Saturday 11 April 2015

Saturday Interview: Andy Newman

Andy Newman is a GMB activist who's recently moved to Corsham from Swindon. He will be best known to long-time readers as the proprietor and main contributor to Socialist Unity. Andy is also Labour's parliamentary candidate for Chippenham, for which he has a campaign blog. You can also follow him on Twitter here.

Why did you decide to apply for a Labour PPC position?

I am GMB branch secretary for Wiltshire, and I am highly conscious that working people and the trade unions would greatly benefit from more Labour councillors on Wiltshire County Council. I have also moved to Corsham in the constituency, for personal reasons, and I wanted to help energise the local CLP towards winning achievable goals at the next local elections.

And how are you finding the campaign in Chippenham?

There has been a high degree of involvement from party members, which I am pleased about, and a good team spirit. The key measure though is that we have managed to deliver strong support for our twinned seat in South Swindon, where I believe we have to win if we are going to see a Labour government.

Are there any issues that keep coming up?

National issues regarding precarious employment, zero hour contracts, low wages and lack of affordable housing, are exacerbated in rural areas, where transport costs are an extra £1000 per family per year, and childcare costs an extra £600. I have also had the opportunity to represent the party on rural and agricultural affairs at regional hustings and on BBC Wiltshire, and I am surprisingly knowledgeable on technical issues like rural broadband roll-out, the threat to the national pollinator strategy by neonicotinoids, problems with the Rural Payments Agency, and the role of the Grocery Code Adjudicator, etc.

The biggest local issue is the controversial plan by the Range chain of stores to open a distribution centre on the edge of Chippenham, which would bring 1000 jobs, and leverage Chippenham’s geographical advantage. We discussed this in the CLP, and resolved that provided our concerns about environmental impact and the nature of the jobs were addressed, then we would support the proposal. I spoke to the national distribution manager, who confirmed that the workforce would include around 700 permanent jobs on proper contracts, and £7.00 per hour, along with more skilled jobs in driving, training and management.

On that basis I have come out in favour of the Range development, the only candidate to do so, and it has proven divisive! My take on it is that there is a clear class bias, that when I speak to working class people there is broad support for the development, for the jobs, and an understanding that it will push up wages. Those opposed, in my view, are both NIMBY and unsympathetic to the fact that there have to be manual jobs in the economy, as well as white collar jobs.

It's 8th May and you've been elected. What would your constituency priorities be?

In that unlikely event ... I think there needs to be a stronger voice in the Labour Party for rural communities.

To be honest, I don’t think that it is necessary to be an MP to have a political impact, and on 8th May, my main priorities will be the same whether I am an MP or not. I believe that the driver of progress is the building of communities of solidarity, which underpins a philosophy of working towards the common good.

Do you find blogging and social media useful for campaigning?

I find that writing is always a good mechanism for developing my understanding, though often nowadays this doesn’t lead to a finished and publishable article.

Twitter is useful, but I don’t get on with Facebook.

Are you finding your "normal" blogging at Socialist Unity is taking a backseat?

Strangely, although the number of new articles has slackened off, SU still has a very solid readership, consistently more, for example, than Left Futures.

I am pleased at what SU has achieved over the years. We helped to stop the SWP traducing George Galloway when there was the crisis in Respect. We exposed the whole SWP “Comrade Delta” affair (“Delta” started as “Comrade Gamma”, but it didn’t sound right), We exposed and helped to prevent the Islamophobic extremist Anne Marie Waters become a Labour candidate, We stood with Tommy Sheridan during the libel trial. We articulated progressive arguments for a NO vote in the Scottish referendum, and we correctly warned that Western intervention by proxy against Gaddafi and Assad would lead to disaster. Amongst all that, we have explored the idea of labourism, national identity, islamophobia, and multiculturalism.

I hate to disappoint our many critics, but SU will continue, and I hope to have more time for writing after the election.

Apart from All That Is Solid, are there any blogs or other politics/comments websites you regularly follow?

I genuinely do read “All that is Solid”, and Left Futures, and that is about it.

I think that the phenomenon of blogging with its concept of an online community or affinity group has passed.

