Chris Matheson is the Labour Party candidate for the election on June 8th:
Tell us about yourself and why you are standing
I grew up in rural Cheshire and I live here with my family, this is very much home. For the last 2 years I have been MP for the City of Chester and I think I’ve done a decent job. I’ve certainly put my back into it. The level of representation I have given people has been higher than my predecessors.
How would you describe your record as MP ?
I’ve only been MP for 2 years but in that time we have had over 200 constituency advice surgeries, right across the constituency, not just in the city but in the villages as well. We have done 10,000 letters and I sign off all my letters individually, I read everything. I have done 30 school visits to Westminster. There are some big ticket things as well, in only 2 years. I managed to get Virgin Media to cable here, including some of the rural areas, so that’s fast fibre broadband to the premises. We are opening up the Castle site, its pretty grimy at the moment, but that was my project and bit by bit we will get it back into public use. I am working with independent traders in the city, particularly restaurant and cafe owners, to boost their support, getting them to work together and stand up against some of the big chains. All in all working with businesses and the local communities we have achieved a lot.
What are your top 3 priorities for Chester over the next 4 years
Housing has to be a real priority. We see that the bank of mum and dad is going to lend about £6.5 billion this year to people to help with their mortgages. You’ve got adults living at home with their parents, they can’t afford to get a house because they can’t afford the rents. Meanwhile private developers are throwing up student housing wherever they can, they get the maximum return. I want a housing policy that reflects the needs of Chester residents.
We know that the fracking issue hasn’t gone away. A priority is to make sure fracking doesn’t take place in the countryside and I will say more about that later.
I want more investment for the hospital . There is still a cloud over the Countess, with the leaked emails suggesting that moves were afoot to merge with Arrowe Park and Clatterbridge. I’ve been resisting that and I want to be able to confirm its not moving, and I want to win extra money, particularly for its A and E department.
What does Chester do well and what can it do better?
I think we sometimes kick ourselves. I hear lots of people comparing us to York and saying that we don’t sell ourselves. But actually there’s a great heritage and tourism offer if you mix everything together, the zoo, the racecourse, the walls, its a great place for a day visit and perhaps we could do more to promote ourselves.
We have problems with transport and traffic, we all know. Whether its major arterial routes like the M56 or local traffic snarl ups, and not enough parking. I have been working with other members of Chester Growth partnership to try and overcome these infrastructure problems. I think we need to be more confident about what we have to offer. Chester is a great place to visit, its a great weekend destination, and with Storyhouse finally opening after all these years, I think we’re on the up at last!
How will Brexit affect Chester?
Like I said at the time of the referendum, Chester has been a European city for over 2000 years since the Romans first came. Look at some of the big employers here like Arbus, Vauxhall, or Bank of America, they have big international footprints and we need to protect them in these difficult times that we’re facing. Other issues for example the English in Chester language school, its one of the best in the country, we need to protect it. We need to welcome foreign people here. There are lots of families around here that have EU citizens in , and obviously the Labour party want to give them full residency straight away because its so inhumane to leave them dangling and use them as bargaining chips in this way.
Why is your party leader , Jeremy Corbyn the best choice for PM ?
Because he is a thoroughly decent bloke. One thing I can say for sure about Jeremy Corbyn is he is decent and honest. What do we know for sure about Theresa May, you can’t trust a word she says. 8 times she said she wouldn’t call a general election, and she did. Jeremy is decent and honest.
What can we do to encourage turnout amongst younger voters?
I think young people realise they got shafted in the referendum, so we need to tell them and make it clear to them that their future is at stake and this is their chance to get it back and reassert themselves. Its a chance to vote for a more decent, outward looking tolerant country, the kind that I want to live in.
The university is rapidly expanding , with 19,000 students. What do you think the pros and cons are of this ?
I am really pleased that we have a university that is growing in size and in academic reputation, its good for the city and its reputation internationally. Its also good for the economy of the city bringing in jobs and economic activity.
