Tuesday, 5 May 2015

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Maajid Nawaz

We caught up with the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, Maajid Nawaz (pictured left), who hopes to become an MP for the constituency in the 2015 election, for an interview, focusing on education, Hampstead school, among other things. As many current Year 12's and 13's will be eligible to vote next year, we thought it relevant to inform readers, and how better to do that than asking our Lib Dem candidate ourselves:

What are the thoughts on The Hampstead Trash and what we do?
I think it’s a fantastic effort by the students to get involved in journalism and writing by discussing topical issues. It’s important because it sets young people up for engaging in politics. This is particularly important in the U.K because we have the biggest age gap between younger and older voters. Anything that gets young people to engage positively in politics is great, so I very much encourage it.

What do you think of the state of education at the moment, nationally and in Hampstead and Kilburn?
I believe that a lot needs to be reformed and that there will be a number of unpopular decisions that need to be made. Such as student fees for instance - the current system is unsustainable. Ultimately it’s because the vast majority of students don’t have to pay their fees back. This means the system is debt ridden. While there does need to be changes, I also believe that our expectations need to be met. The old model under the Labour government of 100% university admission is unrealistic. We need to place more value on skills. I think that investing more in apprenticeships is very important. Locally at Hampstead and Kilburn there is a severe shortage of school places and that is something that needs to be addressed immediately.

With the election on the horizon, what would you change about education in the area if you were elected?
I would certainly encourage the growth of schools in the area, and part of that would be the free school system. However, I don’t take an ideological position on free schools, I think that whatever works for an area should be pursued.

What would you offer the Young people of Camden, particularly those at Hampstead, outside of education in the future as an MP? For example, youth clubs and similar schemes?
I’ve spoken a lot about the need to raise the voting age to 16. We need to do more to reduce the voting gap between young and old, and statistically we know that younger people who vote are more likely to continue voting throughout their lives. Another thing that needs to change is the time of year elections take place. During May most young people are busy with exams, whether it’s GCSEs, A-Levels or university exams. Is it any surprise that we have a hugely disproportionate number of young people voting? It is not true that young people are not politically engaged. It is true that they feel that their concerns politically aren't being met by the establishment. Therefore, I would be passionate about moving elections outside of exam season and holding them at another time. Another thing that I would like to see developed is e-voting. If we can, transfer thousands of pounds, meet the love of our life, and spark revolutions using smart phones, yet we cannot vote, it tells me that the system is seriously out of touch from reality. So the ability to vote using smart technology is another proposal that I am passionate about achieving. On the social side, I’ve spoken a lot about the need to decriminalise certain drugs. I frankly do not see the difference between weed and alcohol, except that alcohol is worse for your health than weed is. So these are the sorts of proposals that I would stand for in my reform agenda.

Obviously, we have to mention your foundation, Quilliam. Firstly, with regards to extremism of any type, and with a person's right to free speech in mind, do you believe that these views should be allowed to exist in our society?
Well living in a country where there is freedom of speech, non-violent extremist views would exist by definition. However what we have yet to cultivate is a civic society response to the rise of Islamist extremism. So what we stand for is not banning extremists’ speech, but instead creating a civic society led resistance to this movement.

In 2013, as you may or may not know, our ex-head writer Kinnan Zaloom was expelled from the school and his prospective University, as well as the police, were called about his role in the Trash. Do you believe what the head did was right?
No I thought it was absolutely preposterous. I remember the story when it broke and I was shocked by it. Clearly the head teacher failed to appreciate Kinnan’s satirical blog posts. But in the end it is a larger indictment of the head teacher than it is of Kinnan. I applaud him and if there is anything that I can do for him I am happy to help.

At Hampstead School there is a new building set to be built as of July this year, however, unlike the original grant that was to be given in 2010, the school has no say over any matters pertaining to it, with all decisions going to Camden Council. What do you think of this? Is this a good thing?
I would be instinctively concerned about the government taking more and more control over schools. That’s why the introduction of a free schools system is designed in a way that would break up this level of monopolisation.

At the moment there are not enough school places in Camden, especially the Hampstead and Kilburn area. Would you enlarge local schools that already exist, such as Hampstead, or build new ones, such as the proposed free school in West Hampstead? Or is there a better option?
I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I think that a combination of all these approaches needs to happen to meet this serious shortage of school places.

Do you think there should be more forums for free speech, like the Hampstead Trash, in schools?
Yes, absolutely! Freedom of speech is one of the corner stones of my values and anything that inspires young people to engage and speak freely should be encouraged. In fact, I recently wrote an essay titled On Blasphemy to highlight the need for a resurgent free speech culture.

Do you think there is enough done to raise political awareness in schools?
No, unfortunately not. As I've mentioned previously, I believe that lowering the voting age and moving the election away from exam time can help. Currently young people are unable to immerse themselves fully in the culture of elections, even those that come out to vote are unable to because they have exams hanging over their head. However moving the election to a different time would certainly help young people become more engaged with elections.

In January this year we exposed a public document that contained the personal details of over 400 students and their parents that had been left on a school server. What are your thoughts on this? Should we trust state bodies more or less with details such as this?
Well trust is the wrong question, you should never trust anyone with anything. That is the beauty of checks and balances in a democratic system. Therefore, maybe we need to focus on strengthening the check and balances against state institutions in the digital age.

Should students have more of a say in their education, or is it best left to the adults?
If you mean more consultation between students and teachers, or the creation of more student representative posts in schools that can consult with teachers and parents, or students giving feedback through alternative means, including the Hampstead Trash, then yes absolutely yes!

Over the past year-or-so we have implied our Head was, to name but a few, an ex-Ugandan dictator, a Maoist, a Stalinist, a Santa Claus that smokes Year 7's and a decapitated head that ran a gambling ring. Have you ever been given some funny/unfortunate nicknames? 
Well, when I was in school Neighbours the TV show was very popular. There was a character on the show called Madge, so very quickly Maajid soon became Madge. But unfortunately for me Madge was a woman. And perhaps more unfortunate for me was that the name stuck for quite a number of years. I do try get people to call me Magic, but let’s be honest, that’s just wishful thinking!

In today's society, we've found that posting a picture of your vagazzle on Facebook can give you more power and influence than a Member of Parliament. Any eye-catching plans coming up in your campaign? 
Well that happened last year when I tweeted an image of the Prophet. The image sparked a lot of controversy, I received death threats and there was a petition released to get me de-selected, which received over 20,000 signatures. Obviously they failed, however a year later on a more serious note, Paris happened, and people realised exactly the line in the sand I was trying to draw.

For those Hampstead students who will be eligible to vote for the first time in 2015, why should that vote be for you?
What I want is for the students to consider the principles I stand for– I am standing on a very firm re-assertive liberal platform, and that’s liberal with a small ‘l’. The idea is that I’m campaigning around issues connected to free speech, the erosion of our liberties, and the increasing polarised societies that we find ourselves in. My aim is to bring people together on a set of liberal values, with a small ‘l’.

In the interest of impartiality, we will be interviewing as many main-party candidates as possible in the run-up to the election, to hear their views as well. Thanks must go to Mr Nawaz for making time for this interview.

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