Not wishing to dabble in politics too much, I still think it’s important we get to know our local candidates a little. Hopefully we’ll track down all of them in time, as I invite Rachael Schneider Ross of Labour to be the first under the Devizine cosh……
So engrossed in our chat, I thought the lady on the table next to us was talking to the window; being on the first floor of New Society I didn’t expect anyone to be outside. It was some guys on a scissor-lift putting up the Christmas lights! We both stared out to the view and my companion commented how much she loved Devizes.
I’m not the political sort usually, but in a dilemma with this election, maybe you are too. So, I invite all local candidates to face my interrogation, I mean a chat! Ah, Devizes then, Tory safe seat. I don’t know about you but I’d want some options on the table, I yearn for change. Tactical voting to achieve this is still a grey area locally. While the Lib Dems traditionally do better than Labour, the latter came second last time. Therefore, Labour’s Rachael Schneider Ross is my first victim.
I’d like to know more about Rachael, her local priorities but start on how she feels about national issues, and Jeremy Corbyn. I asked her outright if she is a “Corbynite,” and if, through the smear against him, ol’ Jezzer remains the right man for the job. Rachael explained she doesn’t think of herself as a label, “I don’t really do labels,” she replied. “I’m just a working mum, who’s come into politics recently, in the last two years. What’s really interesting about Jeremy Corbyn is he has been incredibly successful at bringing young people into the party, and democratising the party.” Rachael enlightened, as an example, a conference in September where all the members decided to increase the ambition around the green new deal. “A decision made by all members, and that feels very democratic.” Impressed with his influence on her children too, Rachael completed the answer with the point, “my kids came into politics, because of Jeremy.”
Does Rachael agree with me, that the voting age should be reduced? I suggested to 14 years old, maybe too radical, but Rachael agreed at 16 most are ready. Kids, you have a cool mum!
And in that, there’s something immediately warming about Rachael’s character, aside being openly consistent and extremely optimistic, she’s not defensive and we spoke on an equal level. This blows my stereotype politician out of the water! She responded to my questions with a heartfelt persona, of family, and a resident, despite my prompts to focus on a national scale. A story followed about Jeremey’s mother who used to live nearby. She gave him a book of her village history some years ago, and upon meeting him recently, was surprised to find he remembered her, and had read the book. “I’m impressed with him; think he has great vision. I think of the whole green revolution, his relationship with the young, and taking it to heart, and to the heart of our policies.” It’s in sharp contrast to Boris Johnson, she noted, and expressed he doesn’t see the importance of those issues.
But the smear of Corbyn is so extensively ingrained. Seems we base our political opinion on the meme with the worst grammar, least they might be more trustworthy than the newspapers. As I said, Rachael is ever the optimist, “I know he has a mixed reputation, I think often, the Labour party, particularly he, is not getting a fair hearing by mainstream media. Sometimes I read things and think, well I was there, and that didn’t happen. Some have a distorted view, but I think he’s the leader of the moment, and he is right to stand toe-to-toe with Boris.”
We spoke about bickering in Parliament, I compared the charade to a rap battle, it got a laugh. “I’m very impatient about all of that now,” Rachael expressed, “watching it over the past few years, it’s one of things that’s got me involved, to be honest. I just am fed up with exactly that, the nonsense, that echo-chamber going around, as it’s so different from how we get stuff done, in the real world. Which is about cooperating and building bridges with each other, even if we don’t understand or like each other, we have to work together. That’s, in working life, how we make stuff happen.”
Bing, bang, bosh; thus, Brexit was an inevitable subject, I’m going to gloss over it, knowing Rachael is in agreeance with the Labour policy, and the mandates are on the table. Passionate about leaving without any consideration of the negative implications, stick with what we have. Passionate about remaining, despite the referendum result, vote Lib Dem. I honestly feel the most logical solution to the mess is Labour’s; we know no deal is economical suicide, Rachael worries about this. So, obtain the right deal and take a vote, the final answer. If you respect democracy, you should respect people have a right to change their mind over three years and exposure of the propaganda enforced on the campaign. If it really is the will of the people, then where’s the argument? Just one more cross in a box, I’m sure you can manage. If you still believe we should remain, regardless of the millions who voted leave, then maybe, just maybe, that’s not entirely fair either. “I also have a lot of concern and want to understand better,” Rachael summarised, “why people chose to vote to leave, and I think there’s lots of reasons. One thing Labour would do is address the underlying causes of that frustration and anger, about how they felt democracy or government was letting them down.”
Again, Rachael bought up youth, maybe she’s hinting something, aware my greying sideburns worsen daily! “Of course,” she stated, “in the last three years, a lot of young people are eligible to vote who wasn’t, and it’s about their future, isn’t it? It’s our children and grandchildren who will reap the impact of Brexit.” Enough! I feel we need to hear the local angle here on Devizine, and what a Devizes constituency would look like under a Labour flag.
