Why did you decide to apply for a PPC position?
As a child my favourite TV programme was the news. I cared about what was going on in the world and wanted to have a say in it. Politics affects every aspect of our lives. For me, engaging in politics is about engaging with society itself and trying to build a better world.
It was clear as teenager that my values and beliefs aligned with those of the Labour Party so I joined up aged 18 and have been a member ever since. Even before that, though, I decided that I one day wanted to be an MP. And in particular, I wanted to represent the people of the Staffordshire Moorlands, which is where I was born and lived until I became the first member of my family to go to university. Quite simply, being the Labour MP for Staffordshire Moorlands is my dream job.
And how are you finding the campaign in Staffordshire Moorlands?
I love campaigning and I am really enjoying the work that I am doing both in and behalf of people in the Moorlands. Along with the Moorlands Labour team and our supporters, I am on the doorstep every week finding out what’s going on and taking up issues for people.
Tory-run Staffordshire County Council has been taking austerity measures to whole different level, so thanks to them and their ongoing attacks on our public services, I have had no shortage of campaigns to lead, including the fight to save our libraries and Biddulph Waste & Recycling Centre from closure. We scored a victory with the latter campaign, but are keeping a close watch on Tory plans as they have only granted the Centre (or ‘Bemersley Tip’ as it is known locally) a temporary stay of execution.
By far the most damaging Tory County Council cuts to date, though, are those to our Youth Services, which will be decimated by Christmas time. After 31st December, tens of thousands of young people in our county will no longer have a Youth Service to support them. The vital information, advice and guidance provided by youth workers alongside the positive social activities which they run will all be gone. Over 16,000 people signed the petition to save our youth services, yet the Tories completely ignored public opinion. Indeed, one Tory County Councillor demonstrated his acute ignorance by declaring that “young people go to youth centres to get pregnant”. Such arrogance and ignorance is a disgrace. And we wonder why young people struggle to have faith in politics. It makes me livid.
Are there any issues that keep coming up?
Yes. People feel are sometimes surprised that I am taking such an interest in the issues which affect them because they feel that the representation that they currently get is poor. This adds to the frustration that some people have that politics is divorced from their everyday life. Westminster politics is, of course, remote from the lives of most of us but politics pervades our lives every day and this is something that I am really keen to promote. What we think, what we say, what do really does matter and I want to encourage people to recognise the power that they can have in political decision-making. I want to see more power devolved to people at a local level so that they see more of a direct correlation between their beliefs and actions and how that can shape their community.
I grew up in household rife with political debate, but in which no one was a member of a political party or organisation. Politics is not the preserve of any one person or group. The decisions which shape our society are for us all to have a say in. Public opinion is now such that people will not for very much longer tolerate any less. And nor should they. The digital revolution of the past decade provides huge demand and potential for the spread of greater democracy.
It's 8th May 2015 and you've been elected. What will your constituency priorities be?
I want to be a great constituency MP. I want constituents to know that even if we don’t always agree politically that I will represent the constituency with passion, fairness and dedication. Unlike the current situation in the Moorlands, I want them to know who their MP is that she is fighting for them. So, my number one priority will be to get a highly effective constituency office set up pronto. With that foundation in place, I can fight for the things that really matter to people, which include a living wage, an effective NHS, affordable housing and utility costs, safer and prosperous communities and a more democratic country.
Do you find social media useful for campaigning?
Yes. I am a fan of technology when it is simple to use and allows us to lead richer lives. Both Facebook and Twitter, which I use most often, fit these criteria and I have now witnessed on many occasions the political opportunities that they can provide. For example, earlier this year, with the campaign to save Staffordshire Youth Services, I used social media to great effect to join forces with other campaigners, of all ages and from many different interest groups, to form Youth Against Staffordshire Cuts (YASC). As YASC, we used social media to promote our cause and organise the rally in Stafford, which got a great deal of media coverage all over the county. Tory County Councillors were left looking mystified as to how we had achieved so much during their deliberately short consultation period.
Who are your biggest intellectual influences?
The most powerful influences on my values, beliefs and ideas have come from people whom I’ve met and the experiences that I’ve had rather than from any book that I’ve read. People who have helped to bring intellectual ideas to life and give meaning to my world include teachers from Biddulph High School, where I studied until I went off to university. I smile every time I remember Mrs Elkin bringing the archaic language of Shakespeare to life for us in our English lessons and helping us to deconstruct the metaphysical poets. She introduced us to the heroes and heroines of literature and in so doing became one of mine.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve always got a few books on the go. At the moment I am switching between reading Professor Steve Peters’ The Chimp Paradox, Sophie Dahl’s Playing with the Grown Ups, Matthew Alper’s The ‘God’ Part of the Brain, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin.
