so on – because that will change our relationship with some of the bigger powers like Russia.

Certainly I’m fully committed to having 0.7% of GDP as foreign aid, which helps in many of the situations where there are unstable states and insecurity. So we need to continue to play our part in the international community by continuing to do that and, arguably, by looking at whether we can do any more. We need to play a leading role in the European Union – not pull out of it – play a leading role at the United Nations, within NATO – within all of these organisations. Those things are absolutely key.

The Labour Part has promised to tackle corporate tax avoidance. How will a Labour government close the loopholes, and how will they ensure that companies don’t dessert the country in favour of foreign tax havens?

The flight argument – that if you put up taxes, then everyone’s going to flee the country – has always been brought out, and has very rarely, if ever, happened. It’s the same argument that was used when we introduced the minimum wage, when we were seeking to look out for the people at the lower end of the pay scale. People said it was totally unaffordable, business will suffer and you’ll have businesses closing down – it didn’t happen – and the same argument goes for the living wage as well, and we’ll offer help to businesses that introduce it.

In terms of closing loop holes, there needs to be much more transparency with some of the tax havens – we need to get them to open their books, so that we can see where money is being tucked away. We intend to get rid of non-domicile status, which enables some people who make a lot of money outside of the country not to pay tax. Again it’s an imbalance in how the rules are for some, we just want to make that the rules are fair.

It’s not about punishing the rich, it’s not about stifling innovation and entrepreneurship. The kind of entrepreneurs that we want, are those who recognise that the skills that enable them to make money, and the roads and people which they depend on order to build successful businesses and make money need to be paid for. We want entrepreneurs who say: “It’s right that I pay back a fair share of that”, and don’t just say “Actually I think I’ve paid enough tax now so I’m just going to cream the rest off”. It’s about having fair rules for everyone from the lowest paid to the highest paid, but also enabling innovation, so that future generations can innovate, and so that we have a good solid stable country – a prosperous country – where more people can do well and be entrepreneurial, not just the present generation. It’s about putting back into that for the future.

A list of all candidates running in Southampton and Winchester can be seen here. 

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