Bean over Britain: Mary Creagh on Brexit, police cuts and winning Green votes

Mary Creagh is fighting to keep her Brexit-backing seat in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, having been MP there for 12 years. She had a 2,613 vote majority in 2015, but this perhaps doesn’t fully tell the story of how tricky the campaign is in the seat – UKIP are not standing this time round, and last time they got nearly 8,000 votes.

Creagh took the bold move to vote against article 50 in parliament, and her strong record on environmental issues mean the Greens have not put up a candidate this time. If their 1,069 votes from last time go to Creagh then that would be a welcome boost in her fight against the regressive alliance.

What have you got to offer the people of Wakefield in Britain’s next parliament?

“I’m standing again because I care passionately about this city. I’ve been the MP for 12 years, we’ve done a lot for the city, no matter who’s in power. When Labour was in power we delivered a hospital, flood defences. Once the Tories got in I lobbied hard for a new railway station – I got a whole group of people together to regenerate Kirkgate railway station, which was the worst railway station in Britain. We’ve just got our university which is about to open, this September. We’re the largest city in the country that doesn’t have a university, so I think that will really transform life chances here, and tackle some of the underlying poverty and under-qualification that we have here in this city.”

“I’m also standing because I think it is really important we have a strong opposition in parliament. We have crucial negotiations coming up over the next two years and Theresa May has called this snap election to capitalise on where Labour is in the opinion polls, and is running it like a presidential campaign. I think it’s really important that we have Labour MPs returned who remember Labour in government and are able to challenge the Conservatives on what their plans are.”

“And not challenge them, but [for example] in my work on the environmental audit committee, we’ve set out what we think needs to happen to protect the environment after Brexit. That’s constructive engagement. But we need people returned who can actually talk about those things and who can speak for the North in a way that makes sure that the North’s voice is actually heard.”

How would you describe your politics?

“My politics are Labour through and through. They are rooted in my experiences as the daughter of Irish parents who grew up in the Midlands. Education transformed my life.

“I’m also someone who believes that women’s voices need to be heard in parliament – and I’ve become more emphatically convinced of that over the last year than ever before.”

How has Brexit affected Wakefield?

“Wakefield voted 63 per cent to Leave. It has meant that people who were formerly traditional Labour voters, voted UKIP at the last election and voted to Leave. A key task is to win those former UKIP voters back which is something we’re working very hard on – to make sure that they understand that UKIP not standing in this election is them handing a free pass to the Tories.”

UKIP are standing down to back the Tories, but the Greens have not fielded a candidate in order to help you. How do you feel about the progressive alliance?

“I’m very glad the Greens aren’t standing. I’ve worked very closely with Caroline Lucas on the environmental audit committee on everything from the third runway at Heathrow – we were about to start a big air pollution enquiry, we have worked on a big chemicals enquiry, working out how we regulate chemicals after we leave the EU. We’ve done all sorts of stuff together

“I’m very glad that in recognition of my environmental work, both on the committee and as shadow environment secretary that the Greens aren’t standing. I think, particularly in this seat, where 1,000 people voted Green at the last election, it forces people to think – ‘actually she’s pretty Green. She cycles, she’s been going on about this stuff for the last 12 years, we’ve heard her on this’. I’ve supported a lot of local green groups.”

“What’s unfortunate is we have an independent candidate standing against me, I think that’s an unfortunate turn of events that clearly benefits the Conservative party.”

Why does Britain need a Labour government?

“People in this country work too hard – we work the longest hours in Europe. They work two and three jobs in this city to make ends meet, and they’re not paid enough.”

“We need a Labour government to build new homes, to help young people in this city to get on the housing ladder and get a decent house. We need a Labour government to put more police on the streets – 10,000 more police on the streets which I think is extremely important, and to invest in the NHS and to review Tory plans for the NHS. We’re going to see A&Es shutting over the next three or four years, we’re going to lose £1.1bn for the NHS and social care out of West Yorkshire over the next four years – we already have an unsustainable situation in the NHS here, that’s just going to tip it over into crisis.”

“No government should be winning elections when those sort of letters are going out.”

What has been the biggest local issue?

“Depends who you’re talking to really – different sections of people have different issues. I would say the pensioners are really concerned about the winter fuel allowance, about the chaos in Tory social care plans. There’s a concern on council estates around decent homes for people to live in – many tenants are living in overcrowded accommodation, or are part of the ‘hidden homeless’, with their families, sleeping on sofas.”

“There are big concerns from anyone who works in the public sector – every police officer that I’ve spoken to on the doorstep has warned that you can’t cut 1,200 police from West Yorkshire without seeing some change. Every schoolteacher that I’ve met has warned that you can’t cut millions of pounds from Wakefield’s budget and not see some change.

“The people who are on the front line of these public sector cuts are concerned about their own futures and their family’s future. People are worried about Brexit, they know it’s a big deal, and they want the government to get on with it and they’re frustrated about the election being called in the middle of what should be the negotiation period. They want to see progress and certainty.”

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

“I’m very clear that it’s my name on the ballot paper here, not Jeremy Corbyn’s. People often think that they’re voting for a party leader or a government, but I’m very clear that they voted for me two years ago, and they’ll be voting for me again.”

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

“I think we’ve had some own-goals during this campaign.

“If it had been a Labour government who had done what Theresa May has done on social care, there would be howls of rage from the papers. The fact that the Daily Mail took three days to work out that their readers were howling with rage shows just how keen they are to see a Conservative government returned. We’ve got to counter it.”

“Our press is owned by very few people who have an interest in the Conservative party carrying on.”

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

“God – not a lot! I’m missing my bike that’s for sure, normally I’d be cycling 12 miles everyday, but I’m getting my exercise by tramping around 7-10 miles a day.”

“It was my son’s confirmation last week so we had a massive tea party with family and friends, so that was really nice and relaxing. I had a Sunday off where I did nothing except eat roast chicken and watch an hour of TV, I watched Gogglebox.”

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