Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Welsh politics’

A NEW VOICE FOR MONMOUTH: An Interview with Labour Candidate Catherine Fookes

In T. Chinnick on February 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Catherine-Fookes-head-and-shoulders

Labour AM Candidate for the Monmouth Constituency Catherine Fookes.

In September of last year Monmouth Constituency Labour Party selected Catherine Fookes to fight the seat in the Welsh Assembly elections next year.

Born in Dorset in a small village near Blandford, Catherine grew up on a farm before moving to London and then Bristol. But it was only after marrying her Catalan husband 15 years ago that they decided to move to the countryside and raise a family. “We craved space and a great environment for our kids to grow up in.” She says and so they decided on Monmouthshire.

She currently works as a freelance food campaigner for the Organic Trade Board and ‘Sustain’, promoting organic food. She previously worked for the Soil Association campaigning against GM and with the Pesticides Action Network to raise awareness about the hazards of pesticide residues on food. Her work in this area has lead to changes in Government policy.

I spoke to Catherine about her life, politics and issues of concern to Clarion readers.

When and why did you join the Labour party?

“I joined two years ago as until that point I was pretty disillusioned with politics in general. I also used to sit on a Government Committee and political party membership at that time was not permitted.

I felt following the recession that instead of those who caused the crisis – the bankers and financial institutions – being punished those on low incomes were being punished instead. It made me incredibly angry and once I realised that debating on twitter, writing letters to the papers and shouting at the TV wasn’t making a difference I felt it was time to get active in my local Labour party.”

What had been your political engagement prior to that?

“Part of my work in the 90’s was lobbying parliament on environmental and food issues including getting better support for organic producers. I also went on the Stop the War demonstrations. That’s another reason I didn’t join the Labour party earlier. I have also been a school Governor and active in the community – for example setting up a food co-op. I view those things as political with a small “p.” I’ve always been active – when I see a problem I try to solve it.”

It’s fair to say that Catherine didn’t expect to win. Standing against Monmouth’s three time former MP Huw Edwards her success can largely be attributed to the energy and determination with which she campaigned

“I worked very hard to win and I called up every single Labour Party member who had a telephone number and wrote to those that didn’t. However I knew I was up against a person who has a lot more experience than me and has a proven political track record, so I have to say I was surprised I won. I think what people like is I have new ideas, new energy and I’m not steeped in politics so I can relate to ordinary people.”

This energy and dedication is in sharp contrast to her Conservative opponent Nick Ramsay who, amongst other things has fallen asleep in public meetings and claimed for a flat in Cardiff despite only living 40 minutes away. Monmouth is blighted by being represented by two Conservatives: Ramsay in Cardiff Bay and David Davies in Westminster. (Not to mention a Conservative County Council). But whereas Davies is never shy about his views, some of which are very extreme, what exactly does Ramsay stand for?

“I am not sure what Nick Ramsay stands for as we don’t hear about his political beliefs in the way we do with Davies. With David Davies we know he’s anti–EU, anti-immigration and you could say anti-environment with his views on climate change, but Nick Ramsay keeps his views close to his chest which is strange for an Assembly Member.”

But not being as outspoken as Davies doesn’t mean he isn’t a conscientious AM – what’s he done for the Monmouth Constituency?

“Apart from writing letters to Ministers I am not entirely sure what he’s done for the constituency – I’ve asked many local groups and charities and have not heard of a single campaign he’s championed. I believe he’s become complacent and he does nothing of any consequence for the constituency. We deserve better.”

But for all her evident qualities Catherine faces an uphill struggle to get elected. Monmouth Labour has never won an Assembly election before, in a Conservative leaning constituency and with an incumbent Welsh Labour Government what chance is there that they will this time around?

“I think people are fed up with the Conservatives locally so we have a great chance. The Tory led council has resulted in our education system in Monmouthshire being in Special Measures*; our Tory AM is invisible and our Tory MP really shocked people this summer with his nasty comments on refugees. So I think we have a great chance.”

You mention the fact that Monmouthshire is in special measures, how will you make sure it improves?*

“As I’m a school governor** and also a Mum I can see at first hand the effects of our Tory Led councils cuts on education. Head Teachers and staff are facing real challenges keeping their schools going. I want to work with them to ensure they have the resources they need.

None of our secondary schools are designated ‘green’ by Ofsted and given the prosperity of the region they really should be. Local schools were also found to be failing children on free school meals. There is a huge gap between them and other children. The County Council (MCC) have been complacent and haven’t really pushed schools enough. I would put pressure on the MCC to get the standards up.”

Jeremy Corbyn (JC) has talked about wanting to narrow the “red water” between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. What could he and English Labour learn from the Government in Wales?

“We’re not just slashing and burning like the Tories, we’re targeting investment. What JC and English Labour could learn from us is how to target effectively like in Jobs Growth Wales which has created 15,000 jobs – so while we’ve got less money we’re still investing in our economy.

Our school system is better because it’s non-selective and we’re not creating academies, which is creating a two-tier system in England.

We’ve also reduced tuition fees for Welsh students regardless of where they’re studying, introduced the Domestic Violence Act, not to mention introducing free school breakfasts, prescriptions and bus passes. So we have achieved so much but we need to get the message across.”

Nick Ramsay, David Davies, Mark Harper and the Prime Minister have all attacked the Welsh NHS. Ambulance response times, cancer care and waiting times in A&E are all worse than in England – are Tory criticisms justified or is it just cynical fear-mongering?

“Comparing England and Wales directly is an over-simplification. Our population is far more dispersed and we’re a poorer country. Part of it is scare-mongering – some of our waiting times are too long, doctors and the health board are desperately trying to get them down but using the NHS as a political football isn’t helpful. But we’ve protected the NHS by having fewer PFI contracts and increased funding – we spend £120 more per head on health and social care than in England.

One of the things that my meeting with local health experts made clear to me is that we have a fixation on targets – but we can’t allow targets to become an end in themselves. We have an 8 minute response time target for ambulances. If someone breaks their leg it’s not important that an ambulance arrives in under 8 minutes but if someone suffers a heart attack then we need the ambulance to be there as soon as possible. It’s about prioritising.

We have a GP and nurse shortage in the Monmouth constituency – we’re recruiting nurses from overseas which is a real shame when we have unemployment in our area. We need to make sure careers advice includes what public service jobs are out there, especially in the Aneurin Bevan Health Board because there are probably brilliant school leavers who could fulfill some of these roles but they need to know the jobs are there.

Co-operation between public services and local schools is a very simple idea but it doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.”

Do you oppose fracking in the Forest of Dean?

“I do. It’s just another sticking plaster, another investment in fossil fuels when we need to be moving toward renewables. And it’s another example of where the WLG has lead the way.” (The Welsh Government has introduced a moratorium on Fracking).

What can Forest Of Dean residents do to help your campaign?

“Write letters of support to the press, talk about why they support Labour to their friends. But most of all we need people to come and campaign with us!”

If you want to help get Catherine elected please contact Su McConnel on 07817076232 or at sumcchey@gmail.com

catherinefookes.com

monmouthlabour.org

*MCC has been taken out of special measures since this interview was conducted.
** The Governing Body of Cross Ash School of which Catherine is a member has recently won ‘the Quality Mark Bronze Award’.