I’ve spent about three weeks trying to get an interview with Labour candidate for Denton and Reddish Andrew Gwynne – but the madness of the campaign trail means we keep missing each other.
I eventually catch up with him with less than a week to go before what is being called the most important General Election in a generation.
Denton and Reddish has traditionally been staunchly Labour, with Andrew steering the ship since 2005. He has also served in the Shadow Cabinet under various guises: most recently, as Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
A long and varied time in office. I wonder what changes he’s seen in his constituency and hometown during that time, bearing in mind that Labour enjoyed a majority in Parliament for the first five years.
“You could start to see some of the positive impacts that [a Labour] administration was having on a constituency like mine,” he explains.
“Investment in schools and hospitals, neighbourhood policing, SureStart, tackling child and pensioner poverty.
“Sadly, I now see the impact of nine years of Tory (and Lib Dem) cuts. School budgets cut – with opening hours in some schools cut too; fewer police and the fear of crime rising; rough sleeping and homelessness on the rise; the impact of Universal Credit and rising poverty as a consequence; local public services cut back to the bone.
“But despite that hardship I also see great work being done by the community, in the community. We are resilient. We help each other, and we are so blessed to have faith and community groups stepping up to make a real difference.”
GET BREXIT ‘RIGHT’
Scrolling through lists of stats from the constituency, I can see that it is far from united. Although UKIP will not be standing this time round after getting very few votes in 2017, next Thursday will be the first time voters can put a cross next to The Brexit Party – and 13% are predicted to do so.
And although Andrew is expected to be re-elected, predictions lie at 45% compared to a sweeping 63.5% victory last time round.
With this is mind, I wonder what Andrew considers will be his biggest threats next week.
“Apathy,” he states. “[The attitude] ‘I don’t need to vote because Labour gets in round here anyway.’”
Such well deserved winners in relative newcomers to the North Reddish high street @i_knead_pizza and worthy runner-up in Knit2Tog wool shop and much loved hub of our community. Congratulations all! https://t.co/KShssXY2jS
— Kate Butler (@Kate_Butler) December 7, 2019
And how is he hoping to appease those in Denton and Reddish left angry by the fact that Brexit has still not been delivered?
“Vote Leave said in the 2016 Referendum that Brexit ‘is a careful change not a sudden stop’,” says Andrew.
“They are right. We need to get the terms of leaving the EU absolutely right, especially for the future prosperity of the communities of Tameside and Stockport, which could be harmed significantly if we accept the deregulated ‘race to the bottom’ approach of the Tories at face value.
“Let’s get the details right,” he goes on. “Secure a deal to leave on the very best of terms (which is actually in everyone’s interest, the UK and the EU’s) and let the people, not us politicians, have the final sign-off on the terms of the deal, so we all know precisely what we are voting for.”
YouGov tells me that 61% of Andrew’s constituents voted leave. I’m interested in how he has toed the line between fighting for their wishes, and his party’s Brexit policy.
“I’ve always said that I accept the referendum result,” Andrew explains. “If you’re not prepared to accept an answer, you don’t put the question.
“For me it’s about getting the deal absolutely right so that communities like Denton and Reddish don’t end up even more worse off. We need to protect trade, workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections in any future relationship outside of the EU.
“Neither Theresa May’s nor Boris Johnson’s deals did this,” he finishes.
‘IMPATIENCE’ WITH THE WHEELS OF CHANGE
I’d seen Andrew in action back in October, explaining to a packed room on a rainy night somewhere in Stockport why he was throwing his weight behind the Better Buses for Greater Manchester campaign.
I was intrigued to hear what other passions 14 years in office had left him with.
“It’s about fighting for our public services!” he says. “The NHS, education, social care, local government, policing. Making sure we get a fairer share of the resources than we have been getting.
It’s time to secure our police frontline… READ:
Recruit 22,000 extra police officers – undoing the damage of a decade of Tory cuts.
Rebuild neighbourhood policing as a visible presence on our streets.
Restore prison officer numbers. pic.twitter.com/s7TaHSTQOj
— Andrew Gwynne (@GwynneMP) December 9, 2019
“Of course,” he goes on, “continuing to support the WASPI women – those 1950s-born ladies who had changes made to their state pensions without proper notice. I hope we can finally get them justice.”
Andrew is also passionate about fighting the astronomical threat of climate change, “whether that’s defending the local greenbelt, improving our air quality or taking the climate change issue seriously.”
The conversation moves on to the realities of the job. I ask Andrew what his greatest frustration is.
“How slow it can be to get things done,” he answers. “An impatience with the wheels of change moving slowly.
“And also, not being in power. Opposition is an important role – to hold the Government of the day to account; but to actually be in a position to make a positive difference (to right the many wrongs) in Government would be a whole lot better!”
And – a tricky question to answer maybe – but what about his proudest achievement after 14 years in office?
“I can point to lots of things I’ve done across the constituency, but it’s the real difference you can make to an individual’s life.
“Early on in my time as an MP a lady from Denton came to my surgery. She’d been diagnosed as having breast cancer and her clinician had recommended a particular drug. Because she lived in Tameside, the NHS there at the time didn’t allow the drug to be prescribed. Had she lived in the Stockport part of my constituency she would have received it.
“It was a ‘throw all your toys out of the pram moment’ for me,” he says. “The decision was reversed and she got the drug.
“Several years later she came back to another surgery about something completely different. At the end of it she mentioned that I hadn’t recognised her and that I had got her this drug and it had saved her life.
“Now I don’t know whether it had, but she believed it had. And if that’s the only thing I’d achieved in 14 years as an MP, it’s pretty special.”
YOUR WORLD, YOUR FUTURE
He has mentioned his concerns for people in older generations. I wonder what Andrew would say to a 16-year-old who has no idea why she should engage with politics today.
“Because this is about your world and your future,” Andrew says simply.
“Don’t let others have a say on the direction of your life without also making your views known too.”
Increasingly more people are becoming disillusioned with even this as a premise, though. With outright lies and exaggerations sweeping our Twitter feeds and news headlines, why, genuinely, does Andrew think we should still trust those sitting in Westminster?
Thanks to all!! https://t.co/xTR5CaxH2w
— Andrew Gwynne (@GwynneMP) December 8, 2019
Politics is still a positive agent for change, he tells me.
“With vision and determination we can change the country for the better. I want to reignite that ‘can do’ vision of the 1945 Labour Government. They rebuilt the country, established the NHS, created the Welfare State, built homes for heroes returning from the War – all in six short years, during a time of real (and necessary) austerity after two world wars.
“They made decisions that would change Britain for the better for the next 70 years, not just the next five.”
A vision I think everyone would wish for. Now translate that wish into a vote, Andrew urges – and in doing so we will remind politicians that we are here and watching.