The Labour politician Andy Slaughter was elected as Member of Parliament for Hammersmith in 2010, and was re-elected last week with 50% of the vote. Previously the MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush from 2005 to 2010, Slaughter has been the Shadow Justice Minister since 2010, serving on the Labour Party’s front bench. Joshua Renken interviewed Andy to talk about constituency matters and national politics.
Joshua Renken: What are your priorities over the next parliament for your Hammersmith constituents?
Andy Slaughter: There are a lot of issues which I wish to get help with and they are issues like the proposed demolition of Charing Cross hospital, the development of the HS2 site which is one of the biggest development sites in London, and others.
It also looks far more likely that we’ll get a third runway at Heathrow, which we are opposed to.
Those issues are campaigning issues which are not new issues, but which we hope to have a more positive outcome because we can spend more time campaigning on them. That’s the defensive side if you like.
On the positive side, there is a limited amount that you can do as an opposition MP without support, but I do have support from the local Labour council. The Tories are now saying they’ll devolve powers and budgets a lot more to cities like Manchester and devolve the health budget.
JR: What do you think of Osborne’s city devolution plan for England?
AS: I’m suspicious of their motives but I think the principle of it is perfectly sound. If the Tories are only going to do it to fragment the NHS and slip in privatisation, which they want to do, then I oppose it. If however they were genuinely devolving power and budgets to a local and regional level then that’s a thing we would support, so long as you don’t get that postcode lottery effect. If they are going to end up giving more money to the shires and less to inner city areas then that is something we have got to watch. But the principle of it is perfectly sound, and if they are prepared to do that with London, it gives us an opportunity to argue for more sympathetic environment for what the health needs are.
JR: Do you think Labour were too leftwing or not leftwing enough to win this general election?
AS: I think that’s not just a stupid question, but it’s a really pointless question. I think Labour put forward a series of sensible policies but there was a lot of misrepresentation. I’ve never seen a campaign in which either the party leader Ed Miliband was vilified so much by the majority of the press who were very keen to secure another Tory victory, or a campaign where there was so much misrepresentation of policies. So if you look at the sort of policies that were supposedly left-wing like implementing a price freeze or getting rid of zero-hours contracts and raising the minimum wage. They are pretty mainstream social democratic policies.
JR: Before the decision about the timeframe of the Labour leadership race was made, did you favour a quick leadership race or a slower, more introspective one?
AS: I think there were three options and I was very much against the longer option that would have stretched it out into the autumn. But I don’t think there is much material difference. The only disadvantage of going slightly longer is that you don’t have the sort of new team. You have a sort of transitional team in place and I think people were concerned about that. In reality it’s a decision between making the decision at the end of July or the middle of September, which is would be two weeks into parliament sitting time. But I don’t think it makes much difference to be honest.
JR: As Shadow Minister for Justice, what are your thoughts on Michael Gove’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act?
AS: Well that’s just abhorrent really. I think the only positive thing is that it’s already running into difficulties. The Scottish government has said that they won’t do it. There are equal issues with Northern Ireland, in terms that they will have to find an agreement. But they are issues to do with the European convention itself. This is something that the Tories have said as a crowd pleaser to certain constituencies but particularly their own back benchers, that I think they’ll have great difficulty doing.
Either it will be a cosmetic thing, i.e. they’ll call it something like the British Bill of Rights but effectively they’ll have to keep it the same, much as they are. Or, they will be trying to make a fundamental change, in which case, effectively they’ll have to leave the convention and I don’t think that’s really sustainable so I think there a huge difficulties.
JR: Do you think, if the EU referendum goes ahead, that the UK electorate will vote to leave?
AS: No, and I don’t think that’s what Cameron wants either. He will try and manipulate it. I’ve always thought this was just about managing the Conservative party.
He might find it slightly easier now that he’s got a majority but I think there are enough headbangers who will cause him problems, but I’ve never had much doubt that Cameron himself and the leadership of the party do want to stay in, and then you’ve got the leadership of most of the main parties. It will probably be a rerun of what happened in 1974 where it will be a closely fought campaign but I think that the majority of the opinion will then be for staying in.
JR: Do you believe that Nick Clegg put country before party during the coalition talks in 2010? Was he right to go into coalition with the Tories?
