Why did you decide to apply for a PPC position?
I went overseas after university and spent ten years working in some of the most dangerous and corrupt countries in the world, fighting for healthcare, education, jobs and housing. And then I came home, and found people in my town having to fight for healthcare, education, jobs and housing. In five years Stafford has lost most of our hospital: our NHS care; the schools that were promised have been cancelled; our libraries closed; our youth centres lost; 100% cuts to care services and 44/54 children’s centres lost. Our town centre prison has been converted to 100% sex offenders. No-one has ever taken responsibility. Our council has more than £20m in reserves and they wouldn’t set aside £40,000 to save the hospital. Someone had to stand up and fight. I had the background to know how hard and exhausting it would be, and our options: the things we could do that would make a difference. It means a lot to me to be using that experience on behalf of our town.
And how are you finding the campaign in Stafford?
Good days and bad days. I like being a parliamentary candidate. I like talking to people and spending time with them and helping to solve the problems that the Tory MPs moan about as ‘too much casework.’ I like finding out why no social housing has been available for months, and sending the town plan to roads specialists to solve the problem of the thousands of pounds Stafford businesses lose every year to congestion. I like standing up for my town, and I like that we are getting somewhere with campaigning for our schools and hospitals. Sometimes, just sometimes, we have a win. And we always have the thought of just how much more we’ll be able to do if Labour are in government here next May.
And then there are the bad days - like the day I got a £14,000 bill for challenging downgrade of the hospital in court. I was supposed to be protected from costs because of the public interest nature of the case. It came as a shock as I’ve never had £14,000 in my bank account in my life.
If it was supposed to stop me it didn’t work. I’m back in court, fighting the closure of cancer services.
Are there any issues apart from the hospital that keep coming up on the doorstep?
The £1.2bn privatisation of cancer and end of life services across Staffordshire. The five private companies who have been shortlisted to manage care for our most vulnerable patients are a rollcall of the big and the bad. They don’t pay tax in this country and they have a history of failures of patient care that should be enough to exclude any one of them from the process. It’s a contract that shouldn’t be going ahead at all. Cancer treatment and end of life should be staying within the NHS. People here are understandably upset.
It's 8th May 2015 and you've been elected. What will your constituency priorities be?
Telling the Clinical Commissioning Group to shut the cancer privatisation down before they are shut down. They have ignored the wishes and the interests of local people for far too long.
Do you find social media useful for campaigning?
Yes, and not just operationalIy. I’m fighting in Stafford for a reason. Until I saw all the change and the loss being wreaked on our town, I was just another (angry) voter. Now I need people to know how I got here, and why, and what we’ll do together if they come out and fight with me. How am I going to do that without social media?
Who are your biggest intellectual influences?
Lost in the divorce. Thankfully.
What are you reading at the moment?
The repairs bill on Penkridge library. I love books, I was practically raised in our tiny village library, and reading was so important a way of opening my world up that I had ex libris tattooed on my wrist. But right now, I just want to find a way to stop the County Council shutting our libraries.
What was the last film you saw?
Nightcrawlers. Saving up Mr Turner for my dad’s next visit.
Do you have a favourite novel?
It’s either Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse 5. Or The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?
Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. Or Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan. Long before Northern Rock, I couldn’t believe financial regulators could be so under-resourced or unsupported enough to be ignore the maths. It was educational. Of course, now we're firing all the tax inspectors, so things aren't exactly getting better.
How many political organisations have you been a member of?
Until this year, too many to count. Currently, two.
Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?
HS2. I worked for nearly fifteen years in infrastructure, watching roads and trains open up access to refugee camps and revolutionise economies. I still believe we need an infrastructure revolution in this country. I just think HS2 is just about the silliest way you could set about it.
What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?
The evidence-based kind
What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?
The economic illiteracy that underpins trickle-down theory and fetishises inequality. Also that artificial flavouring suspended in sugar syrup makes coffee taste better.
Who are your political heroes?
How about political villains?
David Cameron. I just … can’t.
What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?
Understanding the cost of the insecurity the coalition are embedding in people’s lives. To get out of the last recession the Tories sold off the family silver. To get out of this one they’ve sold off everything that made us safe: social security; employment protection; the NHS; schools; the idea that we have individual rights and can challenge the state that is altering them. I think it will take years before we understand the value of everything that has been lost: years more before we can reconcile and rebuild. But we’ve got to start now.
If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?
To overturn the health and social care act. I have friends with disabled children. The damage that has been done to their lives is unforgiveable.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?
Fear. I worked in Libya while Gaddafi was causing a human rights disaster by opening his southern borders and encouraging thousands of poor sad souls to try to migrate from the south, crossing some of the most dangerous desert in Africa. He was afraid if he didn’t do it, his Generals would bring him down. The migrants died in their hundreds of thousands. There’s always fear at the bottom of it.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
Carry a book.
What is your favourite song?
Currently, a cover of Making Plans for Nigel.
Do you have a favourite video game?
The one I built in ‘86. My dad had two ideas about his daughters. They’d drink bitter, and they’d program.
What do you consider the most important personal quality in others?
What personal fault in others do you most dislike?
Leading an unexamined life.
What, if anything, do you worry about?
Never writing the book that touches people’s souls.
And any pet peeves?
Muddy paws on the stairs.
What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?
When you’re seventeen you’ll have a choice. You can run off around the world, get into trouble, run out of money, help people,see things, write books and make every mistake you can think of, or you can be the scholarship kid at Oxford’s poshest college. The answer isn’t Oxford.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Watching either Arrested Development or Community. Wish I’d written either Arrested Development or Community.
What is your most treasured possession?
I spent ten years working on and off in Syria. I loved everything about it. Everything I brought home is an irreplaceable reminder of what has happened there.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Stilton. And west coast hip hop.
What talent would you most like to have?
Cryptic crosswords. I want to be Araucaria, but I don’t know how they work.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?
I’d like to go back to Syria, to drink a beer in one of the squares in Bab Touma. For Damascus to be what it was, and what it should be. I just wish that was a realistic wish.
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?
I’d retrain as a campaigning advocate. We’ve had so much time wasted by people telling us that we’re imagining the threats to Stafford hospitals, our patients, our schools and our public services. Outside politics, ‘We’ll see you in court’ seems to be about the only thing that effects meaningful change. I’d spent the rest of my life representing campaign groups, and I wouldn’t take a penny.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?
Billy Wilder, Charles James Fox and Harry Houdini. Particularly Houdini. He was a greater man than people realise. Also, I think I have a bit of a thing about autodidacts.
Being a PPC is tiring, time consuming and can cost quite a bit. Would you recommend it?
If I win, I’ll have stopped the biggest privatisation in NHS history. If I don’t win, I’ll have led the fight against the biggest privatisation in NHS.