This is the full interview I agreed to do for Solidarity, the newspaper published by the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL). It was published (shorterned due to limited space) in the version on their website and in their paper, so here’s the unabridged version which goes in to a great more detail, including a bit about my own political background and an overview of the political landscape in Salford right now.
Solidarity 19th March 2010 – Issue 3/169
Salford: Why I’m challenging Blears
What’s your activist/campaigning background? Where are you coming from politically?
It all started when I was just a kid. I grew up in relative poverty on a rough estate, my dad was a plasterer and my mother was a community health worker, I guess you could say building things and healing thing is in my blood.
We moved around from different estates where my parents experienced a lot of racism, something they did their best to shield me from. When I was nine I organised a campaign to save my local playground. I contacted all the local media and put the city council to shame for their abandonment of I’ve been passionate about social and environmental justice ever since.
There are times when I’ve felt uncomfortable defining my political identity – but if you look at the sorts of issues I’ve taken an interest in then they tend to be inherently Socialist with a healthy tendency for resisting oppression and imposed authority. I was lucky enough to go to a primary school that was incredibly diverse. We celebrated Eid, and Divwali as well as doing the traditional nativity thing, we had the Sikh community lead assemblies and we learned about Black History and had a steel band. My parents aren’t rigorously political but growing up as mixed race they didn’t have much of a choice but to stand up for themselves. Some of my earliest memories are being with them at on an Anti-Nazi league march in the 80’s.
I became involved in human rights and direct action campaigns when I was still at school, before I was politically conscious enough to be traditionally political. I was involved with the local youth council and began to gain an understanding of party-politics, and a distaste for the divisions it creates. Growing up under Thatcher always felt like a big grey cloud was hanging overhead. In the eyes of a child she simply came across as some kind of evil dark lord you could only associate with a demonic figure right out of a comic book!
I never really fitted in anywhere at high school. I was bullied for being different – physically and emotionally. Every day was an uphill struggle. I was at the age where many people begin exploring their own identity, something that wasn’t so easy during the dark days of section 28 when homophobia prevented that. I began reading about the LGBT Civil Rights movement in the radical press when I was a teenager and have been involved ever since.
The gay community is just as oppressed and exploited as any other minority group, and capitalism tends to be at the root of it all. You hear a lot of talk about the “Pink Pound” and are presented with stereotypes in the media of happy-go-lucky carefree party-people with disposable incomes – which is far from the reality. The assumed leaders of the gay community tend to be privileged, middle-class, white macho businessmen, they revel in the rewards of capitalist enslavement and have turned equality into just another consumer product. I found myself becoming progressively “Politically Queer” – I still don’t feel the need to define myself as either gay or straight, they too are just labels, human nature is so much more complex than that. There are shades are grey and anything is possible.
What sort of place is Salford? What’s the political situation there?
Salford has all the typical traits you see in any industrialised City. I live in the most socially deprived ward where there’s a lot of regeneration going on but a great deal of “social cleansing” and gentrification. The poorest, most deprived groups simply have their homes demolished and the land is sold off to private developers with no interest in the people the community they have destroyed in purist of sheer greed. Outsiders first impressions make the assumption its “just another part of Manchester”, but Salford has it’s own unique identity which pre-dates Manchester. Historically it is a melting pot of urbanised townships, and is unusual as it lacks a “centre” as such. Politically Salford is the birthplace of the modern working class movement, so many working class struggles have their roots here.
Today, Salford is without a doubt the most exciting place to be – politically speaking. Boundary changes in the Parliamentary Constituencies will splice the city in to large parts of North Manchester and Eccles, this is rather controversial and it has created a great deal of confusion and uncertainty about how the elections will play out. There are currently three Labour MPs across the city, the most high profile (my main opponent) being Hazel Blears, one of “Blair’s Babes” and a key figure in the disastrous “New Labour” project. Blears is probably one of the most revered political beacons in the country, she’s gone back on “Old Labour” socialist, and working class principles she was expected to champion. In her favour – she “talks the talk” and she’s a polished politician, but it’s all thanks to think-tanks and scripts generated by the New Labour machine. Her voting record in Parliament strongly disgusts people most. She was strongly in favour of War, for Trident, against Civil Liberties, for ID Cards, against Free Education, and Post Office closures simply doesn’t match up with the principles under which she was elected.
