Q: What advice do you have for Labour facing seats, as most of our targets are Tory-facing?
A: Talk to Lab supporters about Brexit. It’s awkward and embarrassing for them – they sat on their hands when they could have been opposing Article 50 or even voted with the government and Corbyn was attacking immigration just yesterday. He sees EU as a capitalist plot, which is a view not shared by Labour members, but Labour’s strategy is also cynical calculation that it’s better to pin the blame for Brexit on the Tories than try and oppose it. They’re saying different things in pro-Remain and pro-Leave areas, so expose Labour’s hypocrisy & ambiguity.
In addition, many parts of UK have complacent or even corrupt Labour councils. We’re often the only effective opposition in places like Manchester – where John Leech is the one and only opposition on an otherwise totally Labour council. We’re also the real opposition in places like Hull, Newcastle, Sheffield and Oldham, where we can win by calling out Labour’s hypocritical stance and reminding people how much they’re taken for granted by Labour councils.
Follow-up: While it’s important that we appeal to Labour voters, in seats like Hallam a lot of our voters are Conservatives who vote for us tactically. How do we strike a balance between the two?
Vince: It’s not our fault we have to operate under First Past the Post – remind the Conservative voters that if they don’t want another Labour MP, we are the only other option.
Q: Should we be more vocal in support of UCU strikes?
A: Vince has been vocally supportive and has actually decided not to cross picket lines for several big events. UCU have a really strong case – universities supported each other through pension scheme, but the Government have introduced law allowing them to go bankrupt and so stronger institutes like Oxbridge are refusing to support less well-off ones. Vince isn’t personally advocating strikes but he respects the cause and their right to strike. He wants to remind people that we were under huge pressure to curb strike rights in coalition and stood strong - we believe in human rights and the right to strike is one of those. His position is that we should respect the lecturer’s right to strike and not cross picket lines.
Q: Universities are particularly susceptible to Brexit – the pension cuts don’t help at all with this. What can we do?
A: Vince has spoken to the Universities Minister to look for a way to sort this. When we talk about casualties on Brexit, we focus on televised industries like car making, but universities lose access to a significant amount too; including the potential loss of EU staff and Erasmus. Education is a priority for us and we should continue to fight for stronger universities inside the EU.
Q: It’s important to criticise Labour, but how do we do so whilst referring back to our own principles?
A: The biggest strength of British universities is their diversity – students come from across the globe to study in the UK and we have to champion their right to do so. Again, remember what Jeremy Corbyn was saying about immigration on Friday – it was a frontal, negative attack on whole principle of the Single Market, which has free trade and movement at its core.
Q: The Welsh Assembly are proposing a change to Single Transferable Vote for elections. What are your thoughts on this?
A: Vince considers the Single Transferable Vote the best, purest form of proportional representation and noted how beneficial it has been for Scottish councils, which have become much more multi-party as opposed to the one-party fiefdoms we used to see. Wales currently uses the Additional Member System, and while both have their pros and cons, it works well enough.
Q: What can we do about diversity?
A: Diversity comes in many forms – the Alderdice report highlighted the main issue, which is that we aren’t representative of modern Britain. This doesn’t come from overt prejudice – more complacence, that this is “just the way things are”, which leads to not enough being done about it. We haven’t gone out and tried to diversify in the way we should have and as a result Vince strongly supports Sal’s push for all minority shortlists. This is something easier started at local level – 3 member wards make it easier to get a more diverse range of candidates.
Continuing question 1: It’s everyone’s jobs to improve representation & we all need to do better.
Continuing question 2: BAME representation seems to actually be decreasing over the years. Will these measures combat this?
A: Vince, Sal and the leadership recognise this is as our biggest challenge. Vince can personally relate – he had a mixed family, which meant that he saw and experienced racial prejudice first hand. This is personal for him, and he is committed to improving the party’s record on representation.
Q: With the rise of automation leading to potential job losses, will we need to implement a Universal Basic Income at some point in the future?
A: Vince is reasonably optimistic about automation – whenever we’ve had major technological advances in the past, we adapted and job requirements changed. It’ll be difficult – the speed of this change is quicker than ever before. What’s potentially worrying is that it could create a greater wealth gap between those that have the technical skills to thrive in this environment and those who don’t. Adult education is the key to this, and despite Vince’s efforts in coalition, the apprentice levy has drastically affected the ability of adults to train and retrain after leaving education.
