By Sub-Editor Eric Kostadinov
Mike Amesbury is the Labour MP for Weaver Vale, in Cheshire, and is one of many Labour MPs who gained their seat following the 2017 General Election. Mike is already playing an active role in parliament, including sitting on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee.
In this interview with Sub-Editor Eric Kostadinov, Mike discussed all things political, from the reasons why he got in to politics, to how he felt on the night of June 8th when he realised he would become an MP, to who he considers his favourite Labour politicians.
Further to this, we found out his interests outside of parliament, such as his favourite football team, his favourite places and his preferred music.
Listen to our 20 minute podcast (above) or read Mike's comments below...
EK: First of all, what made you want to be involved in politics?
MA: Margaret Thatcher recruited me to the Labour Party, that’s the only thing I can thank her for. I joined in around 1987; I think I was around 17. I was born in Wythenshawe, and then went over with the family to Castleford, West Yorkshire, just up the road from Leeds, and the miners’ strike really politicised me and the whole community, seeing people living on nothing for a year, on strike to protect an industry that employed quite a significant proportion, predominantly of blokes, in the local community at the time.
EK: So you’ve been an MP for 3 months now, how are you finding it, and how are you finding juggling politics with your family life?
MA: You know what, it’s brilliant. I love being an MP, a Labour MP, I’m a proud democratic socialist and it’s brilliant that we now have a labour MP for Weaver Vale after 7 years of absence really. I’m humbled the electorate have put me here, a lot of young people that voted and registered for the first time, so we’ve got to do all we can now in parliament to put my constituents first, but to bring down this government, so we can implement a bold Labour manifesto.
EK: Obviously you’ve not been in Westminster that long, but when it comes to Westminster traditions, would you say you enjoy all the old quirks of parliament or do you consider yourself more of a moderniser?
MA: Well I’m a democratic socialist so I want reform. There is unfinished business there isn’t there, we still have something called the House of Lords, if you look at some historical Labour Party posters, there’s pictures of various MPs and other people hammering on the doors of the Lords, so we’ve got to abolish it and replace it with a second chamber but a senate which is predominantly elected rather than selected. Some of the other traditions, for example something you don’t see on the TV, is that the chamber is blessed, they have a prayer at the beginning of each session, and halfway through the prayer, I didn’t know this, you stand up, do the full circle and then you have your backs to the chaplin, and it was sort of like doing the hokey cokey! So you get in there and you’re like sheep kind of following this thinking ‘why am I doing this?’, it must be the done thing! And anyway I did ask the Speaker John Bercow about this after that session, and I literally said ‘What’s that hokey cokey stuff about?’ Which he did laugh at... and he said that goes back to whatever century when you used to have swords. So I pointed out that we no longer have swords, the place is obsessed with swords!
EK: There’s a sword hanger as well isn’t there?
MA: There is. So I have got, there’s a little plastic sword on mine by the way, I have got a sword hanger would you believe it. And it says Weaver Vale MP and there’s a sword hanger. So things such as that, he said if you’re uncomfortable doing that, then you don’t have to, so I don’t. I sit there with my arms folded, on the occasions I may go in for prayers. And there are strange traditions, places where people can sit and where they can’t sit, and, you know, it almost feels like first class and second class citizens, and it kind of reinforces the class divide in Britain, particularly in England. So if there is something I can do whilst I’m there, it’s addressing the fundamental inequalities we are seeing in society and in our communities, obviously I want a fairer society and world, but do away with that rigid rigid class system we’ve got here, or strive towards it.
EK: As I’ve mentioned you’re one of the new intake of MP’s in 2017 and you won your seat from the Conservatives in something of a shock I’d maybe say. How did it feel to gain your seat for Labour on that night, and did you expect to win?
MA: It felt brilliant. It felt wonderful and I was exhausted because I was one of the people heading up Andy Burnham’s campaign (For Mayor of Greater Manchester) before I was selected for this campaign. But, what an honour to be the first Labour MP for Weaver Vale for a considerable number of years, and obviously replace a Conservative, so it actually felt great. And did I expect it? At the beginning of the campaign when we were 24, if not 25 points behind (in the polls), I think it was 24 at the first day and 25 the next day! So, probably not. Although, I obviously didn’t say that publically, and we had brilliant activists, we had great support from my comrades in the trade unions, the broader Labour family including various Momentum groups all over the place and members of the public, and as the campaign got into the thick of it, I’d say a week and 2 days out, I thought ‘we’re gonna do this’, and we did. I didn’t know by how much, but nearly 4,000 (majority). Great!
