Saturday 20 June 2015

Saturday Interview: Rob Wallace

Rob Wallace is a councillor on Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council as well as a (very) active campaigner. Away from politics, when he's not swilling tea and shouting at people on FIFA, Rob can be found tweeting here.

Have you made your mind up about the Labour leadership?

Not 100% certain yet. I'm very keen to see more candidates talk positively about public services and issues such as immigration and the economy.

Is there anyone you wish was standing who isn't?

I've heard a lot of people I respect sing the praises of Dan Jervis and looking into his background and personality he seems to have what it takes to be leader. Personally, I'm a little concerned by the lack of obvious and visible leadership contenders in the party.

Do you think Labour/Labour activists made good use of social media during the election?

I couldn't really judge with any degree of confidence, social media is something I only very tentatively engage with. What I will say is the Tories seemed to do a better job of securing social media advertising and Facebook likes so they clearly are doing something right.

Do you also find social media useful for activist-y things?

I suppose I've found it useful for coordinating campaigning but mostly its useful for staying informed.

And - in a nutshell - how do you think Labour lost?

Looking at the breakdowns of polling we seemed to be making moderate gains from middle class voters across the country (1-2%) but we seemed to be losing support from working class/low income voters to a greater extent (5-7%). I think its undeniable to say we didn't do enough to win middle class voters support but for me we're hemorrhaging support from our base supporters which is continuing a trend which started in 1997.

With this in mind I don't think we had a problem with policy; ending zero hour contracts and living wages must remain on the agenda. But I think we had fundamental problems in communicating our policies and values, and more importantly we didn't do enough to dispel fears over the SNP or Labour's apparent economic incompetence.

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

I only read LabourList and All That Is Solid, but I do follow quite a lot of the doings on Twitter and Facebook.

Are you reading anything at the moment?

Game of Thrones, I've just got into the series and I thought I'd give the books a go and I'm rather enjoying it.

Do you have a favourite novel?

Animal Farm by George Orwell.

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

Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities was a brilliant introduction to the idea of created identity, especially with regards to the rise of nationalist identities in the modern world.

Who are your biggest intellectual influences?

I'd say Gramsci and Rousseau. Gramsci because of his observations on society, his use of Hegemony, and how that can help make sense of many social and political scenarios; and Rousseau for the idea of government by consent of the people.

What was the last film you saw?

Age of Ultron, which I thought was nowhere near as good as the first Avengers film.

How many political organisations have you been a member of?

Besides the Labour Party I've been a member of the Fabian's Society, Labour Students, T&GWU/Unite.

Is there anything you particularly enjoy about political activity?

I enjoy the camaraderie and the opportunity to listen to fellow activists and members of the public. It's always enlightening one way or other.

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

For my sins I was for the Iraq War. I'd say that at the time I was very taken in by the rhetoric around the War on Terror and I trusted the Prime Minister. However, as we now know, we went to war under false pretences and ultimately failed in our objective to make the world safer from tyranny. Further education has changed my view from an interventionist foreign policy to one where we should seek to influence the world through diplomacy and ethical international trade.

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

I think varying economic systems and approaches need to be communicated better. I feel at the moment there is a neo-liberal consensus amongst the main four parties, and I feel that presenting an alternative, such as Keynesian thinking, may well help move politics on from 'they're all the same'. Properly present the options then give people the choice of which way to go.

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

I think generally negative stereotypes about gender, class, disability, race, religion and sexuality are pretty abhorrent and I think they all are understated as issues. I think there's an issue in assigning otherness to anyone who does not conform to being 'normal' and in that removing a degree of the humanity everyone innately possesses. The world needs to move to a position where we are working the best we can to achieve maximum dignity for all and as near as we can achieve equality of opportunity regardless of any perceived difference.

Do you have any political heroes?

From about the age of 14 I was really inspired by Tony Benn, his charisma and passion really inspired me to get more into active politics and to join the Labour Party. Since then I've come to disagree with some of his stances, such as his views on the EU, but he definitely inspired me to get involved in politics and more specifically Labour politics.

How about political villains?

Despite the many and varied good things that came out of the 1997-2007 government I would probably name Tony Blair. I think primarily the breach of trust and poor judgement he showed over the War on Terror and the slavish devotion to the 'special relationship' did not only destroy my trust in him but also the trust of many life-long Labour voters. The perception became that he was more keen on seeking the support of people like Murdoch and Ecclestone than the most vulnerable in our society. Under Blair I think Labour appeased neo-liberal economic thinking too much, and accepting the popular media consensus in combating terror and talking about immigration. The failure of 13 years of Labour government to challenge these narratives makes positive change in our approach to the economy and the global community all the more difficult now.

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

I think Climate Change is the potentially the biggest crisis we face and I think governments are being a tad too tentative in their approach to tackling the issue. Though there has been a great deal done already in terms of business subsidy and homeowner incentives the industry should be encouraged to do more to advance the industry and in the process hopefully provide new jobs as a nice extra.

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

0-4 childcare free should be free and I'd make sure there was greater investment in pre-school facilities.

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

I think struggles over developing nations access to resource will be a major problem. At the current rate we'll need three earths to sustain Western lifestyles for all, so its about making the world as a whole economically and environmentally sustainable.

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

Think my mum got it right when she said 'don't let the bastards grind you down', though I must admit I still aspire to this.

What is your favourite song?

'High' by the Lighthouse Family.

Do you have a favourite video game?

At the moment I would choose Crusader Kings II, but I have loads of favourites from RPGs such as Skyrim, to the Forza Racing series of games, Wii and Wii U games and playing FIFA with my brother and friends.

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


What personal fault in others do you most dislike?


And any pet peeves?

Trains regularly not having enough seats available. Just add another carriage!

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

Don't take yourself too seriously!

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Video Gaming, Tea with friends, watching motorsport, and playing my piano/keyboards.

What is your most treasured possession?

My signed copy of Arguments for socialism

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Nutella. Eaten with a spoon. Straight out the jar...

What talent would you most like to have?

I wish I could sing better!

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

I love that you presume everybody wants loads of money! I don't know I'm pretty content.

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'm not sure if it would change much. I suppose I'd feel more secure financially! Which would be nice.

If you could go for a drink with three people, past or present, who would they be?

George Orwell, the current Dalai Lama, and Oscar Wilde.

And lastly ... Why are you Labour?

I'm Labour because of the party's history of supporting the most vulnerable, its broad philosophy of trying to make positive change through the public sector, and reining in of the excesses of capitalism.