We chatted education, gay marriage and racism with UKIP candidate John Leathley

He wants to bring back mining

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Durham University finalist John Leathley is preparing for life after leaving the Durham bubble (or in his case Stockton).

He isn’t planning on going into one of the usual fields for Durham grads such as law or finance. Instead, rather unusually, he is standing as a prospective MP for UKIP in Sedgefield,  a small town in County Durham most often remembered as ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s seat.

John told us standing there was “a conscious choice” and explained there were a number of places within the north-east with which he felt a close affinity and could have chosen. “I used to live just on the edge of Chester-le-Street, my son was born in the University Hospital, my family now reside in Sunderland and I live on the edge of Stockton.”

Instead of gravitating to one of these “obvious choices” for constituency, he decided to take on the challenge of running in this symbolic Labour stronghold. He explained how he was part of the “first generation of Blair’s education, education, education” and that the issue of education is highly significant to him.

John, as a Primary Education student, has had ample opportunity to reflect on the potential issues within the education system.

So why isn’t he becoming a teacher? He said this was something he hoped to achieve in the future. “At the moment there are a few things I need to fix first”.

His primary education background has allowed him to “see how things work” and in his eyes the system as it stands is flawed as people “go through school and go to an employer with all these qualifications but may still lack the skills for the job at hand.”

The “ability to teach skills that employers need” is something he attaches great importance to, drawing on a recent incident to investigate the potential skills dearth.

At a recent Easington public meeting a man running an engineering business, which John Leathley attended, described how he wanted to hire young people but had struggled to find young people with the necessary skills – which was a “huge disappointment to him as he wants to give the youth a chance.”

John expressed how the issue of education was closely linked to his decision to stand as an MP and also discussed the UKIP policy to have one grammar school in each town or city, allowing both skills based and academic education to thrive. He hopes that this may help employers “find the people you need to fill certain jobs.”

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John also told us about his experience studying at the Stockton campus of the university.

“It is fairly quiet and you tend to know a lot of people,” he said.

“You see the same people every day. It must be different to Durham campus where there are a lot of students.”

He also mentioned his experiences of politics within the university – he is the the co-founder of Durham University’s UKIP society and also the current Vice President. John explained that he felt it would be a conflict of interest if he was acting as both regional chairperson and the President of the society.

John explained the “curious little story” behind the society – on the same day he submitted the application form to establish the society, so did a student on the Durham campus. This was an especially strange coincidence as they said roughly the same things in their application forms too.

He found the experience “surreal”, as well as being positive as it allowed for representation of both Durham and Stockton within the society.Current membership of the UKIP Society is estimated to be “somewhere in the teens.”

Queen's campus at Stockton. Looks alright

Queen’s campus at Stockton. Looks alright

John is also interested in local issues outside of student politics. One issue that he feels very strongly on is the “return of industry and, in the North East, particularly mining.” He believes it “financially possible” to return mining to the region and returning this part of the regional “heritage” is a laudable goal.

With regards to national politics, we asked John about accusations of UKIP being a “racist” organisation.

He said: “UKIP were initially portrayed as racist for the most part as we’ve scared the establishment. This has ceased since the public rejected the notion. While uncontrolled immigration can be detrimental, we propose the most non-racist procedure for getting into the country. It’s not fair for EU citizens to travel without restrictions when the rest of the world need a visa.”

“99.7% of UKIP members have never said anything stupid at all. The UKIP members who say stupid or offensive things make up 0.3% of our party – and when they say something stupid we kick them out. We operate a so-called ‘grandfather clause’ on admission – members of certain organisations who joined the party long time ago can stay, but new members can’t be previous members of those group.

“I think that’s fair provided they haven’t done anything stupid, racist or homophobic while in the party. It’s important to show level of compassion to those people. We’ve talked to them and made sure they are not extremists.”

Other major issues were also discussed, for example the consequences of a potential exit from the EU, but John’s most interesting response was possibly in relation to gay marriage.

We asked John if he would have voted for gay marriage if he was an MP at the time the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was discussed, and whether his views on gay marriage have changed at all.

He replied: “In 2010, possibly – but my views have kind of changed during that time, after speaking to gay people who could see why gay marriage was useful but perhaps not necessary. They have an understanding of it, and I can see the obvious conflict it’s caused.

“Gay marriage is potentially a wonderful thing. But at that time it was very high up the political agenda when I think bigger issues were more deserving of preference, such as unemployment, the recession and EU membership.”

John Leathley is evidently highly passionate about politics. He is a father and understandably juggling fatherhood, a degree, and standing to become an MP has its challenges.

He said: “I’m doing my degree for him and I’m also fighting for him when I stand for Parliament.”

The rather unusual career path John Leathley is hoping to embark on is fascinating and only the General Election can decide whether he – and UKIP – will succeed.