To mark the resumption of local campaigning in the General Election this morning, the SKWAWKBOX brings you another interview with a great Labour candidate in a marginal seat, after a great response to the first in the series, on Mike Amesbury of Weaver Vale.
Today the SKWAWKBOX talks to Chris Matheson, Labour’s candidate for City of Chester constituency.
Chris won the seat from the Tories in 2015 by just 93 votes and is fighting hard to retain the seat for the Labour Party, so it was a privilege to have half an hour of his time to find out more about the man behind the rosette:
SKWAWKBOX: Chris, many thanks for making time to talk to us. Tell us a bit about yourself – your background with regard to the Labour Party as well as generally.
CM: Well, I grew up in rural Cheshire so I’m a local lad. I’ve been a Labour member since 1986 and I’m a former Unite official, including working in the General Secretary’s office, first for Amicus then for Unite when it was formed. Then I became an MP.
S: What did that experience let you bring to the table as a candidate for the people of Chester and then as their MP?
CM: It was really useful. I dealt with numerous big manufacturers and financial services companies in area in the area for Unite. It was a very good grounding for representing people.
S: Now, we know that you keep your family out of politics and we completely respect that, so tell us about your motivations – what made you want to become MP for City of Chester?
CM: There’s nothing really that original about my motivations, I guess. I grew up in a Labour family but during th, miners’ strike in the 1980s I got a clear look at the division and bitterness that Thatcherism inflicted on society and that really intensified my drive to get involved in politics to try to make a difference.
Then, when my home constituency came up in 2012/13 jumped at the chance – the Tories held the seat but having the selection a couple of years before the General Election in 2015 gave us the chance to prepare well for it. We did a lot of groundwork and then we won!
S: Have you held any responsibilities at a parliamentary level?
CM: I was PPS (parliamentary private secretary) to John Healey in the shadow housing team, which I loved. I declined front-bench responsibilities because when I was elected I promised my constituents that they’d be my primary focus. That means that every Friday I can be back in the constituency working for local people instead of being stuck in Westminster.
I was also on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, trying to defend the BBC and Channel 4 from privatisation, looking into doping in sport and so on.
S: You won an incredibly tight victory in 2015. What are the challenges you face in the 2017 campaign?
CM: The council situation is one. We control the council with a majority of just one, then in 2015 my majority was 93, so we’ve got a really tough fight on our hands – and that’s what we’re doing, fighting from week to week. We never take anything for granted, we work really hard and people respect us for it
S: Most people know that in a lot of seats UKIP have stepped aside to give the Tories a clear run. What’s the situation in City of Chester?
CM: UKIP have stepped aside but we’re led to believe there will be a letter from the UKIP local secretary in the local paper today (Thursday) to ask people to vote Labour. It was an all-out election for council seats and looking at the result UKIP took roughly the same number of voters from Labour as from the Tories and we’re trying to make sure those voters come back to their natural home.
S: And the Greens?
CM: The Greens are not standing – they didn’t in 2015. That’s a big deal for them not to stand a candidate, as it affects the amount of funding their party gets from Parliament, so I really respect them for that decision.
S: What’s your stance on Brexit?
CM: I was very much a remainer – overall Cheshire voted 54% in favour of remaining. But we lost and now the important question is: do we get a decent people’s Brexit that protects employment rights, the environment, consumers – or a ‘nasty party’ Brexit?
The Tories want a Brexit that remodels the UK in the most unpleasant way possible – hollowing out worker protections, weakening human rights and environmental protections. We have to prevent that.
S: What kind of help are you getting from Labour supporters in other constituencies?
CM: We’ve got quite a story to tell there. We’re getting great help from Momentum supporters in Liverpool and Manchester but we also benefited from the Progress ‘3-seats challenge’.
S: Wow, those groups are not exactly on the same page politically!
CM: That’s right. We’re uniting both wings of the Labour party and I’m grateful for it. Everyone’s putting their differences aside to fight on front line – because that’s what we are. Chester is genuinely the front line of British politics, a real battleground seat.
S: What kind of support are you getting from Labour HQ?
CM: We’ve got a great relationship with regional HQ as well as lots of support from unions. It’s allowing us to fight a really strong local campaign.
S: How are you feeling about the campaign and your chances?
CM: I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic. We’re just getting on with it and fighting each day’s battles. But we’ve got a really strong local record, a great ground campaign and the Tories have parachuted in an identikit candidate from London, so I’m happy we’ve got a fantastic case to put to the people of Chester.
S: Any final words you want to say to SKWAWKBOX readers?
CM: Just to echo what I said earlier, really. This is the front line of politics in this country. If you want to join in, this is a place to do it where it really counts and you’ll have an amazing experience.
We’re fighting a fantastic campaign and we can absolutely win. This can really be a seat that makes a difference to the national picture. We’re restarting our doorstep work nnow and we’ll be out every afternoon. We’ve got lots of campaigning to do, lots of leaflets to deliver.
It anyone wants to come, we’ll absolutely have something useful for them to do and we’ll be really thankful for their help!
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