By Alex Cupples
John Marshall is an independent candidate running for MP in Durham City. He came from nearby Ferryhill to Durham to study agriculture in 1974 and has since been passionate about the University, world heritage site and the people. We interviewed him to find out why he is running as an independent candidate and what he is standing for.
What made you decide to run for Durham City’s MP, particularly in light of the fact that a lot of people would regard Durham City as a ‘safe’ Labour seat? Why have you chosen to run as an independent candidate?
Politics has been a lifelong interest. I always felt the world should be a more fair and equitable place, where people who want to get on can do so without exploiting others. Everyone wants different things from life and we must find ways to accommodate these things, whilst not adversely affecting the lives of others. That’s easy to say and much harder to deliver. I don’t believe an unimaginative two party system will deliver this and we need more creative independent MPs with real life experience. Politics needs a conscience and a new approach.
Labour has no automatic right to Durham and although I have been a previous supporter, I believe they have lost their way completely and need reinventing for this postmodern world. Having improved the lot of many people, especially those who were in strong unions in the public sector, there is now a need for a more detailed and honest approach towards building a fairer sustainable future for us all. Labour can lose here and nearly did last time, with a majority of only 3,000, a huge fall from previous times. They are defending their corner currently by taking down my signs all over the constituency.
What do you think is the biggest issue that needs addressing in the Durham area and how do you aim to tackle it?
Durham has unique advantages and should be an excellent place in which to live and work, with great facilities and attractions. It has lagged on so many fronts and lacked ambition. It needs a more dynamic approach. We need more well-paid jobs and affordable housing. We should look towards securing Enterprise Zone status, where small businesses are encouraged to locate and grow. It’s a great part of the world, and with the right environment some of the brilliant minds from the University could stay on and build careers here. Research and development could be an example of such businesses, and we have a long tradition of manufacturing – clothing, for example. We can lead the world in producing high quality goods and “Made In Britain” has value. The car industry has proven it’s possible.
A problem for Durham as a university town is the divide between residents and students, which can often create tensions in the community. How could you, as an MP, encourage community cohesion?
The Town and Gown issue is not such a great divide now, though little is done to improve it. I live right in the centre of town and experience it first hand. Essentially, most young people let rip when they get a taste of freedom. It’s just that we have more than our fair share of them, so all the pains of maturing adults are writ large here, from people walking along pavements three abreast, to drunkenness and loud parties. Personally, I look forward to the students returning. If I were MP I would deliver a humorous ‘Welcome to Durham’ lecture and have it videoed for circulation. Half the time, students don’t even realise they are upsetting residents or why. The old North East attitude towards people who talk “posh” is actually linked to old inferiorities and a feeling that the ruling classes lead a charmed life and look down on us. A ‘town meets the students’ night around the pubs, where you can buy a local a drink, would help to allay these old prejudices. How about an annual open night in the JCRs with cheap beer and bar games? I would bet that local families would host a ‘student for dinner’ event. An annual football match between the City and University and a students versus locals cross country would be great too. It just takes a little bit of effort and imagination.
At the last general election only 44% 18-24s, many of whom would have been students, voted. Why do you think this is the case and what would you say to students reading this who are considering not voting?
I used to get a lift home to vote when I was a student, it mattered to me so much. There could be many reasons for low student voting, not least of which is getting around to registering, and the fact that voters tend to have a more serious interest in the place they call home. It is a little strange to vote for an MP and perhaps leave the community a few months later. People tend to vote in huge numbers when they hate what they see in society and want radical change. In my day we were making a stand against things like apartheid and exploitation of the workers. We tended to have simplified, polarised views of the world: ban the bomb, peace and love, and yes, even communism. Ideals are the currency of the young and they should explore them. I hope that I can engage and stimulate some thought. As I’ve aged I have realised it’s much simpler to have a fantastic ideology than to deliver on it. I worked very hard and picked lots of fruit as a student, and realised that I expected to earn more than some of my perhaps lovely but somewhat laid back co-workers.
As an MP for Durham, you are very far from London, where the majority of central political decision making is made. What do you think of the idea of devolving powers regionally within England, and the possibility of a Northern Parliament?
We have allowed and encouraged London to become a nation-state. It’s criminal, and a product of poor planning and bad infrastructure. Devolved government would not be necessary if we had stronger Northern representation in Westminster. Labour have let us down badly on this. In the well-forecasted, computer-driven age there are many government services which could be located in the North, such as GCHQ and others. We need a bullet train line built, as an absolute priority. Little wonder Scotland wants away as we don’t even have a dual carriageway to their capital city. I could bleat on about the mismanaged closure of our heavy industries, which put many surrounding villages to the sword, when a slow wind down was easily possible, and cheaper than paying benefits for thirty years. You might guess how I feel when Scottish people get £700 more per year, per person spent on them than North Eastern people. We didn’t shout loud enough!
Why do you think there is a lack of female representation in Parliament and what strategies do you think could be employed to increase female political representation?
I don’t think there is a great deal of difference between female representation in senior management and that in Parliament. I believe Durham’s female-only candidate policy was insulting to women. I built a sixty million pound turnover business and never held back a woman. I have to conclude that a significant number of women get to a point where they decide that quality of life is more important than career. It certainly has nothing to do with ability, as many successful women have proven. I have met a great many men who have pushed themselves way beyond their comfort zone and paid a dreadful emotional price. Do we measure life success in money or happiness? I recognise a gender difference, which may not be a fashionable thing to say, but we are, by and large, different. I suspect men are more testosterone driven than they care to believe when they are young. You certainly notice as it begins to decline, and most older guys go looking for a lifestyle and spiritual answers. Perhaps women get there faster. Being a politician can be all-consuming and leaves little time for family, and the financial rewards are not massive. Do many men have bigger egos than women? These are merely my observations and it does seem strange that in my son’s year at school the girls, as ever, often outperform the boys academically. I look forward to the debate at St Chad’s on women’s issues. I need to understand whether the current generation of women feel conditioned to limit their horizons. Surely we do not still live in a Britain where women are still held back massively? I have only my own experience on which to base this and freely admit women were grossly mistreated. I must accept that it remains true in some areas. I need to know more. We clearly have a great deal more to learn about gender issues and I do believe there are still business sectors with male-dominated clubs. They are ugly places, in my opinion.
Photograph: John Marshall