What are the main issues for your campaign?
Our Charter for Salford outlines ten key points. We have a clear platform of being against the savage cuts planned by the big three political parties that are going to hit the most disadvantaged in Salford the hardest. We oppose privatisation, war and discrimination and we will defend the NHS, public services and we’re calling for free education and public ownership. At a national level we support parliamentary reform – transparency and accountability. We want to see a political system that represents everybody not just the privileged, ruling elite.
How did you get involved in the TUSC? How did you become a TUSC candidate?
The Hazel Must Go campaign was founded before TUSC was even conceived by a diverse group of people who aren’t particularly party political, and their involvement remains dominant within the campaign.
Disillusionment with her constituents has been brewing for years, to the point she was nominated for de-selection by her own local party last June. She survived the vote of no-confidence but the turnout of members eligible to cast a vote was so low that Blears even went on the BBC that night and said “I won this vote because the people here know me better than anyone” – which demonstrates how nepotistic and close the modern Labour party has become. She didn’t get off lightly though, there was a huge protest outside called by the editor of a local community paper. At the time I was about to be evicted from my home, and I had been “fighting the system” from every possible angle – I even approached Blears for support to which she snubbed my plight.
We evolved from being mostly a pressure group after Blears refused to engage with our concerns. She was adamant she would not be stepping down or even changing her attitudes towards her most unpopular tenancies. She’s been given every opportunity to explain herself but her arrogance and defiance is what angers people most – particularly those who put her where she is in the first place.
Standing for parliament is a seriously tall order – especially for someone who’s only ever been on the fringes of mainstream politics. I literally came forward at the very last minute, a month ago this week in fact.
The campaign had put the call out for ordinary people to join the selection panel months ago. Celebrity names were popping up all over the place and there was a great deal of speculation. My selection came as a complete surprise to everyone, including my self and it has taken a little while to sink in. It was clear to everyone who attended our public meeting that the campaign had complete confidence in me. I’m prepared and ready to go – we’ve done a lot of the hard work already, but the really hard work is beginning now. When the election is finally called we’ll be ready, and it’ll be any day now.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist coalition approached us at quite late stage, about six months after the campaign had already announced we’d stand a candidate against Blears. When I put myself forward as a candidate I’d never even heard of TUSC. We had a public vote on the proposal to affiliate to TUSC which was proudly passed, as an independent campaign we fully welcome their endorsement and look forward to achieving the same objectives.
What sort of people/organisations have been involved in your campaign?
Everyone you can think of, Salford wants Blears OUT. We’ve had Martin Bell support us and attend our public meetings, we’ve had huge media interest and the emphasis has always been on the involvement of community and voluntary organisations, trade union branches and quite a few disenfranchised Labour supporters. The far-right have stayed away as they fear diversity.
Beyond Salford – we’ve also built an awful lot of bridges – this has taken many years in some cases. We have stood side by side with progressive left candidates in neighbouring constituencies – the Green Party in Central Manchester, RESPECT in North Manchester (Broughton and Blackley), the Community Action Party in Wigan and the TUSC candidates standing in deprived areas of South (Wythenshawe) and East Manchester (Gorton).
What are you hoping to do between now and the election?
People are so disillusioned most of them don’t vote, and I used to be one of those people. Lots of people on the left view elections as a pointless endeavour – but I see it as just another platform we have the potential to mount. We’re transforming that dissatisfaction, anger and apathy into a positive challenge to those who have created it.
We’re building a powerful movement here which will gain momentum even after the election. A united people’s resistance to the incoming decade of forced deprivation, cuts, job-losses and social unrest is coming. This campaign is at the centre of that and will lead the way – if we’ve got a foot in the door of Parliament then that can only strengthen that objective.
