Election 2017: Solomon Curtis Interview
With the most subversive election in recent memory reaching its climax, The Badger caught up with the Labour Candidate for Brighton Pavilion Solomon Curtis to debate his views on party progress and policy.
We’ll start with an issue that often comes on the doorsteps in Brighton Pavilion: Why should people vote for you instead of Caroline Lucas?
The first thing to know is that the Tories can’t win in Brighton Pavilion, which is a good thing. Between 1997 and 2010 Labour’s vote has increasingly dropped, and I think that’s people felt let down by the Iraq war, they felt that the Labour Party wasn’t going in the direction that they wanted it to go. Many people on the doorstep in 2015 told me that they would vote Labour once it becomes a radical anti-austerity party, and that’s what we are. So now is the chance, that if people feel this is a Labour Party they can actually support, to vote for it. If they want to see the Labour Party continue to be a radical alternative to the Tories then we need Labour MPs who support that programme.
What’s your view on the Progressive Alliance? With the Greens standing down in Kemptown
But not Hove.
Not Hove, absolutely; do you disagree with it?
No, I was someone at the Labour Party Conference in 2015 who took part in an event promoting the idea that progressive parties should work together, promoting the idea that tribalism is not the way forwards.
I felt that if progressive parties can work together then it should be about stopping the Tories. The most important value about progressive politics is democracy, so to suggest that either Labour or the Greens should stand in Pavilion, when we know that 70% of the vote goes to Labour or the Greens – the Tories won’t win here – completely defeats the object of democracy, and it defeats the object of working together to stop the Tories.
What I think we should do, is look at seats like Lewis and Eastbourne where the Lib Dems have a chance of winning and we say actually we’re not going to run heavy campaigns there. We’ll still stand a candidate because I don’t believe that most Labour voters automatically vote for other progressive parties; actually our voting class voters are quite conservative.
Interestingly, the same people who say we should stand down in Pavilion haven’t ever asked Caroline Lucas what she thinks, because if you ask her, she’ll say we should stand.
What are the key issues, local and national, central to your campaign?
In Brighton we have one of the youngest constituencies in the country, the average age is lower than most seats – ten years lower than the average in the South East – and we’ve seen young people are completely disengaged in politics.
37.5% of our population is under the age of 30: 2% of our MPs are under the age of 30.
I think that sends a signal as to why young people aren’t voting, as to why they’re not engaged in politics, because they don’t see anyone remotely looking like them or representing them. That’s an important issue.
Labour’s then put the policies to go along with that, saying we’re going to end tuition fees and bring back EMAs [Education Maintenance Allowance], saying we’re going to lower the voting age to 16.
Among the big issues facing Brighton are housing; people in Brighton have talked about dealing with housing for seven years, and we can’t do anything about it because we don’t have a Labour government, and we don’t have a Labour government because we don’t have enough Labour MPs. So instead of just talking about things, I want to actually say we can put our principles into power and the way to do that is to have a Labour MP here.
If people want to see our polices introduced, like building a million homes, like investing in the NHS, protecting the pensions triple lock, ending tuition fees and bringing the railways back into public ownership, then they can feel happy they can positively vote for a Labour MP here.
Obviously Jeremy Corbyn has proposed many of these polices; do you see him as a linchpin or a liability?
I always support the leader of the Labour Party. Interestingly a poll came out today [1st June] showing that in London Jeremy Corbyn is a preferred Prime Minster to Theresa May.
Theresa May says this is a choice between her and Jeremy Corbyn. I know which one I want, but I think increasingly the British public are seeing which one they want.
We have someone who hides in the background of the campaign but asks everybody put her at the front, as a strong leader, and this is one of the weakest, most inefficient campaigns I have ever seen from a political leader.
Whereas what we see is Jeremy Corbyn attracting thousands of people on the streets, engaging our young people in a way which I haven’t seen before, and I think he’s an incredibly exciting leader.
Brexit is an issue which Theresa May has put at the forefront of her campaign; how do you think a Labour government should approach negotiations?
Firstly, I always opposed the EU referendum, many people will attack me for that but I don’t feel referendums are a good form of democracy.
I think that we should be having a free vote on this in parliament, and I say that because each MP should be able to represent their constituency. For example, I’ve said, as Labour MP for Pavilion, if the constituency doesn’t feel that it wants to vote for the deal that we get then I will vote against the deal, whether I’m told to or not.
Interestingly, most constituencies voted to leave the EU, so by that logic you would actually have most MPs voting to enact article 50 anyway, which did happen; I do think that’s the way forward for that.
In terms of the negotiations, I want to see access to the single market. I’m not interested in free movement because I think free movement has been a good thing for our county, particularly for students and young people, and full access to the single market probably implies that that has to remain, but we’ll see what the negotiation is.
I want to protect workers’ rights, things that Europe delivers for Britain. I think that’s a much more credible strategy to negotiating than Theresa May, who says that we’re not going to guarantee citizenship rights to EU nationals living here which I think is rather insulting for people who have worked pretty hard here.
You’re styling yourself as different from the Conservatives, but at the same time you’re not advocating a second referendum, as the Lib Dems and Greens have?
No. The Greens where the ones who pushed for an EU referendum in their last manifesto, they said we need to have a manifesto on the EU, and look what that’s done.
I’ve always felt we have a parliamentary system where MPs represent the constituents, and that’s important for me. Having referendums on every issue is just an appalling form of democracy.
Looking forward to Thursday, what would you describe as a good result for the Labour Party come the morning of June 9th?
Anything that’s not a victory is not a good result.
How would you describe victory? A majority?
Ideally it would be a majority, but if it is a hung parliament territory and we either go as a minority or as a coalition, I think a good result is getting rid of Theresa May and this Tory government.
Would you feel comfortable going into a coalition with Tim Farron’s Lib Dems? Do you see anything economically in common with the two parties, and can you see it working?
I felt very let down with the Lib Dems, as someone who warmed to a lot of their policies in 2010, when they signed up to a coalition and they delivered Tory policies. For me, if there is a hung parliament, then it is responsible for any party to make sure we can have a stable government. If that means a coalition, then fair enough. But it could also mean a relationship where you agree that a party’s going to vote through your budget, vote through key issues.
A vote by vote basis?
Absolutely. I think there are different ways of doing it, and I’ll leave the leadership of the party to decide that. As long as we can keep our main manifesto promises, which are what people have been motivated by, then I think that’s the main priority.
Tell me your vison for the country over the next five years if there was a Labour government in power with you in it.
For this generation to do just as well, if not better, than the last. To grow up in their hometown and afford to buy their own home. I’d like to see workers who are travelling far not having to worry about whether their trains are going to be delayed or cancelled; knowing that they have a decent service. That our schools are providing a decent education for everyone across the country and preparing people for the future jobs in our economy, and having a more holistic approach to education which puts wellbeing at the core of that.
An economy which continues to grow but understands that globalisation, although it brings great benefits, is having a damaging impact on many communities. To make sure that the economic benefits we receive is shared amongst the many and not the few, to use the slogan. Particularly, looking at how we’re going to face the big economic challenges, which actually none of the parties are talking about, which is automation and about the fact that traditional jobs are being lost and they’re being replaced by modern technology. How we can re-skill people, how we can invest in people to re-train and how we can make sure that our education system is preparing people for new jobs.
I think that’s the big challenge facing people.