Universal basic income (UBI) is a simple solution to a complex problem; the reason our current benefits system is complicated is that life is complicated, and one standard income just doesn’t take into account different costs of living across the country. During his tour of the exhibition, Vince spoke to the people from Southport food bank, and was stricken by the fact that they’ve had 20,000 people come from help, many because of Universal Credit. Universal Credit is a lazy, inhumane attempt at standardising the benefits system and it’s been a disaster. There are just too many variable circumstances to translate well to one simple payment.
Q: We are fighting hard for a referendum on the facts at the end of the Brexit deal. How do we ensure the press play fair and we don’t get some of the one-sided, biased headlines we saw from the tabloids during the 2016 referendum?
A: Simply put, we can’t know for certain, and it’s almost inevitable that the press won’t be fair. First of all, of course, we’ve got to actually get the vote; we’re the only party fighting for one. We’ve then got to actually win it, which Vince is optimistic that we can. Whatever the Express headlines say, some brutal truths are coming through – we’ll be worse off if we leave. PM acknowledged this last week for the 1st time and it’s now clearly about damage limitation. Many people were captured by the prospect of Britain going off and writing its own free trade deals – you can see absurdity in this when Trump is engaging in trade warfare. Vince thinks our arguments are slowly getting through but press won’t be on our side – we have to find our own way around it. We have 100,000 members, the vast majority of which are firmly anti-Brexit, and we need to start there. There is much greater coherence in anti-Brexit groups than there were a few months ago; Vince thinks we’re in a much better position to argue our place. We need to learn from our mistakes – the 2016 referendum was a Cameron/Osborne double act and that can’t happen again.
Q: Environmental issues seem to have been sidelined by Brexit. Has it become a smokescreen for ignoring more important issues?
A: Climate change has indeed, frustratingly, disappeared from headlines. But the point of opposing Brexit is that we are pro-international co-operation, and issues like plastics in the ocean are impossible to solve without nations working together. Brexit’s brought about a revival of old-fashioned nationalism – it’s notable that groups like UKIP and the Tory right are at the forefront of this new waves of climate change denial. Vince thinks that our Brexit stance goes hand in hand with environmentalism.
Q: Given Vince’s age, is he right person to energise young voters?
A: It’s actually currently politicians from Vince’s generation like Bernie Sanders who are engaging young people the world over. Policies like our new education stance, launched this morning are key -we are the party of education and we should keep fighting for it. Vince is focusing on the appalling inequality in housing market. In terms of communication – Vince thinks we need to leapfrog other parties and we need to do so by mastering social media. He isn’t apologetic about what we did in government but it is a difficult subject. However, we need to stand up and face it, own our achievements such as the pupil premium, rather than trying to dodge the issue. He’s been warmly received at universities – he went to Newcastle where we haven’t had a society in years and had 200 people turn up to listen to him speak. He was greatly encouraged by first question from a young person who had recently left Labour – his reasoning being that Corbyn is too right wing!
Q: How do we get Leveson 2?
A: The Government just blocked it, but the bad practices of Murdoch and co.’s press are worse than expected; we need to commit to putting these under the microscope when we next find ourselves in a position to do so. After blocking the Murdoch takeover of Sky, Vince found his bins kept getting turned over and related minor nuisances for months afterwards – it’s clear now where that came from and the culprits can’t be allowed to continue to get away with it.
Q: How does Vince feel about a dual system of learning accounts – one for 16-18 year olds and one for adults later in life?
A: Vince spoke about this at Autumn Conference last year and will be talking about it on Sunday – he doesn’t want to give away too much before then! He’s worked with experts from the Open University to realise this and will have more to say soon.
In response to tuition fees – 60% of young people don’t go to university and we need to represent them too. During his two years out of Parliament, he worked with NUS as unpaid consultant, particularly closely with the president of the NUS Shakira Martin, who didn’t go to university and has fought for greater recognition and more parity of esteem between higher and further education.
Q: Is the shortage of new applicants to nursing/STEM courses due to perceived difficulty of courses, pay, or something else?
A: STEM applications are actually going up – Vince is more thinking about gender diversity and breaking the gender roles around education; we need to get more women into STEM. The UK could do a lot better in global STEM rankings – we need more support for teachers who want to upgrade their maths qualification as primary maths teachers sometimes don’t have one at all.
Q: What is your favourite biscuit?
A: This is a subject close to Vince’s heart – it’s the Kit Kat! He has two reasons for this; he has a family connection, since both of his parents worked at the Rowntree’s and Terry’s factory. In addition, when standing in Parliament in the 80s, he was struggling to pinpoint a local issue that would get through to the press and the people. He became a local hero by calling out the fact that Kit Kats were classed as a chocolate, not a biscuit!