I’m under no illusion that mainstream politics is the only route to achieving radical social change. This is something the Liberal Democrats seem to forget. Politics needs to happen from the ground-up, Westminster and Brussels are a long way from our modest cobbled streets and high-rise blocks.
Some on the left have criticised TUSC for being not very democratic or inclusive, both at a national level and in some local areas. Do you think that’s fair? What’s your experience of it?
It can be a bit difficult to explain that TUSC is organised unlike any other political movement running in this General Election. It is unique as it comprises of such a diversity of campaigns and activists and essentially it’s a network of trade unionists, community social-justice campaigners and socialist groups and workers movements. Of course there are key people who put the work in from the ground-up nationally, the founders of TUSC have been unfairly criticised by those who are simply apathetic and clearly scarred by events they personally need to put behind them for the greater good of a true, united left.
I think that’s something the legacy of TUSC will build upon. The left has been damaged by in-fighting and sectarianism for far too long – as a result we’ve got a right wing Labour government and the likelihood of an incoming Conservative government of the same nature. It’s awesome there are so many schools of thought and organised groups on the left of New Labour – I view it as a diversity rather than division. We can keep hold of all that -it’s powerful and should be a source of strength but it’s my intention to bring us all back together. The Convention of the Left and the People’s Charter has laid the foundations for it to happen.
The best way to view TUSC is at a local level, I can only speak for my experience here in Salford as our campaign is the only left-wing challenge to New Labour and the far right. We retain full independence and have our own “Charter for Salford” which takes into account local needs and desires. TUSC isn’t planning to form a government, but it has the potential to put radical, progressive voices back in to Westminster – where right now they are needed more then ever.
Some have argued that TUSC doesn’t take a strong stance on migrants’ rights and migrant workers’ struggles, and also that it shares some of No2EU’s nationalistic stance on Europe. What do you think?
I fully emphasise with that criticism, as someone who had absolutely no involvement in NO2EU I can only look at it retrospectively. It’s legacy is it a bit of a smoking gun for the left. The critics of TUSC need to make the distinction between the two. TUSC is a fresh start, NO2EU taught people a lot of lessons and we need to move on and look to the future. It’s wrong to say NO2U was nationalistic – but unfortunately that’s how it was perceived by those who didn’t understand it. The majority of people involved are well-known anti-fascists who have been attacked for standing up to racism and nationalism such as Alec McFadden who was brutally attacked by neo-nazis in his own home. TUSC has some clear policies about defending the rights of Asylum Seekers and economic migrants, here in Salford our campaign has supported those threatened with deportation back to a life of oppression and potentially death .I believe we can have achieve a world where we don’t need borders or authoritative controls on the free movement of people.
The current misconceptions surrounding TUSC have been debunked by the involvement of people like myself and this campaign. My only brief experience with party politics is with the local Green Party of which I remain a member of. They too are backing this campaign although nationally they aren’t connected to TUSC – that’s another story but here in Salford the Greens are fully backing us along with people of all kinds of diverse political persuasions.
Subjects such as the Lisbon treaty reinforce capitalist globalisation by devolving power away from local communities. There is a real danger the whole planet is sleepwalking towards a “new world order” – led by capitalist superstates, not unlike what the Nazi’s were planning some sixty years ago.
What would you say about the big majority of constituencies where TUSC isn’t standing?
Unlike other political groups TUSC isn’t fielding pointless “paper candidates” in order to raise an electoral profile in the overall political charts. Where there exists a strong, organised socialist, left-wing, trade unionist or working class resistance movement TUSC should be there proving a genuine alternative to the big three parties and the far right.
What kind of result in Salford would you regard as a success?
We’ve already achieved so much – and now electoral victory is within our grasp. Beyond that the grass-roots infrastructure we’ve build is so powerful our second success would come in the form of organised community leadership and local political reform. Our local authorities exude corruption and distrust for their competency is taking the shape of a resistance movement in education, the workplaces and public services all over Salford and Greater Manchester.
When those dark days I remember as a kid return (and believe me – they are coming!) Salford will be ready to fight back – we will reclaim our city as the founders of the working class movement did over 100 years ago – and that will be our final victory