Election interviews: Amanda Hopgood, Liberal Democrats

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Purple Radio and Palatinate have interviewed all 5 candidates for the City of Durham constituency in the 2019 General Election. We asked each candidate the same key questions on local and national issues, as well as three questions directed more specifically at issues within their own parties. Here, interviews Liberal Democrat candidate Amanda Hopgood.

Would you be able to summarise your local constituency-specific manifesto in one minute?

For me, it’s about standing up for Durham City. For too long the two main parties have took (sic) the North East for granted, and I want to be a voice for Durham in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Durham. I believe we have lots of local issues that need addressing, from the NHS to education to climate change, lots of specific issues that have happened in the locality that the Labour-run council have done, the latest of which are around planning and building a new headquarters on the floodplain, which hasn’t gone down very well at all with local residents.

Issues surrounding student housing have been a growing concern for Durham students, and although some work has already been done to resolve this issues, housing remains an unnecessarily major cause of stress for students at the uni. How would you propose to further address this problem?

I think that both the council and the university need to work in partnership, and lots of things when I’ve spoken to students first-hand with regards to our college accommodation is the cost, and the fact that most of it is catered. My daughter’s just finished university, she’s just graduated, and I’ve seen first-hand as a parent the difference between being self-catered and then moving out into a house, and what a different that makes to the environment for them. So with regards to students we need to make sure it’s both affordable and fit for purpose.

I want to be a voice for Durham in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Durham.

In previous work that we’ve done as a radio station, we’ve spoken to Roberta Blackman-Woods and tried to get involved with the estate agents, and there’s been a widespread agreement that things need to change but the actual momentum to push it forward hasn’t really happened. Do you think it would be an issue that you would campaign on afterwards directly with the students, would you work with the SU?

I would work on all aspects with everybody related to student accommodation, whether with the landlords who provide the private accommodation to make sure that’s fit for purpose – from first-hand experience I’ve seen the different facilities out there – to work with the universities to give an offer to the colleges so that students can choose between catered and self-catered.

My son is at college at the moment and he started off catered but luckily has the facility to drop that if he wants to – he’s chosen to do that which I think will help him move forward as well rather than just going and having these meals. I’m quite happy that if people want that the facility is available to them as well, but to me it’s about choice. This is the first time that most people will have lived away from home so it’s about lifestyle choices and how you want to develop and how you want to move forward with that – if some people want to have full facilities that’s great – we’ve seen so many different student options available in Durham – we’ve got some really top end ones with new developments, but which price quite a lot of people out of the market, so I think we have to have a range of options because every university has a range of students who attend.

We as a party have been absolutely clear where we stand on Brexit

Let’s turn to the broader national topics – it’s been three and a half years since Britain voted to leave the EU, we still haven’t left. If you’re elected as MP, how would you and your party work to end this crisis?

We as a party have been absolutely clear where we stand on Brexit – we think it would be bad for the country and have always promoted a People’s Vote from day one. When it comes to what people voted for three and a half years ago, anyone 21 or under never got that choice and it’s their future that we’re talking about – clearly the politicians haven’t been able to come to agreement because it’s such a divisive issue.

Now we know what leaving really means and most people have had the chance to see that, it’s very different to what we were sold three and a half years ago on the side of buses. People telling us it was going to be the easiest deal in the world, we were going to get it done, we would be out – it clearly wasn’t as straightforward as we thought. The best option seems to be to go back, we have a People’s Vote, people get the choice between the deal on the table or to remain, and we make sure that any referendum in the future isn’t an advisory one, that it would be legally binding so we can’t carry on for years and years in the chaos that we’ve had and neglect, and everything else in the last few years.

Now we know what leaving really means

Moving onto the NHS, another pivotal topic, the NHS is currently under immense and unprecedented strain – what would your party do to alleviate some the pressure that the NHS and its staff are under?

We’ve been brutally honest about the NHS, and we have said that it needs to be funded, and it needs to be funded properly – in order to do that we would put a penny on income tax – that is a policy that would ringfence money for the NHS, it couldn’t be used as a political football, it’s there to be spent. I think the problem we’ve had is that we’ve had governments who hadn’t invested, or the last Labour government spent time and energy on PFI funding to build new hospitals, and our hospital in Durham is still crippled with debt from that PFI project that should be being spent on patients and on staff to manage the hospitals.

