Election interviews: Mary Foy, Labour Party

By and Meera Navlakha

Palatinate and Purple Radio 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 the Labour Party’s Mary Foy.

In one minute, can you sum up your local constituency’s manifesto?

In fact, some of the local issues are national issues. In terms of knocking on doors for the last six weeks, and the things that have come up time and again are poverty–it is quite a massive issue. Inequality is huge in this region and across the whole country. Low wages also come up. Transport is a big issue, trying to get into the city centre with a bus. Labour policy will be to bring local transport back into control, so we can decide on what the routes will be and what the prices will be. That would be brilliant, not just for people who work but also people who are studying or just going shopping, really. National Health Service comes up – the local hospital here was promised money for the A&E but that was taken away by the Conservatives. We’ve really got to win this election, because if we don’t, the National Health Service will be sold off to private health corporations.

Inequality is huge in this region and across the whole country.

As we know, Durham has a high student population. There are 20,000 of us swarming the streets. Housing remains an unnecessarily major cause of stress for students. So, what would you propose to do to deal with this?

In terms of housing, Labour’s policy for all housing – student and otherwise – is to ensure a decent quality standard of housing for all people. I know a big thing for students is the extortionate rents they have to pay their landlords. There will be a cap on rents.

Do you know what that cap is?

I don’t know what the cap is, but there will be a cap. In terms of some of those landlords who don’t look after their houses, there will be a register for landlords to go on – well, they can choose to go on, if they are decent landlords. There will be annual inspections of the homes that are leased out and rented out. Alongside everyone else who wants a decent house, it will be given at a decent rent and quality standard.

We can turn now to some of the national topics. It’s been three and a half years since we voted to leave the EU, and we still haven’t left. If you were elected as MP for Durham, how would you and your party help us to get out of this crisis?

You must remember that the City of Durham was a Remain city. The Labour Party plan is to put it back to the people. It is quite obvious the politicians haven’t been able to sort it out. So, there will be a final deal, put back to the people, which will be a choice of Remain or a Leave deal which would be a sensible deal, which would protect worker’s rights and the environment. It is a democratic approach, to go back to the people and let them have final say. And whatever the result of that referendum is, that will be done and dusted within six months. Negotiations have already started with the EU and the Labour Party, so that can be done and dusted. Hopefully, we can move on then. Believe it or not, on the doorstep, this isn’t the biggest issue. You may think it is, but it’s actually those bread-and-butter issues that are affecting people’s lives that have been the biggest issues.

Believe it or not, on the doorstep, Brexit isn’t the biggest issue

The NHS is one of those crucial ones, being under immense and unprecedented strain. What is the Labour party’s plan to alleviate some of that stress on the NHS and its staff?

In terms of the staff, NHS and other public-sector workers haven’t had a pay-rise for ten years. There will be immediately a pay-rise. For Labour, it is so important to do this for the NHS. We know how things can go wrong if it is underfunded. So Labour will give an additional £1.6 billion a year to the NHS. What the priority will be is addressing mental health care as well. One of the things we plan to do is have 3,500 counsellors placed in schools across the country. What is also happening is GPs are training here but going abroad because they know the conditions here are just not good for anyone’s mental health and well-being. We want to invest in more nurses and doctors and bring back the NHS as a world-class organisation. One thing we will not do, and something I will fight for forever is to make sure it is not sold off. This is there for people when they need it. It’s not to be sold off to the likes of Trump and Richard Branson.

There has been a lot of controversy recently, over whether or not the NHS will be sold off. Jeremy Corbyn released that document showing that it will be sold off. But some people doubt the origin of that document. Do you know anything about this?

Not particularly, I just know it’s from the government’s sources. It’s quite clear, there’s already evidence that it has been. Do you really think we can trust Donald Trump when he’s lied again and again? Of course they want their hands on our NHS. The big pharma companies will make millions out of it. They will charge extortionate rates for medicine. The NHS can be profitable, but it isn’t there to be a profit-maker. It is here to look after our people, free of charge.   

Moving on to the environment. A major UN report released last year stated that we have until 2030 to avoid irreversible damage to the environment due to climate change. So how does the Labour Party propose that we deal with the climate emergency?

Even Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have come out this week saying that the Labour Party’s plan is the most radical of all the plans. We are the ones taking this the most seriously. There is no point in any other parts of the manifesto if we don’t have a planet. The most exciting policy for me is Labour’s real industrial revolution. This won’t just combat the climate emergency, but it will also bring jobs to places like the North East and across the country. There’s going to be £250 billion in green transformation funds, which will create at least 1 million green jobs that are sustainable jobs, in off-shore and on-shore wind turbines. There will be enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches. A lot of that can be a fantastic agenda for the North East. We are taking this very, very seriously. We’ve seen temperatures of 21 degrees in February and 39 degrees in July. It cannot continue, it’s not normal. If we have another five years of the Tories – they have actually nothing in their manifesto about this. In fact, their cabinet is still made up of climate deniers. We cannot go on. It has to happen from day one. Absolutely radical.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have said that the Labour Party’s climate change plan is the most radical

The vast majority of the Labour Party has voted against ’s meaningful votes on Brexit. Can we really trust an elective Labour Party to be united in a Brexit plan and then to follow through on it?

