Saturday 4 April 2015

Saturday Interview: Dr Darren Price

Dr Darren Price is an architect-planner by profession and is married with two young children. He was born and raised in Leicestershire and arrived in the Staffordshire Moorlands town of Leek in 2007 after studying, living and working in Manchester, Sheffield and London. He is now the Chair of Governors at a local school, a District Councillor and Labour’s PPC for Congleton where he has the incumbent Tory MP Fiona Bruce in his, admittedly long-range, sights. Darren also runs a candidate's blog and can be found tweeting away here.

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

There isn’t just one reason it is more of a culmination of events and a realisation that it was the right time and the right thing to do. I’m really not a career politician, I didn’t dream of being an MP as a teenager, or in my 20s or 30s for that matter. I didn’t study PPE and make all of the right friends in all of the right clubs and societies to progress my political career. Instead I made real connections with real people and led a real life.

Don’t get me wrong I was always political, I grew up in a Labour household and campaigned at all elections from 1979 but I never imagined it would potentially be a career one day. Instead I gained a professional qualification, then a PhD, got married had a family moved up the country, was made redundant and started two businesses before I had even seriously considered it might be. Even then I didn’t realize that it was the right thing to do all by myself. Several senior Labour party people who I respect greatly and know a thing or two about such things said that I had the right set of skills, life experience and personality and that I should do it. Not all of those people are still with us but the seed that they planted in my head still is!

And how are you finding the campaign in Congleton?

It is very busy running a Parliamentary campaign alongside two businesses and with a young family as well but I am thoroughly enjoying the experience and learning a lot in the process. It helps that I have a great team from the CLP including a couple of former PPCs, one of whom is my agent who stood himself in Crewe and Nantwich in 2010. The depth of talent that you find amongst the membership of CLPs never ceases to amaze me and Congleton is especially blessed in this regard.

As for the actual campaign, I have always loved going out and speaking with people on the doorstep and I am doing this as much as I can. I also enjoy working with the media and I have taken great pleasure in getting the print package together. We don’t have the human resources to knock on 40,000 doors but every home will receive our election communications so the value of these shouldn’t be underplayed – lots of endorsements from real, non-political people and great pictures are key!

Are there any issues that keep coming up?

The sheer volume of house-building on the green edges of the towns is perhaps the most consistent theme on the doorstep – people are extremely angry about it. It is a situation brought about by Cheshire East Council’s inability to produce a robust Local Plan and enabled by the Governments introduction of the New Planning Policy Framework and in particular the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. I’m not against building new homes, far from it. What I am against is developers calling the shots and building what they want and where they want solely for profit, when we need affordable homes in the places where communities want them. The Government’s changes to the planning system have shifted the balance too far in favour of developers and this needs addressing before our towns and villages are changed forever. I deal with issues like this professionally and also teach planning and urban design, so I have a real understanding of the issues.

Other issues that keep coming up are the NHS and community care services as people quite rightly fear for the future of this under a Tory-led Government. Oh, and the traffic problems, there are legitimate calls in Congleton, Alsager, Sandbach, Middlewich and Holmes Chapel for new by-passes or extensions to current ones as the additional pressure from new housing development is stretching the existing infrastructure to breaking point.

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

After the important business of establishing a local team, finding premises and kick starting an effective constituency office I would get my teeth into the housing and planning issue described above, using my professional experience and contacts with organisations to bring about a real change in Congleton and across the country. There has to the best of my knowledge never been an architect in the House of Commons before ...

Do you find blogging and social media useful for campaigning?

Yes, I think it is very important. I have used Twitter (@DPriceLabour) and Facebook for years professionally and personally and have also built and managed websites for my business and my wife’s so it is not new to me. This will be the first Twitter election!

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

I’m not sure that I have read ‘All that is Solid’ do you mean Marx, the Berman book, or maybe even the excellent book on the housing crisis by Danny Dorling?

Seriously, I keep an eye on Labourlist of course and occasionally have a look at some of the Tory blogging sites too, it always pays to keep an eye on the enemy ... there is nothing that I feel that I must read though and barely have the time these days.

Are you reading anything at the moment?

I always have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book on the go, often more the non-fiction is usually a biography. At the moment the books sitting on my bedside cabinet are Val McDermid’s The Mermaids Singing (actually on my Kindle) and Denis Healy’s brilliant autobiography The Time of My Life, which really illustrates the importance of politicians having a hinterland, a life outside of politics. I have dozens waiting to be read next ...

Do you have a favourite novel?

It’s very difficult to narrow it down to just one but if forced I would say A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J Reilly is just comedy masterpiece, if you haven’t read it you should.

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

Not one specific book, but I can name many that have had some influence and many that haven’t had much influence at all...if pressed I’d say Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities for the way it talks about grassroots organisation and because she shook up the very male bastion of urban planning and put people back at the centre.

Who are your biggest intellectual influences?

My background is in architecture, urban design and planning and in many ways I see politics as an extension of my passion for ‘placemaking’. With this in mind I am going to cite the architects and urban planners - Kevin Lynch, Jane Jacobs, Robert Venturi, Gordon Cullen, and for his vision and attitude, Cedric Price (no relation).