I understand why most successful blogs are run by professional journos now, because being both an activist and a blogger does throw up difficult issues of confidentiality, and discretion.

Are you reading anything at the moment?

The anthology Blue Labour. I will be writing an appraisal shortly.

Do you have a favourite novel?

Not really a favourite. I enjoy anything by Paul Auster, but I usually find works of fiction a bit disappointing. The novel that I most enjoyed recently was Ken Macleod’s Intrusion.

Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?

I read a lot of non fiction, and I cannot blame any particular books for the resulting synthesis. One book I found most satisfying was Justin Lin’s The Chinese Economy Demystified, and I would also recommend Otto Bauer’s underrated classic, Social Democracy and the National Question.

Who are your biggest intellectual influences?

My own experience of trade unionism is probably the shaping force of my intellectual outlook, I certainly owe a debt to RH Tawney, and also Eric Hobsbawm. I also think that the Christian tradition in our culture underpins the concept that everyone is equally worthy of respect “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

What was the last film you saw?

Home. The last film I saw that I enjoyed was Paddington. I haven’t yet seen Selma; and the best film I have seen in recent years is Lincoln.

How many political organisations have you been a member of?

My political history is all out these on the Interweb.

Is there anything you particularly enjoy about political activity?

The process of helping other people grow into their own potential.

Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?

Scottish Independence, I owe that to my colleague at the SU blog, John Wight. Actually, John has made me change my mind over a few things over the years, but that is the most significant issue.

What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?

That human beings are social animals who are happiest during reciprocal interaction, and building bonds of solidarity.

What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?

The liberal assumptions that human beings are best seen as isolated individuals asserting their rights against the collective, and that selfish rationality informs peoples economic choices.

I also despair of the brittle and intolerant “secularism” that masks intolerance.

Who are your political heroes?

Those who seek to resolve conflicts, and promote reconciliation. I greatly admire the way that politicians and former paramilitaries on both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland have engaged in the peace process, and I greatly admire Mo Mowlem for her role in enabling that process.

I also admire those who, when conflict is inevitable, hold fast to the principles of democracy, rule of law and constitutionality. I am deeply impressed by both Abraham Lincoln and Dr Martin Luther King

How about political villains?

I will never forgive those who recklessly took us to war against Iraq.

What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?

Winning a Labour election victory on 7th May.

If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?

I would like to see a paradigm shift in the landscape of employment law, moving away from the assertion of individual rights, and towards a collective framework, where employers have a legal duty to resolve disputed issues with trade unions.

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

Ask me after the election.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Stay cheerful.

What is your favourite song?

Cannot pick just one:

Sunny Sweeney - Everyone Else can kiss my Ass
George Jones and Tammy Wynette singing - My Elusive Dreams
Conway Twitty - I Love you more today

Do you have a favourite video game?


What do you consider the most important personal quality in others?

Moral courage

What personal fault in others do you most dislike?


What, if anything, do you worry about?

Nothing I want to share!

And any pet peeves?

I am irrationally and disproprtionately annoyed by The Guardian, which I find an unreadable newspaper.

What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

Never read The Guardian.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Watching reruns of old police procedurals on ITV3.

What is your most treasured possession?

My absurdly indulgent Aquascutum cashmere overcoat.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

My Aquascutum cashmere overcoat.

What talent would you most like to have?

Blowing smoke rings.

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?

Labour to win the General Election with an overall majorty.

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?

Bigger house

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?

I wouldn’t invite people to dinner. I would be happier to meet people down the pub, and I would rather go with my own friends and family.

Being a PPC is tiring, time consuming and can cost quite a bit. Would you recommend it?

I never make personal recommendations about what choices other people should make, However, don’t do it unless you know what you are getting into.

And lastly ... Why are you Labour?

Politics is about the art of seeking political change within the specific contexts that are actually available to you. There is no doubt in my mind that a Labour government is not only the best plausible option, but would also be a very big step forwards for working people, and all those interested in social justice. The millions of people who vote for, or identify with the Labour Party, and the millions of people in affiliated trade unions are the most significant assets for progressive politics in Britain, and the battle within the Labour Party is to connect again with the aspirations of the 5 million voters we have lost since 1997.