Obviously, there is a split throughout the country. A lot of constituencies were Leave. But in fact, many members of parliament in those constituencies were Remainers. It’s been pretty traumatic for those. It will be the people’s final decision. We have promised we will get on with this. If it is Leave, it will be a much more sensible Leave. It will be a softer Brexit. Because it would be a disaster for people in the North East to leave on Boris Johnson’s terms, which are worse than May’s. The jobs that we’ll lose, the rights and protections that we will lose – I think we will come together and work on a deal. I am personally a Remain supporter and I will vote Remain again. But we have to move forward with some sort of unity. We have to get it done, yes, but this decision will affect the rest of our lives and so it has to be the right one. Whether it is Leave or Remain, we will stick together.

So sticking with what the public decide?

It’s going to be the public’s decision. This will be it, over and negotiated within six months.

The Labour manifesto has been praised as revolutionary but at the same time criticised as unrealistic. Corbyn has promised an increase in annual government spending of £82.9 billion, which is almost double that of the 2017 manifesto. So is that really possible, and if it is, wouldn’t it rely on severe changes that can affect everyone?

Right, it is radical. We have radical and severe problems though, with our poverty and inequality at the moment. We do need radical solutions. I’m very proud that is a radical manifesto. There are 126 (or even more now) top economists who have said our spending plans are credible. It’s all online for everybody to see. What it will mean is that the top 5% of earners will have to pay a small amount more; so those that pay over £80,000 will have to pay 5% more. I think it’s something like 59 pence a week. The other 95% won’t see any difference really, but they will see a difference in terms of money back in their pockets once the economy grows. The big yield is from the corporates. The big corporations like Google and Amazon and Starbucks who aren’t paying their fair share – the corporation tax will ensure that they will pay their fair share. That money will bring in the resources we need to cover the manifesto. It’s all there to be seen. It has to be radical.

I am personally a Remain supporter and I will vote Remain again.

So much higher tax on the big companies?

Well, at the minute, the big companies have so much money that they’re sending money to the Cayman Islands.

Couldn’t this affect their staff – they might pay lower wages, for instance?

There’s going to be a £10 minimum wage enforced anyway. I have had some people say, well what if they decide to move on to another country? But that’s not going to happen. The likes of Amazon are making so much money off of me and you. They’ll stay here but this way they’ll have to pay. That’s only right. They’ve been getting away with it for so long. The inequality gap is growing so much that we’ve got something like 160 billionaires in this country while there are 4 million children starving. There are people living and dying on our streets. That kind of inequality is unacceptable. We have this radical manifesto, but it is one of hope. It’s hope for the 95%, I guess, whose living standards have been cut over the last 10 years. All of those things that affect our everyday lives – if we don’t do it now, when will we do it? We’ve been told that another five years of going down the path and trajectory we’re currently on is another million children put into poverty. That’s from the Resolution Foundation and the Child Action on Poverty group. For me personally, I don’t find inequality acceptable at all. It’s all avoidable and it is political choice, whether or not to have people using food banks, having people waiting weeks and weeks to see a GP. It’s all political choice and Labour have the plans to deliver this real change.

Jeremy Corbyn is an honest and trustworthy man and has brought an awful lot to young people in this party

At the head of all these plans, at the head of the Labour Party is Jeremy Corbyn. A recent poll for YouGov taken on the 6th of December found that 69% of voters disapproved of Corbyn’s leadership. Only 22% approved. He actually had the highest disapproval rate of all party leaders. Is that people don’t like Jeremy Corbyn and if so, why?

Well, we’ve seen with Jeremy Corbyn the growth of the Labour Party over the last few years, which has made us the biggest party in all of Europe I believe, and that’s because he does inspire a lot of people. In fact, it is the young people who have been joining in the thousands because Jeremy Corbyn has offered something different to the way things are today. It is that hope for an alternative time and future. And yeah, the media and the establishment will be telling us every day that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the right person to lead the country. When I speak to people at the doors, it does come up quite strongly that they may not like him. But when you ask why, they don’t really have a reason for it. It’s the policies, remember, not just the one man, leading the country. It’s the vision he has helped us to deliver, producing this fantastic manifesto. He’s a lifelong campaigner. He’s a campaigner – he inspires people. And yes, he’s a different type of politician to Boris Johnson, but I know which one I would prefer. He is an honest and trustworthy man and has brought an awful lot to young people in this party. We’d love to know who is carrying out these polls, because we’ve never been asked.

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

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