AS: I think the Liberal Democrats behaved totally dishonestly and they’ve got exactly what they deserved. I was in the 2005-2010 parliament when they positioned themselves to the left of Labour, their economic policy gains in that election was broadly the same as Labour’s, and then within 24 hours they effectively said “No, no we support the full on austerity that Osbourne is advocating.”
I think there’s never been a political U-turn of that order and that’s before we get to issues like tuition fees. So no, I think they put self-interest and Clegg and the other right-wingers in the Liberal Democrats managed to carry the day and they’ve got what they deserved.People are very cynical of politicians I think, partly because of this sort of behaviour. In reality, there has to be certain standards and I think Clegg fell well below those standards.
JR: Do you believe in free education?
AS: In an ideal world yes, but I don’t think that it’s sustainable anymore.
JR: So what is the magic number?
AS: Well the magic number for us was £6000 a year. It really is the difference between when 5-10% of people went to University and when it’s approaching 50%, and then asking the 50% of the population who don’t go to heavily subsidise those who do go. So there has to be some payment I’m afraid. I wish it wasn’t the case because I do value free education, it’s just that you’ve got so many people going to University, which is a good thing, but there has to be some payment back.
Graduates do earn more money overall, but I do think it could have been fairer and the debt is too high overall. There was a lot of pressure on us not reducing tuition fees, but we are always going to be talking about how much, rather than whether, from now on I think.
JR: Do you not think it’s wrong that it was Labour that introduced tuition fees in 1998, Labour that increased them in 2001, the Tories that proposed to increase them again but it was the Lib Dems that got punished for it?
AS: I think the issue with the Lib Dems is one of trust, because it was so blatant, and they did get elected on signing that pledge.
For good reasons or bad, politicians don’t keep their promises sometimes. But I don’t think there is any other example of anything quite so horrific as that, where you pledge to abolish something you then triple the cost of.
JR: But in the 2001 election Labour’s manifesto stated that you would legislate against anyone raising tuition fees, and then Blair tripled them from one to three thousand pounds a year in 2004.
AS: Well yes, I mean the Tories promised they weren’t going to increase VAT and they did and so on and so forth but we’re not so much talking about the issue here. We’re talking about what the Liberal Democrats did and what the consequences were for them and the apology for that which was an apology for making the promise in the first place, and I just think they got themselves into a terrible mess over it.
JR: The Labour manifesto put cutting the deficit as a priority. Does this mean that the economic argument has been won and the Keynesian model of debt-financed socialism is dying?
AS: No I think the fact is that most responsible people think we have to balance the books and it’s a question of how and over what period and what criteria we work to in relation to that. But what the big difference between Labour and the Tories on this was the flexibility of how we pay it off. Are you factoring in the relationship with economic growth, so we have the ability to borrow still to fund investment? That’s where the argument was I think.
JR: Would you not agree that the SNP swept the board in Scotland because of their anti-austerity position in comparison with Labour?
AS: Yes but if you actually look at their proposals they were more restrictive than Labour’s so I think it made for a good headline but you didn’t have to dig very deep to realise that it just didn’t add up.
JR: As a former councillor, do you believe that it’s very important for politicians to have experience in local government?
AS: I think it’s helpful but I don’t think it’s essential. I think people are realising that you want people from a whole variety of backgrounds to get involved.
There are certain things that are the same; representing people, doing casework, campaigning and so forth, but lots of other experience is useful as well.
JR: What are your key concerns over the next parliament?
AS: I’m concerned that you’ve got a very right wing Tory party, which is concealed somewhat by the presentational skills of Cameron. I’m concerned about everything, from restrictions on trade unions to cutting welfare benefits.
This is going to be a very harsh agenda that is aimed at the people the Tories see as its enemies: poor people, organised labour etc.
And with the crying social problems that we have, for example the housing shortage, are not going to be addressed, and market forces are going to dominate without any proper mitigation.
We are also we are quite likely to see an attack on civil liberties; we’ve talked about the human rights act, the snooper’s charter and so forth. It’s a very right wing agenda and I’m not sure the public quite realise what they’ve voted for.
JR: In 2010 you voted for Ed in the Labour leadership election, who are you backing this time?
AS: I genuinely, genuinely haven’t decided. We haven’t even seen the full field yet and one or two of the candidates I don’t know that well.
I do know well candidates like Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham.
It’s difficult to make a complete assessment and I think you really want to give people a fair chance to set up their stall so I will reserve my judgment on that for now.