EK: Correct me if I’m wrong, your wife is from the constituency?
MA: She is, yeah. She’s from Runcorn. In fact, where she’s from in Runcorn is just below the Castle (Halton Castle), you know the Clough?
EK: Oh yeah, yeah...
MA: On the estate there, in fact her dad still lives there, and her mum still lives in Runcorn Old Town and she’s got a pub in the Old Town. So I’ve been a regular visitor and I’m still getting lost round the expressway for 23 years!
EK: Do you think it’s important to have that sort of emotional connection to the area that you’re representing or not?
MA: I’ve just moved, the whole family have moved in to the area, so actually I think it’s helpful to have some connection there, but I think what is also vital is having considerable experience in the world of politics, but very importantly I’ve had real jobs as well. My profession is I was a careers adviser and a connections manager helping young people in particular get into employment, training and education from some of the most challenging areas, lets say, across the region, and I’ve done some work in Birmingham as well in the past doing that. I’ve had experience in parliament with Angela Rayner, I was her senior parliamentary adviser, and obviously Andy Burnham as well. So all that helps as well, but certainly the in-laws as you can imagine keep me on my toes!
EK: Would you say there’s anything specific that you’d like to achieve in parliament, a specific area that you’re especially interested in?
MA: My background is local government, I was senior councillor in Manchester for over 11 years and I’ve been appointed to The Communities and Local Government Select Committee, and I’d like to see more powers devolved away from Westminster into the localities of the community. So I’m keen on devolution, but devolution with money, genuine devolution, so local people can make decisions and shape policies which help improve communities. Other specialists are, I have an education and training background, so education is a passion, given I’ve worked with Angela Rayner the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, so it’s something I’m keen on and showing more working class children in particular get a better start in life and are given greater opportunities in life.
EK: I think politics can be a turn off for quite a lot of people. What steps do you think MPs can take to challenge political apathy, particularly amongst young people, and also how big of an effect do you think Jeremy Corbyn has had on the younger generation becoming more involved politically?
MA: Yeah, I think young people are pretty switched on at the moment with politics, and it reminds me of back in the '80s, there’s so many similarities, you know there’s a great battle of ideas and a battle between the Labour Party and the Tory Party, there’s massive similarities (with the '80s). And young people for a number of years now under the Coalition Government and now the Tories have been a target for cuts rather than investment, and I think young people have now seen a shift in narrative from the Labour Party, and they want an alternative, one that doesn’t talk about doom and gloom and austerity, to one that talks about investment, celebrating public services, investing in young people... You will know examples of that, whether it be in further education with the restoration of the educational maintenance allowance, whether it be in higher education with the abolition of fees and the return of maintenance grants which should get more working class young people there, the focus on the environment, the banning on industries such as fracking. I think all of these together have collected that narrative, that narrative of hope, ambition, and one that’s costed has really spurred people on. And Jeremy (Corbyn) talks about doing politics differently, but one thing I’d say about Jeremy is he’s probably done things consistently, and he’s probably talking a similar politics to what he spoke in 1983 to now. But I think he hit upon this in his speech (at the Labour Party conference), post- crash in 2008, people are looking for an alternative now, and it’s kind of the so called centre ground..
EK: Do you believe the centre ground has shifted left?
MA: I think we’ve seen elements of this in the past haven’t we, we’ve saw great shifts in politics in reaction to events in history, so I do think we have. Look at the Second World War, undoubtedly one of the most radical Labour governments was a reaction to, in that time, a global conflict. This time we have a reaction to another global situation and that was the financial crash, whereas its been working people, and the poorest have shouldered the burden and responsibility of a situation that was created by unregulated, unfettered financial global system, and they seem to have got away with murder don’t they.
EK: If I could turn to the Labour Party briefly in a bit more detail, a lot of politics in this country seems to be a little outdated to me, whether it be the voting system, obviously we’ve mentioned the House of Lords, and discussions on drugs and euthanasia for example, how important do you think it is that Labour can offer itself up as a radical reformist party, and not focus largely just on left wing economics?
MA: Yeah I think we can, if you’re talking about the voting system we already have emerging systems of proportional representation, as I’ve mentioned I worked for Andy Burnham on his campaign for Metro Mayor, and of course that was a form of proportional representation so it wasn’t first past the post. And you know what? Labour won convincingly…
EK: Do you think Labour will ever support proportional representation?