What was the last film you saw?

At the cinema it was the recent remake of Annie with my wife Deborah and the kids, it was my 8 year old daughter’s choice. I must confess that the prospect filled me with dread as I don’t like musicals or sentimentalism and have, thankfully distant, memories of the 80s version. It surprised me though, I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to - 2/10.

How many political organisations have you been a member of?

Aside from the ones I am currently a member of which are the Labour Party (obviously), The Co-operative Party and Unite, I have been a member of Unison and the AUT during different jobs. I also had a period of time in my teens and early 20s when I was a member of a wide variety of left-leaning organisations from CND to a thankfully brief time in the SWSS!

Is there anything you particularly enjoy about political activity?

Generally it is all about meeting people, talking with them and listening to their concerns. As an elected member it is about enabling positive change and improving people’s lives, I like doing that!

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

Yes, and I expect that there will be others. Nuclear energy is one such issue, as I said earlier I was a teenage member of CND and opposed to nuclear energy for a number of years but now see it as a valuable part of a broad-based energy policy moving away from fossil fuels.

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

The idea that people can contribute to society and that politics isn’t something that other people do is vital to our future.

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

The idea that politicians are ‘all the same’ and that people don’t have any impact on how decisions are made.

Who are your political heroes?

There are lots, from John Lilburne to Thomas Paine to Kier Hardie and more latterly Tony Benn who I spoke with on a train once for over an hour and later wrote a blog about it here.

How about political villains?

Historically and globally the list could be huge so I am going to limit myself to just one current UK politician and say Ian Duncan Smith ... and Esther McVey ... and Eric Pickles ... no, sorry the pool is jut too deep ... George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt. I’ll stop.

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

Introducing greater devolution and reorganising local decision-making is vital. Not just because the standard of debate and decision-making at the local level is often poor but because it is the best way to re-engage people with politics, and that is the most pressing task – revitalising our democracy.

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

Over and above those that are likely to be in our manifesto, I’d like to allow local authorities to borrow against new housing enabling them to deliver the social housing we need so urgently more quickly – the Lyons Review is very good but I believe that it should have gone further.

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

In the short to medium term intolerance and fundamentalism on all sides and in the longer term climate change.

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

I don’t like to advise people on how to live their lives but if you mean what have I learned that others may benefit from then it is simply that people are good and need treating with respect.

What is your favourite song?

Just one ... are you sure? Okay, if pushed I will say Do You Realise by The Flaming Lips but that is just now. Ask me again in five minutes and I will probably say Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite, five minutes later and it could be Mean Talking Blues by Woody Guthrie. Did you see what I did there ...

Do you have a favourite video game?

I’m of the ZX Spectrum generation but was never massively into video games as a kid. I don’t play them often now either aside from Scrabble on my phone. I am looking forward to trying some of the new ones as my son (now four years old) grows up though, they have come on a bit since Manic Miner apparently and I want to try a really good car racing game.

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


What personal fault in others do you most dislike?


What, if anything, do you worry about?

As I work for myself and my wife runs her own company it is where the next contract or the next sale is coming from and ultimately who is paying the mortgage! Also in the longer term I worry about my daughter’s future, she is only right at the moment but has Williams Syndrome and will require lifelong care. I worry about her when we are gone.

And any pet peeves?

I hate being late, not other people being late but me being late. I also hate it when people don’t respond to emails so you have no idea if they have read what you sent – how long does it take to reply with a ‘Thanks’? Then there are lots of trivial ones ...

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

Listen more to other people, you don’t have all of the answers.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I love spending time with my family of course but I also enjoy solo walks in the hills (especially in very bad weather), a pint or two in a local pub and watching rugby, specifically the majestic Leicester Tigers!

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t know that I have one, although I am sure that my wife would disagree as I never throw anything away!

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

None whatsoever, I’m not remotely guilty about my liking for Haribo Tangfastics.

What talent would you most like to have?

I’d like to be able to play the guitar really well, in fact being able to play it at all would be a start.

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

I am genuinely not interested in having loads of money, having enough not to worry about it would be nice though. If I had one wish it would be that my daughter didn’t have Williams Syndrome, that those tiny bits of DNA weren’t missing from the long arm of chromosome seven. This is not because of the effect that it has on our lives but because of the sadness and anxiety that it causes her (on top of the health issues) as she deals with being different to other children.

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 buy a car that worked properly and didn’t have an increasing list of things that are falling off and/or not working. I’d pay off the mortgage fix the windows and I’d make sure that I always had plenty of new socks.

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

Elizabeth David, Thomas Paine, and Mark E Smith. So that is good food, good conversation and Mark E Smith.

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

I’m not sure if it is something that anyone could recommend as such, I think that it needs to be a real vocation and you need to be sure that you have something to offer.

However, I’d definitely recommend that anyone considering it fully understands what it entails before they started on the path and that they discuss it carefully with their family. I did that and I have their full support, I wouldn’t have embarked on this journey without that. I’m certainly very pleased that I am a PPC – it’s a real privilege and I’m enjoying every minute of it!

And lastly ...

Why are you Labour?

Because I believe in people.