Running for office – what I stand for

Finally, we have a degree of clarity on what the next stages will likely look like for parliamentary selection here in Vauxhall and beyond.

In the next week or so, the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee will produce a long list, which will then be distilled down to a shortlist by a three person team from the local Constituency Labour Party, London Region and the NEC. Whoever makes the short list will then have a week to campaign before a hustings and selection meeting towards the end of the month, probably on a weekend in a very big hall.

It’s not nearly as democratic or open a system as one might wish, but after weeks of uncertainty is at least means we will get a candidate.

As I’ve repeatedly said, my main effort to find a seat to contest somewhere, winnable or otherwise. No one who looks like me with my level of disability has done that before, and I think it’s important to show how possible it is.

In the short-term, that means prioritizing where I live in Vauxhall.  If I can make the shortlist, I genuinely think I have an outside chance to win. We have multiple good and very different candidates here, but I genuinely feel I am as strong as any.

Where I’m from and formative experiences

Like several other candidates, I was born in St Thomas Hospital in Waterloo – and when I broke my neck as a foreign correspondent in Sri Lanka 25 years later, it was the British welfare state that provided the support I needed to get back to work and live independently.

I believe the greatest purpose of government is to provide a safety net that protects, uplifts and does everything it can to keep everyone in society. That kind of inclusive country is more prosperous, happier and better able to deal with problems – and austerity  has done the opposite.

I grew up almost entirely outside London, particularly in North Kent and South Essex, and I understand many of the frustrations that led to the Brexit vote. I believe intolerance must be fought, but it must be done with empathy as much as intellectual arguments. Fundamentally, though, I believe Britain would be best served by remaining in the European Union, and given how badly the Conservatives have botched the process I want a second referendum in which to make that argument.

Accountability, responsibility and mentoring the future

Being an elected representative is not like other jobs – and while I believe our politics needs more kindness and less bullying, that doesn’t mean it should be an unchallenged job for life.

I believe every MP should stand for the very least a binding confidence motion before each election, if not an outright reselecction process [either, I believe, would be better than the current “trigger ballot” system  in which each branch votes separately, and recent events suggest is simply too idiosyncratic and easily gamed by bullies on either side].

More than that, though, I believe it’s important parliamentarians maintain a close relationship with their local parties, both through attending branch and general committee meetings when possible. I believe there is also a responsibility to promote younger talent within the local party, particularly from historically marginalized groups.

Particularly if elected in Vauxhall or somewhere else with easy reach of Westminster, I would aim to do enough school assemblies and other public events to make young people feel they really had a connection to the political process. That would include bringing them into parliament. Notwithstanding the strong slate we have of local candidates here, it’s clear we haven’t done enough too bring on some of the voices we might want. I would make that an unambiguous priority.

Where I sit politically

I would define myself as being on the left of the Labour Party. Nobody would pretend the Jeremy Corbyn era has not been a bumpy ride, but personally I have a lot more time for those centrist voices such as Keir Starmer who have supported the democratically elected leadership than those who have tried to get in the way.

Fundamentally, I believe the new ideas and energy that came with  Jeremy’s victory are vital if we are to tackle the problems of an increasingly complicated era. The 2017 manifesto showed how they could become a common sense, popular program, and I look forward to seeing how that has progressed in the next manifesto.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have frustrations  with the current leadership – I certainly wish we had found clarity earlier on Europe, and worry we have lost focus on listening to the democratic will of party members. I also have some sympathy with those who feel we need ever greater focus on simply getting back to office.

The Tony Blair government might have got much wrong, but without it millions including myself would not have had the opportunities that we did. Its central mistake, I believe, was to be too centralized and resistant to outside views. Had it merely listened more – on Iraq, on the need to rein in an out-of-control banking system – it could have been so much better.

When it does come time for the current leadership to move on, I believe Angela Rayner would be the best place leader to build on Jeremy’s era and changes, and I believe she could be an incredible long serving Prime Minister that truly redefines the country.

A Green New Deal to redefine the era

Even without the climate crisis, there’s a lot to fix in the modern world – particularly a rising wealth gap in almost every country, coupled with multinational firms and forces that feel they can make the rules and avoid petty things like taxes.

As with the creation of the British welfare state in 1945 or the original US New Deal that pulled America from the Great Depression, I believe a Green New Deal can bring together the many things that need to be done together into one grand bargain that also saves the planet for future generations.

Part of that, I believe, means moving on from simply focusing on raw economic growth. I’m hugely interested in New Zealand’s approach to targeting broader “national well-being” and hope we would do the same.

That won’t be easy – but if we can get a solid Labour government here, we can not just fix our own problems but lead the world towards a better place.

Tackling problems on the ground here

Having that long-term ambition is vital, but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that many in our communities have immediate problems now that desperately need a Labour government in power to solve quickly.

Particularly somewhere like Vauxhall, I believe people want a local MP who will hold their local Labour council to account when necessary – but who also understands Lambeth has been on the receiving end of brutal cuts, and only reversing that at a national level will enable them to change.

In terms of most immediate needs, improved youth services and bringing academies back under council control would begin to help the crisis of social exclusion that fuels knife crime and beyond. So would better access to  social and affordable housing: Vauxhall has worsening crises of both visible street homelessness and invisible “couch surfing”, particularly amongst young people.

Far too little of that is really tackled by recent building, some of which appears to  take place at the very edge of what should be permissible given planning regulations.More and visible community policing is clearly vital, but so are other services. Joined up thinking between mental health and other bodies is already making a real difference in some areas, but we need more of it.

Residents clearly want an MP who will fight their corner when they need – an area in which the outgoing candidate, Kate Hoey, always retained a reputation. Whoever replaces her will need to do the same.

Thinking globally, acting personally

As I’ve said before, I’m doing this in part to show someone like me can do it, because I believe having someone so visibly disabled in public office would be itself a powerful thing. It’s now just over 13 years since I broke my neck as a foreign correspondent, and ever since I’ve been looking for a role that feels as valuable and lets me fight for people.

I’m also doing it because I’m profoundly worried by what has been happening in politics here and throughout the world. Divisiveness and division seem to be on the rise – to the detriment of good people working together to solve problems. Win or lose, I hope I’m doing what I can to keep politics around me both honest and inclusive.

My aim is simply to continue doing that, in whatever place or role I can. So far, it’s been both challenging and rewarding – and I look forward to seeing what happens next. If you’d like to help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – these are interesting times, and keeping the world moving in the right direction will take everyone we can get.

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