The problem is not the university, its private developers throwing up student accommodation taking up land that should be used for affordable family or single person housing, the kind that we don’t have enough of in Chester. The planning law as it stands means the developers hold all the cards. I don’t blame the university I groan and I blame the planning laws.
What else can we do to help the homeless in the city ?
Homelessness has doubled since 2010. Night follows day, dogs bark and under a Tory government homelessness increases. People see this in the city centre as well. There has to be a housing policy that includes single person accommodation, there isn’t enough anyway, and the bedroom tax has made it all the more rare. For people that are homeless, and have problems that have caused them to be homeless, for example addiction problem, we need more support. Acqua House addiction centre slimmed down immensely after it was privatised by the previous council, although it still does important work. The main thing is having a proper housing policy that suits the needs of individuals and families, and not the needs of developer’s.
Food bank use has increased over the last 5 years ,what should the Government do to solve the problem?
Theresa May made the astonishing comment that there are “complex reasons” why people use food banks. It’s not true, one they’re hungry and two, they haven’t got any money to buy food. This is Chester in the 21st century and 5-6000 families still use food banks across Cheshire West. Most people who use them are in work and yet they’re not being paid enough. We need an economy that works for all, not the few. People need proper secure jobs, not zero hour contacts and they need to be paid a proper wage.
How would you describe the record of the current government?
Abysmal. There are very good at saying one thing and doing another, hoodwinking people with slogans. But here’s the truth, they have borrowed more since 2010 than any Labour government ever, despite the fact they said they would eliminate the budget deficit by 2015. Wages haven’t grown at all, but the number of people in temporary , agency or zero hours jobs has ballooned. Homelessness has doubled, family’s insecurity has greatly increased. Meanwhile they have cut taxes for city bankers and the super rich, people earning over £150,000 a year. But VAT has been increased.
What is your personal political ideology ?
You work hard, and you’re fairly rewarded. You treat people decently. We have a society based on fairness where the resources are shared out fairly. We try to achieve equality as far as possible, looking after people who can’t look after themselves, and of course we have to look after the planet as well.
Fracking was a big issue in 2015, will it be again ?
Yes it will, the frackers haven’t gone away. We know they are still circulating around the areas in Upton and Mickle Trafford in prime Cheshire farmland. The reason it hasn’t happened is because of the political opposition I have led, but crucially the residents groups and the campaign groups who have risen up and said they don’t want it to happen. The Tory government has changed the law, so even if the local council refuse permission to frack that can be overruled by Conservative Ministers. I don’t think they should be allowed to do that and I will continue to oppose fracking. It’s Labour party policy nationally, not to allow it.
In terms of the developments across the city, bus station, Northgate development, how would you balance the “historic city” with the need for modern amenities?
The city has to keep on growing , and if you look at the history of the city and the archaeology its been layer upon layer of different periods. Our city has always been developing, but central to our tourism and heritage offer is very much the history of the place so we really have to be careful with it. There are planning restrictions in the centre. I think the developments we are getting, particularly Storyhouse and the Northgate development hopefully soon, will add to that and complement that. Its been delayed twice and the city has suffered as a result. It has to be something that complements the existing offerings and gets people into the city centre, who might want to go elsewhere, for example to Cheshire Oaks or Broughton or to Liverpool One. Done right it will work and it will work well.
What is your stance of Fox hunting ?
There are no circumstances under which I would support fox hunting. As someone who grew up in rural Cheshire I reject the notion that it is somehow an essential aspect of country life, and how typical of the Conservatives that they want to take us back 20 years or more instead of looking to the future
Would you dig up Deva?
Probably not on the basis there’s not very much there. I never liked Dee House and if it had happened to fall down during the fire I wouldn’t have been sad. The people who know about these things tell us it has architectural and heritage merit in its own right. The real problem was when the law courts and the car park was built over the other side all those years ago. It didn’t help that during the middle ages the amphitheatre was dug up and destroyed and used to build St John’s Church. We have to work with what we’ve got, we weren’t allowed to knock down Dee House so we had to make it work for the city now rather than leave it ramshackle. So the council’s plans, which of course are cross party plans , we should go ahead with them.
Video- why should we vote for you ?