Considering the voting history of the constituency, does Rachael really feel she has a chance in turning that round? “You know,” she answered, “I never say never.” See, always the optimist! “You’re right, there has never been a Labour MP, but we have had some wonderful Labour councillors over the years.” She strives to follow in their footsteps. “We’re in strange political times at the moment, and I think and hope when they weigh up who to vote for here in this constituency, they think about the policies, ask themselves what kind of country do they want it to be, I think that’s fundamental, and also, who will represent and stand up for us best, as a community. I would love to do that; I would love to stand up for the community, and represent us well in Parliament. I have ideas, and strong views about local issues which need much more focus and attention on, and would like to bring that campaigning spirit that I discovered in myself a few years ago, through the Oxenwood and Braeside campaign, that’s what really woke me up, politically.”
Again, I see this air of positivity shine through Rachael, at a time when the local Conservatives are in turmoil over choice of candidate, in whatever attributes Danny Kruger has, he is not local, and you know, we keep it local here, like it that way. “Wouldn’t it be better, to have a local mum, who knows the area, knows the issues, instead of someone piloted in from London, because he’s Boris’s mate?!”
It brings to the boil my killer question, not necessarily for Rachael herself, but for our consideration, being we don’t like change, we continue to stick with the Tories. If-it-isn’t-broken attitude might now be unfitting; even our affluent community is suffering, open your eyes when venturing beyond, it gets worse. Maybe making a change is not really changing at all, being Rachael is one of us. So, given Rachael lives in a village life between Devizes and Marlborough, I asked what’s the importance, to her, of having an MP who is locally based. “I think it’s absolutely crucial,” she asserted, “I’ve lived here over twenty-five years, bought my kids up here. So, I’ve experienced what it’s like living in a rural community, where there are no buses, of becoming a taxi for your kids! I’ve lived and breathed Wiltshire country air and my feet are firmly planted here; and I love it. You also notice what’s worrying.”
Rachael strapped the local homeless issue onto the youth angle too, proud of her trustee status with two such charities. Her volunteering gives her, “first hand, in-your-face experience of what’s it’s like when things just don’t go according to plan. Each of us are a few steps away from homelessness, and I’ve seen that reality.” Keen to point out the issue of homeless army veterans, evident locally. “Now, someone coming in from London, who has sat at the top table with Boris, and doesn’t know this area, I don’t think he’ll have the same local knowledge and understanding, and why he’d want to care about what’s happening here.”
More tea was poured, she thinks we need to discover our radical roots here, pointing to the population of working class, and told me of Upavon’s Henry Hunt, the radical farmer during the Napoleonic Wars. With a wealth of local knowledge and history, undoubtedly, she is one us, no matter how you feel about voting Labour.
The anniversary of Jo Cox’s death shifted something in Rachael Schneider Ross, she explained, spurring her on to this post. “It took things to a different place; I was getting more concerned with where things were heading. I feel this general election, (despite the bad timing around Christmas) is really important. For me it’s a once in a generation moment to say enough, we don’t want to head further and further to the right, which will be a further division of hatred between people. That will be encouraged by Farage and Boris.”
I pointed toward our prospective development, a possible train station, new NHS centre. Rachael stressed it may be just be talk, while she’d love to be a part of making them happen, concentrated on the issue of affordable homes. “What worries me a lot, talking to people, is they say we just don’t have enough affordable housing, so my kids have to go elsewhere. And you know, there are other issues too; are there enough community spaces for young people?” We talked over Braeside and Oxenwood, closing of our youth centre, “and Pewsey has no youth centre, used to have the Shack.” Thus, cuts of police, schools and public spaces became the subject quickly, and how it creates disorder. “I think the government doesn’t join the dots between reducing police numbers, removing youth workers, or limiting their time significantly. If you close public spaces where young people can hang out, or the whole exclusion and criminalisation of young people, it’s no wonder we end up in a place where we have real problems.”
With all this mind, my finale interrogation; “if this historic moment happens, what would be the main difference to our constituency?” I got her on this one, but after some contemplation the reply was, “I think, we would look back and honestly think we’d say ‘thank god we voted in Labour in 2019,’ a bit like, post-war, The Attlee era, a time when the NHS was founded. I would like to think we’d look back at this as a ‘see change’ moment. At a fundamental level I would hope for us to be thinking people and planet at the heart of all decisions and policies, right the way through parliament to local councils, rather than profit and privilege. People being central around politics, that’s what I’d like to see for us. I think people are completely fed up with the way things have gone for the past few years. One of the biggest changes too, would be a change to the whole attitude to climate.” Holistically, Rachael linked this with the youth agenda, and we know they go hand-in-hand.
I really don’t care for your preconditioned view of Labour, bought about by the waft of media negativity, I warmed to Rachael, felt immediately like we were old friends on a reunion, and I never thought that would happen with a politician. You know me, I’ll say it how it is, and I wonder what I’ll make of the others, should they take the dare!
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