What was the last film you saw?
At the start of the week, I took my son and two of his friends to the cinema to see Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was a joy to hear them all chuckling and giggling at it, which made an otherwise pleasant but largely forgettable film really good fun. As the credits rolled, the three of them gave an impromptu round of applause, which was the icing on the cake. I love watching films with my son. We aim to have a film night once a week.
Do you have a favourite novel?
Surely impossible to have just one favourite out of the whole canon of English literature! I have some favourite authors, though, who include Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith, Milan Kundera, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sebastian Faulks, Philip Roth and Margaret Atwood. A couple of all-time favourite novels which readily spring to mind are Anna Karenina, Room, The Blind Assassin, Lolita, Saturday and A Week in December. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There will never be enough time to do justice to all the great books out there.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?
Life doesn’t tend to work like that. Our ideas are built from webs spun from thousands of different influences, experiences and words. But, as a Christian, The Bible shapes the core of my beliefs and many of my questions.
How many political organisations have you been a member of?
Let’s see. The Labour Party for 20 years and the Fabian Society and Progress in more recent years. If you count Amnesty International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, then those too. Plus, I am a member of the GMB and ATL unions. I used to be a member of Greenpeace and North Staffordshire Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (NORSCRAF). So definitely six, but perhaps nine depending on definition.
Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?
I have changed my mind on nuclear power. Having grown up with Cold War rhetoric, I used to confuse nuclear power with the horror threat of nuclear war. I now strongly believe that having a safe, sustainable supply of nuclear power is the only sure way to keep the lights on. Coal and gas power stations are unsustainable and current alternative energy options cannot yet consistently supply us with the volume of electricity that we need. Alongside greater research and development into efficient and affordable greener energy options, we need to increase our dependency on nuclear power.
What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?
All of politics comes back to the experience of the individual, and where individuals have been loved, cared for and have strong self-esteem they are pretty well equipped to deal with many things that life can throw at them. I want people to know that they are worthy, valued and powerful. From here, huge progress for good can come.
What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?
Racism and snobbery. I am seeing the negative impact of racism born of some of the less well founded and articulated arguments on immigration and I want to counter that. I hugely dislike social snobbery and despise the demonisation of the poor and vulnerable, which has been characteristic of this Tory-Lib Dem government.
Who are your political heroes?
Tony Benn, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela and Betty Boothroyd.
How about political villains?
There are many national figures whose politics I dislike, but if we’re looking at the premier league of villains right now then President Assad of Syria, Robert Mugabe and ISIS are right up there.
What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?
Nationally, we need to tackle growing inequality. We need to create an economy which benefits the many and not just the few. This includes pushing for a living wage for all, supporting small and medium sized businesses and ensuring that companies and individuals pay the tax that they should. Ultimately, the sustainability of our planet is the most pressing issue but the global financial crisis has helped to push this down the agenda, which has been convenient for many who don’t want to face this Leviathan problem.
If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?
Based on my experience as a Child Protection Officer in education, I would make it a legal duty to report the abuse of a child. Too many people assume that someone else will deal with the concern or else completely bury their head in the sand. People have been shocked by the scale of child abuse in Rotherham, but the problem of child abuse is everywhere.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?
Food and water security borne of climate change, war and a massively expanded global population.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life?
What is your favourite song?
My favourite song so far this year is Dumb Ways to Die. Not only is it irresistibly catchy, it's a great example of creative public message promotion. For details of other favourite tracks, you'll have to wait until I make it onto Desert Island Discs.
Do you have a favourite video game?
No. But I am advised by a 10 year old that FIFA 15 would be a good answer.
What do you consider the most important personal quality in others?
Just one on its own would be no good, so I’ll name a few. Integrity, generosity, kindness, compassion.
What personal fault in others do you most dislike?
What, if anything, do you worry about?
In terms of problem-solving rather than worry, I think about the state of the nation, climate change, safeguarding children and how to nurture a happy life for my child.
And any pet peeves?
When you’ve typed something to email or post online and the internet connection fails.
What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?
Keep the faith.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Planning what I’m going to do next.
What is your most treasured possession?
Treasured possessions include whichever is my current notebook, plus photos and memorabilia linked to loved ones.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
What talent would you most like to have?
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?
To lead an authentic life and do some good.
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 would pay off the mortgages of loved ones as well as my own, fund the Labour Party General Election campaign and give more to charity.
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?
As it’s three, then my trio of very special friends from my time working at Staffordshire University. Katy, Claire and Sarah are three of the warmest, funniest and most caring people on the planet. Leading busy lives, it’s a minor miracle when the four of us manage to get together, but the wait is always worth it.
Being a PPC is tiring, time consuming and can cost quite a bit. Would you recommend it?
If it’s your dream to be an MP, then yes.