Monday, 5 June 2017

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Tulip Siddiq

Tulip Siddip MP has been the Labour Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn for the past two years since she was elected in 2015. Vying for the seat again, we caught up with the Labour candidate to ask her views on some of the pressing matters for students and young people in this country.

In your two years as an MP, what have you done for students and young people in Hampstead and Kilburn? If re-elected, what do you hope to do?
I have been extremely proud to represent young people in Hampstead and Kilburn over the past two years. I have called to have the voting age to be extended to 16-17 year olds, I have campaigned against cuts to schools, I have argued against increases to tuition fees, and I have campaigned for investment in apprenticeships and local community centres. The opportunities of future generations have been limited under this Government, and if re-elected, I am determined to continue campaigning on their behalf.

Schools budgets, especially in inner-London are being slashed. What will you do to reverse this damage?
In Camden, schools are facing cuts of around £690 per pupil, and in Brent, the figure stands at around £650. This is totally unacceptable, and will mean increased class sizes and teachers being laid off. In one school in our area, headteachers are even asking pupils to fill empty tubes of Smarties with 20p coins to fundraise for the school. It shouldn't have to be like this, and if re-elected I will demand that sate schools are properly funded.

What are your views on grammar schools? Should the state system be selective or completely comprehensive, or is there a happy medium?
I believe parents should have the widest possible choice of education for their children, so a healthy mix of institutions is the best for achieving that. However the Government has to prioritise spending at a time when budgets are squeezed, and I believe it is appalling to allocate hundreds of millions of pounds on grammar schools at a time when comprehensives are struggling to afford basic materials. The purpose of education is to increase social mobility and to reduce inequality. By cutting for the many and spending on the select few - the Government have abandoned that purpose.

Recently a cross-party committee denounced the government's free schools programme as ‘incoherent’ and ‘poor value for money’. What is your policy on free schools? Should we encourage them or is the money better spent elsewhere?
Again, I support parents having a range of educational institutions to choose from when planning their child's future. However, a fixation on one type of institution is unfolding at the expense of others, and this has been the case with free schools. A key finding within the report was that the Government is wasting billions on building free schools where they are simply not needed. It is my view that a schools building framework that benefits all areas across England is not beyond our grasp. It is simply a matter of introducing the proper safeguards, ditching ideological obsessions, and having fair priorities.

Do you think there is enough done to raise political awareness in schools? I think teachers do a fantastic job of engaging pupils throughout the key moments in the political calendar. It's hard to ask for more formal 'awareness raising', not least as teachers have to balance these efforts with the curriculum and other duties. However, there remains a huge challenge in increasing teenagers' participation in politics, and I believe it is the challenge facing civic institutions everywhere to encourage them to truly understand the importance of voting.

Authority on the construction and design of Hampstead’s new school building was supposedly seized from the school by Camden Council. The construction and transition have been massively disruptive, and the building itself has numerous major shortcomings. Do you think students and parents should trust a Labour council?Over the past two years, I have taken on thousands of cases - many of which were complaints over planning applications and proposed developments. In all of those cases, even when they are extremely critical of the council, I have always ensured that residents have been given the best possible chance of having their case settled. Since 2010, Camden Council has experienced huge cuts - of up to £100m - from central Government. I believe they do a great job under difficult circumstances, and I would always argue that local people are better off under a Labour-run council.

You resigned from your role as Shadow Education Minister and defied Jeremy Corbyn's three-line whip for the sake of voting against a bill to trigger Article 50, even though it was highly unlikely that the bill would fail. Do you feel that you prioritised your image over accepting the inevitable? Do you feel this action may have compromised your capacity to campaign for Corbyn nationally as well as yourself locally?In the EU referendum, over 75% of local residents voted to remain in the European Union. As their Member of Parliament, I am responsible for representing their views in Parliament. It would have been entirely unforgivable for me to vote for Article 50, as it would have betrayed the people who sent me to Westminster, and would have betrayed my staunchly pro-European views.

I do not accept that there is anything inevitable about the course the Government have chosen to take on Brexit. They are pursuing a hard Brexit, with no guarantees for local European residents or for local jobs. My decision to resign from my role was done in order to give the loudest possible opposition to this course. I have no regrets about doing so, and I have no regrets over disagreeing with my party on this issue. Residents can expect more of the same if I am re-elected in June.

What are your thoughts on the voting age in Britain?It should be reduced to 16.

Do you think the Government's current approach to mental health, especially as it concerns young people, is sufficient? What would you change beyond increasing funding?
At least 6,700 mental health nurses and doctors have been cut from the NHS in England since 2010. The Government have started to catch up with the idea that this is a pressing people for young people, but their actions send out the entirely wrong message. Beyond giving mental health professionals and services the funds that they need, Labour would also ensure that mental health receives parity of esteem within the framework of our NHS. Far too often, mental health issues are trivialised and made to feel secondary to physical health. Particularly for young people affected, this is completely unacceptable and I am proud to be in a party that takes a strong line on this.

The past 15 years have seen many radical reforms and major policy changes in education, many of them untried before their introduction. Do you think it’s fair for governments to change education policy so frequently?
No, I do not think it's fair. Over the past seven years, the burden on teachers and parents has been there for all to see, due to repeated changes to the curriculum and reductions in funding. A period of calm and sustainable funding would be extremely welcome.

Labour have been characterised as a weak opposition to the current Tory government, allowing sweeping new legislation to pass with relative ease, most importantly radical education reform. What can you promise to reassure young voters about their educational futures?When the Governing party has a majority in the Commons, it is extremely difficult for an opposition to challenge their policy programme - including on issues such as education. That is why it is important to elect Labour MPs who will provide the strongest possible voice for our area in Parliament. Not only will we give you a voice in the corridors of power, but we will ensure that such a voice gives people far more hope than we have seen under the Conservatives.

Labour have promised that, if elected, Educational Maintenance Allowance for low-income families and the University Maintenance Grant would be reintroduced, as well as giving every primary school child free school meals. How does your party propose we pay for all this?All of our policy proposals are fully costed and the detail can be found in our manifesto!

Sexting is reportedly widespread amongst young people at the moment. Do you think new legislation is necessary to address both the privacy and safety issues with this trend?Sexting among children is skyrocketing, with children as young as 13 starting to use dating and hook-up apps. Far more needs to be done to equip young people with the resilience and knowledge they need to stay healthy and safe in relationships both off and online, and to spot the signs and feel confident to report manipulation and exploitation.

Many young people feel that none of the major political parties represent them. What would you say to them?It is hard to think of a time when the main political parties in this country have been so distinct. I would say to all young people to look carefully at what each party is proposing, and see whether they have your best interests at heart. It is my view, of course, that a Labour Government will do more for young people than any other party.

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 Ms Siddiq for making time for this interview.

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