Bean over Britain: Matheson on school cuts, media bias and a 93 majority

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Chris Matheson is standing again in the seat he won back for Labour from the Tories in 2015. With a slim majority of just 93 votes, he faces a steep challenge. LabourList sat down to talk with him in his campaign HQ.

Why are you standing and what have you got to offer the people of Chester in Britain’s next parliament?

“I’ve been the MP for two years and in that time my team and I have done pretty well at establishing ourselves as, what we would say, as the hardest working MP the city has ever had. We’re very proud of that reputation. I’ve declined all offers to go on the frontbench to focus entirely on the constituency- partly because it’s tight, but partly because I want to demonstrate that Chester is my first priority.

“That’s coming across well on the doorsteps, I think people do value the work that we’ve done, and the fact that all my focus has been on the constituency. That’s cutting across with all different types of voters.”

How would you describe your politics?

“Labour.”

How has Brexit affected the seat?

“We think the Chester constituency voted 54 per cent Remain. If you look at some of the businesses that we’ve got here, that drive the growth – whether it’s Airbus or Vauxhall in the manufacturing sector, or MBNA, Bank of America or the big financial services, or [pharmaceuticals company] Bristol Myers Squibb – which have their European operations offices here. The fact is Brexit is going to have a very serious impact on us.

“I’m not surprised, therefore, that 54 per cent voted Remain. But, whereas there are people who are still talking about Brexit, a lot more local issues are coming up on the doorstep – the NHS, a lack of financial security and of course the dreadful school cuts.”

“Brexit is an issue, but it’s not the be all and end all that the Tories might want it to be.”

Why does Britain need a Labour government?

“Fairness, decency, prosperity. Everything the Tories won’t give [the country], we will. “Our economic growth has been crushed, and what growth we have had has been for the top one or two per cent.”

What has been the number one issue on the doorstep?

“School cuts.”

Labour faces poor poll ratings nationally so how do you deal with that locally?

“We’ve got a good reputation locally. Sam Dixon, the leader of the council, has a majority of one. She’s been dealt £57m of cuts but our Labour group has, under her leadership, done a superb job of running the city and the borough under those very difficult circumstances.

“The hard work that my office has done, giving proper, genuine representation, Labour has a very good reputation locally – we’re getting recognition for that.”

Do you think Labour receives a fair hearing from the media?

“No – 88 per cent of newspaper readership is owned by six billionaires – there is a real issue of the lack of plurality in the media, and outright bias. It’s corrosive to the quality of our democracy.”

“In the long run it cannot be allowed to continue. Of course the Tories are planning to reel back on any kind of regulation of the media. They’re rolling back not just on Leveson two [into ties between press and the police], but on Leveson itself. They are handing back a free rein to these six billionaires and their acolytes.”

When was the last moment you had to relax and how did you spend it?

“Good question! I watched half of Star Wars last night when I got home.”

Want to help keep Chester Labour? You can find campaign events near you here. 

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