Updated: Saturday, 22nd February 2020 @ 5:50am

Interview: 'Hackgate hero' Tom Watson & Labour’s Lucy Powell on the Manchester Central by-election campaign trail

Interview: 'Hackgate hero' Tom Watson & Labour’s Lucy Powell on the Manchester Central by-election campaign trail

Exclusive by Ian Silvera

Labour's Manchester Central hopeful Lucy Powell launched her ‘Putting Manchester First’ campaign today, with the party's Deputy Chair Tom Watson MP.

MM were there to see if Lucy Powell has what it takes to become Manchester’s first female MP.

Labour activists and councillors eagerly gathered at the Manchester Velodrome to greet Ms Powell, a former Deputy Chief of Staff to Labour Leader Ed Miliband.

Powell, who lives in Manchester with her doctor husband, step-son and daughter, was selected by Manchester CLP in April 2012 to fight for incumbent Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd’s seat when he steps down  to stand for Greater Manchester’s new position of elected Police and Crime Commissioner in November.

Powell plans to campaign on two main issues: helping Manchester’s women who, she says, have been disproportionately hurt by the Coalition Government’s cuts and trying to get young people back into work and education throughout Manchester Central.

On what was a sunny day, Powell’s message to her troops was straightforward – ‘we’re going to trounce the Tories, retain Manchester Central and stick up for the hard working people of Manchester.’

Strong words, and some may say somewhat predictable, but is the ex-member of Labour’s controversial Executive Board and Ed Miliband ally really interested in the people of Manchester Central? Will Powell represent Ed or her constituents in parliament?

“If I’m elected, I’m definitely going to represent the people of Manchester”, said Powell. “I live here, I was bought up here, I was born here, and before I worked for Ed I bought major investment into Manchester with my role at NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts).”

Powell lost in a close battle against Liberal Democrat MP John Leech to secure Manchester Withington in 2010.

MM asked the Mancunian if there were any lessons to be learned from that campaign.

“I think there are few, but what’s most important is the energy and enthusiasm our team bought to the doorstep”, said Powell.

She added: “That’s what I want to bring to this campaign – a feel good spirit.”

 Powell’s ‘Putting Manchester First’ campaign underlines the need for the Labour Party to reconnect with voters that have drifted away from the party and utilise new campaigning techniques such as social networking to reach out to younger people.

But if the local elections are anything to go by – where only 25% of Manchester City Council’s electorate voted – not many people will turn up to the by-election in November and those who do will most probably be elderly voters.

So, putting all of the Labour Party’s campaign resources on a social media campaign surely would be a risky strategy?

“Not really, we’re going to use traditional methods as well as new tools to connect to the electorate – it’s not an ‘either- or’ situation,” Powell replied.

She added: “What we’ve seen is that we can use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to reach out to young people while, at the same time, we will still door knock and phone canvass in an attempt to reach older voters.”

But what plans has Powell had to overcome the difficulty of campaigning in the urban environment of Manchester City Centre?

“The high rise buildings and flats certainly present a challenge to us”, Powell admitted. “But we’re going to use a lot more events and different tactics to solve that issue.”

As hundreds of brave soldiers throughout Greater Manchester face losing their jobs thanks to government cuts, what does the Labour hopeful think about the government’s decision?

She said: “What Philip Hammond (Defence Secretary) and the Coalition is doing is a disgrace.”

Before folding in 2005, Powell was director of Britain in Europe, one of the main pro-European pressure groups which originally fought for a ‘yes’ vote for Britain to adopt the Euro currency and then later campaigned for a ‘yes’ vote on the European Constitution, a treaty that would have seen a consolidated constitution for the European Union.

MM asked the ex-director what she thought of the Euro-Zone crisis and if she agreed that staying out of the Euro was a good thing?

Powell said: “I’ve always said it’s never been economically right for Britain to be part of the Euro, but I’ve always argued that Britain should be at the centre of Europe rather than on its fringes.”

She added: “What we’ve seen with this government is that they don’t care about Europe. Cameron just turns his back on the continent and thinks that it won’t hurt Britain, he should be in there working with other European leaders to help stop the crisis.”

MM were also able to sit down with Tom Watson MP who has played a central role in the News International ‘hackgate affair’ in his role as a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

Watson was Campaign Coordinator, a role he still holds, for the Labour Party when George Galloway shocked the country in March by beating Labour’s candidate Imran Hussain in a by-election to become MP for Bradford West.

But does the West Bromwich MP think the Manchester Central by-election would be another ‘Bradford’ situation?

“No, certainly not,” replied the 45-year-old. “Manchester is very different place, but we don’t want to be complacent and that’s why we will be campaigning very hard over the next few months.”

He added: “The main thing we’re concentrating on is that the Tories promised change but things are getting worse. They're out of touch and they're economic plan has failed.

“That’s why I’ve come here to support Lucy; I really do think she’ll make a difference – not just for Manchester, but for the whole country.”

With Labour Party membership down another 4,000 members to 194,000, does Watson think voters have become disenfranchised with the political party and that working-class people, in particular, feel that the party has abandoned them?

“I understand how people feel. They think the Labour Party is run by a load of middle-class people in London who don’t care about the rest of the country,” replied Watson, “but it just isn’t true – I’m from a working-class background, for example.”

Has he set any targets for Powell in the by-election, and if she does not maintain Tony Lloyd’s majority would Watson consider that a failure?

“Look, I’m very old school about this kind of thing – a win is a win,” Watson replied, “we haven’t set any targets and all that we want is to get Lucy to win.”

He added: “By-elections are different type of animal to general elections so we’ll be happy so long as Lucy becomes MP for Manchester Central.”

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