MA: I hope so, I hope so. That is something that I believe in, not all my colleagues do, but I think if you’re a true democrat, a democratic socialist then, to me it’s a no brainer really.
EK: To move onto some stuff outside of politics now, what do you like to get up to in your spare time?
MA: You know what I don’t have a great deal of spare time! You mentioned the balance between family and so forth, I try quite religiously, without the religion, on Sundays to devote that to family. I have a 7 year old son, and a wife, so in my case I try and block that out in my diary as much as possible. There’s exceptions to the rule, if it’s remembrance Sunday for example, but that’s what I try and do, because in parliament I’m largely down there from Monday to Thursday, and given the maths around this current government propped up by the DUP, then there is lots of late night sit ins, votes, because we want to do all we can to scrutinise this government, but hopefully bring them down and force a general election.
EK: I’ve heard a rumour, that you’re a Man United fan, is that correct?
MA: It is correct, yeah!
EK: How do you think you’re going to get on for the rest of the season?
MA: (Laughs) I think we’re going to do well and we’re going to win the premiership. My 7 year old son is a United fan aswell and we are both season ticket holders. My wife is an Evertonian…
EK: So am I..
MA: Ah okay, And all my inlaws are Evertonians as well. She was a season ticket holder previously, and the rest of them all still are season ticket holders. So obviously it was just the other week wasn’t it when we beat you fairly convincingly…
EK: Don’t speak about that!
MA: (Laughs) Yeah, I did see a constituent from the Runcorn patch as I walked in to Old Trafford, and he said ‘ah you are a red aren’t you!’ and I said ‘Yeah I am!’ and he said ‘how are you going to do?’ I said ‘We’re going to beat you!’ Anyway I was right, but no its great banter in terms of the family community. And the constituency is interesting in terms of dynamics, as you’ve got on one side Halton (Runcorn) which obviously looks to Merseyside, and is strong Everton and Liverpool contingents in terms of football support…
EK: And a lot of Man United in other areas…
MA: Yeah yeah, so Northwich is very much to Manchester so there’s a United element there, and Frodsham, actually Frodsham is probably a little in between.
EK: So for a few quick fire questions as we come towards the end, so have you got a favourite ever politican?
MA: I have been asked this before! I used to think Neil Kinnock was a great orator, and I think politics lacks that. There are very few. I think Dennis Skinner is quite a character, I love seeing him down in parliament, he’s dead earthy and he gives you some great advice as a newbie, and again he’s a great public speaker. John Smith was probably the greatest Labour Prime Minister we never had, and he was a loss not only to the Labour Party but to the nation when he was taken away from us. Inspirational figure? I couldn’t cite one person; I think there’s quite a number really. Other great orators, Michael Foot was brilliant, absolutely brilliant, if you ever listen to a speech, Bevan as well, that kind of ilk. If it was going to paint myself with anything in terms of my politics, if someone said what camp do you sit in and the rest of it... I’m pragmatic Labour. I’m certainly left of centre, and I’m a trade unionist. And that’s me; I’m just Labour through and through.
EK: So you’ve said you’re Labour through and through, but do you have a favourite Conservative politician, or one you admire or respect?
MA: No! (Laughs)
EK: (Laughs) Moving on...Favourite footballer?
MA: Favourite footballer? Gosh...there’s so many, have I ever had a favourite? Keane (Roy Keane), you know...he could be a bit grumpy at times but he was a brilliant player. Ronaldo was great to watch, really entertaining. Dived a bit too much, but he was (brilliant). But yeah, I’d say Keane.
EK: Favourite music?
MA: I suppose Indie, but I kind of like dance music. There was a bit of a crossover at one time in the late '80s and '90s.
EK: Favourite place?
MA: I’ve got to say Weaver Vale haven’t I!
EK: You can’t say anything else really!
MA: Other places like Keswick, I do like Keswick, I do like somewhere to visit in the Lake District, I think it’s a beautiful part of England. And abroad, I like Spain.
EK: And for one final question, in a nutshell – why is politics so important?
MA: Because it’s everything we do, isn’t it? It’s funny isn’t it when you meet someone on the doorstep and they say ‘ah you’re all the same, not interested in politics’, and then they go into it a string of things they’d like to do or improve, so I always point out, so to say you’re not interested in politics, you’ve got a lot of ideas, thoughts, aspirations, the way you’d like to improve things. Politics is life isn’t it really; everything we do is about politics. And it’s a great vehicle for change, and it needs to be a vehicle for progress.
Interview conducted on 29th September 2017.
Image: Eric Kostadinov