- Do you regularly read blogs, and if so what are your normal haunts?
I regularly check Guido Fawkes’ blog, as he is very quick on political events and rumours, usually before the main news channels post anything. I receive the Telegraph’s Morning Briefing in my inbox every weekday, which sets the political debate of the day and recaps key events from the day before. They’re both centre-right blogs, with Guido Fawkes being unashamedly so, but I find them very interesting and informative.
-Do you find social media useful for activist-y-type things?
I find social media very useful for helping organise events and campaigns, by raising awareness and spreading information. I think it does have a role in helping form people’s political views, purely through the spread of information. As to creating tangible change, I do feel the best way is to engage directly in the political system, rather than purely relying on ‘sharing’ or ‘liking’ a post or message, but it does have a role.
- Who are your biggest intellectual influences?
I’m a fan of John Rawls, and although A Theory of Justice is a bit of a slog, I find his interpretation of what, given a neutral starting position, a just society is something we can work towards.
I have read a lot of Hayek, whose arguments I find largely to be either inconsistent or to have false premises. Nevertheless, it has helped me understand why classical liberalism prevailed(s), and how the left can counter it.
- What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished the His Dark Materials trilogy, after being told to read it for many years but not doing so. Next on my kindle is Catch-22, although Owen Jones’ new book is coming out so this may take priority!
- What was the last film you saw?
I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy a couple of weeks ago at the cinema – the first Marvel film I’ve seen and was certainly one I’d see again. I’m not a big superhero film fan, but I will certainly consider seeing more.
- Do you have a favourite novel?
I think I’ll have to say the red classic, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. It really gets to grips with the heart of what is wrong with the capitalism, and lays it out in easy to understand terms. I particularly found interesting how some of the characters lay the blame of their problems on immigrants and foreigners; lessons can be learnt from how Owen challenges these beliefs in the book, which are of particular importance given the rise of UKIP.
- Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?
When UKIP started to do well in the polls and local elections, at first I didn’t mind so much given how they are politically similar to the Conservatives and thus were drawing their voters from the Tories rather than Labour.
However, the results of the May 2013 County elections in Staffordshire (in particular, the divisions covering the Stone constituency where I am standing) was when I began to worry about the spread of UKIP. In almost every county division in Stone, UKIP came second behind the Conservatives and ahead of Labour – it was becoming clear that former Labour voters were starting to believe the myths about immigration and Europe that UKIP were putting out in their leaflets. In Stone we were subject to a particularly distasteful homophobic leaflet put out by the UKIP candidate that mocked bi-sexuals amongst other groups. It was from then on I realised the importance of tackling UKIP head on and the myths they perpetuate.
- How many political organisations have you been a member of?
I’m a member of a few campaigning organisations - the British Humanist Association, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Labour Representation Committee, as well as local groups in my town.
- What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?
Communities and how they increase and expand opportunity is something that drives me and my politics. The idea of community is incredibly powerful in what they can achieve – as groups of people they live, work, shop, drink, socialise and ultimate stand together, inherently protecting the weakest and poorest in society. However, for them to work effectively they require a good foundation of strong public services. David Cameron’s battering of public services is one of the main reasons why I am standing in 2015, as our communities cannot withstand another five years of this disgraceful Government.
- What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?
The attitude that immigrants are the root cause of everything that is wrong with society.
- Who are your political heroes?
I’ve always considered Tony Benn to be my ultimate political hero – his critique of free markets I find to be solid, and his opposition to wars honourable. I’ve also been watching a fair bit of Charlie Chaplin recently and found his interpretations of the politics during the 40s particularly interesting.
- How about political villains?
Perhaps ‘villains’ is a tad unfair, but I’d have to nominate the entirety of Staffordshire County Council’s Conservative cabinet, particularly the Deputy Leader/‘puppet master’ Ian Parry. Their last manifesto promised no more ‘salami slicing’ of public services, which is something they’ve kept to. Instead they’ve just removed the entire sausage! What they are doing to our youth services, libraries, elderly home care, amongst over public services, is disgusting.
- If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?
Public transport has always been an area that interests me, although I’ll admit now it’s not the most thrilling of topics! Nationally, I think that the policy that has come out of Labour discussions that allow not-for-profit companies to bid for railway contracts is very good and could breathe fresh air into our dusty and creaking network. Locally, I’d like to see our councils take a leading hand in how bus companies provide their services – currently it’s a chicken and egg situation where routes are only run where there is demand, and people only use them where there is a nearby route. If Stoke City Council and the County Council took a lead on this we could sort out many problems relating to transport across the area.
- What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
It sounds a bit of a naff philosophy, but it’s something that proves effective to me time and time again: If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves. Speaking to people on the doorsteps, when I ask residents for any local issues usually you’ll only hear of small niggles, that can usually be rectified with an email or call to the council. They may seem unimportant, but it’s these things that can make a huge difference to the quality of life to a whole community.
- What is your favourite song?
I listened to Paolo Nutini for the first time at this year’s Glastonbury festival and thought he was brilliant. Just for managing to incorporate Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator into a song, I nominate Iron Sky.
- Do you have a favourite video game?
Anything Star Wars keeps me hooked – I usually prefer multiplayer games where I can play with friends in the same room together but Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2 are the exceptions.
- What do you consider the most important personal quality?
- What personal fault do you most dislike?
Smarmy people really grind my gears.
- What, if anything, do you worry about?
Money is always something I worry about – as the director of a company I have an additional set of finances to fret about!
- What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?
To listen more.
- What do you like doing in your spare time?
I’m fortunate that I love buying and selling things and so my job is something I really enjoy. I’m always on the lookout for things to try and see for my partner and me so we regularly venture out, very often a day at the races.
- What is your most treasured possession?
An odd one, if it counts, but it would have to be my online calendar/diary – I’d be completely lost without it! I’ve set it to sync with all gadgets so it’s not something I need to worry about but its astonishing how much I rely on it. I do have a copy of the 1945 Labour manifesto which is something I’d have to drag out of a burning house!
- Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Chocolates and sweets, although my teeth do show it!
- What talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to be more handy with my hands – I like the idea of creating/maintaining things, and on paper I can do it, but in practice I’m completely useless.
- If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?
Let’s go for winning the Stone seat in the 2015 General Election.
- Speaking of cash, how, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?
As my partner often says, I’m incredibly boring with my money and I suspect not a lot would change, and would still do my shopping in Aldi and in the local High Street. I’d probably get more enjoyment from investing the money than spending it.
- If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?
Although I met Tony Benn a couple of times, I didn’t get chance to have a proper conversation with him so he’d definitely be my first guest. I think I’d also choose Nye Bevan and George Orwell.
- And how are you finding campaigning in what is normally considered a rock-solid Tory seat?
It’s begun well – I’m getting various emails and calls from people who have never voted before (or used to vote Bill Cash!) who are interested in getting involved in my campaign so that has been very positive. It’s a very tricky constituency in that less than half of constituents live in the 3 biggest towns, with the rest being spread out in various villages and hamlets. They all have their own different community vibe which is great but is hard work in spreading myself across the whole constituency!