A major UN report stated last year that we have until 2030 to avoid irreversible damage to the planet caused by climate change – how does you party propose we deal with the environmental emergency?

We have a clear policy regarding that – we would be looking to reduce energy costs by 80% to ensure they were carbon neutral by 2030. We have to be realistic in that some areas won’t be done quite as quick, but we need to be sure that what we have got is deliverable. When we were in coalition, we brought in the Green Bank, we would bring that back after it was abolished –

We’ve been brutally honest about the NHS.

Could you just explain what the Green Bank is for people that might not know?

We invest in our infrastructure to make sure that people can invest in alternative methods of production like wind turbines – I have solar panels on my house, all the subsidies are gone for that now, which need to be brought back to encourage people to be green, and get rid of single use plastics. There are numerous things in our manifesto, but making sure we have something that is deliverable – it’s very easy to promise something, but if it can’t be delivered it will fail anyway. A lot of what we said is working with our partners and the rest of the world. The way, for example, that the Tories with Brexit want to make us sit alone – if we don’t work with other people, we could do everything in the world and make sure that Britain is carbon neutral, but if we don’t work with everyone else… well, it’s a big planet.

So for you, the Brexit issue is very much entwined with the climate issue?

Yes – to work with our partners, because pollution isn’t just limited to Great Britain – it extends well beyond that.

Let’s turn to the Liberal Democrats themselves – at the beginning of this campaign, Jo Swinson framed herself as a potential candidate for PM, but latest polls predict that the Liberal Democrats will only win around twenty seats across the country. Does Jo Swinson really believe she can be PM?

When this election started, I believed that it was possible – we’re standing in all 600 seats so theoretically it is – but now Jo admits, as do we all, that the reality of that is very low. When you watch the news and the media, when everybody is told it’s only between two people, they start to believe that, when you have the Prime Ministerial debates and the main two organisations, ITV and the BBC, only invite two people, that’s the message that’s being sold to people. So we have to work extremely hard to give people that other option. I think people are in a position of ‘Who will I vote for? Which is the least worst been Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson?’ There is an alternative, and it’s up to us to promote that because no one will do it for us.

There is an alternative to Corbyn and Johnson, and it’s up to us to promote that because no one will do it for us.

Jo Swinson is the only female leader of the major parties – do you think that will have a significant impact on how people decide to vote for the Liberal Democrats, or if they will?

I don’t think so – it may have an impact on some people but it’s about quality, it’s about the best person for the job, and it doesn’t matter to me if you’re a man or a woman – what it does show though is that we’re a forward-thinking party, that women can actually achieve and that we shouldn’t be afraid as women to go out there and be ambitious.

Both the other parties can say they’re being progressive, but the Liberal Democrats by having a female leader – that’s arguably the best representation of that claim, some might say.

And a young female leader. She’s younger than me!

Since the last general election, the Liberal Democrats have built much of their identity around remaining in the EU and stopping Brexit, as we have discussed. At some point Brexit will (we all hope) come to an end – is there a risk of the Liberal Democrats becoming redundant?

No, because I think this country is crying out for a centrist party. We have the Labour Party lurching as far to the left as you possibly can get, and the Tory Party going far right, almost indistinguishable from the Brexit Party. So I do believe we have a place – lots of people want something in the central ground, most people aren’t extreme in their views and I believe that’s our place in the future.

I think this country is crying out for a centrist party.

All of the students reading this interview are living with effects of the Liberal Democrats’ broken promise on tuition fees when they were in a coalition government with David Cameron – why would a student forgive your party and vote for the Liberal Democrats now?

Because we were part of a coalition – we had 53 MPs out of 650, we were the minority party in the coalition. And all of the other things that we did manage to succeed with – equal sex marriage, parental rights, increase in income tax thresholds and the green issues as well to name a few, if we’re going to say who brought in tuition fees – they couldn’t be tripled in they weren’t brought in and tripled once before by a party who came in and said they would never do it, and were on their own.

So I do believe and we have said that if we had our time again we would not have done it we would have stood firmer with them, but at the end of the day a coalition is just that, it is give and take, and it was the other things we were successful with – in those we managed to get between 65% and 70% of our manifesto into policy and I think, overall, that’s pretty successful.

You can listen to our interview with Amanda Hopgood by searching ‘Purple Radio News Team’ on Spotify, or by visiting https://anchor.fm/purple-radio-news-team.

Image by Jack Parker.

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