Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell says Labour can’t promise tuition fee refunds if the party wins the election

We spoke to him about mental health and more


John McDonnell, the Labour Shadow Chancellor and Corbyn’s right-hand man, visited Liverpool’s St George’s Hall this Friday to rally the Scouse troops for the up-coming General Election. The Tab managed to bag an exclusive interview with the man himself and we spoke to him about mental health, tuition fees and the famous Red & Blue divide.

We know one of your policies is to abolish tuition fees, do you have anything planned to reimburse fees for current and past students?

We’re in the process of preparing the manifesto so I can’t pre-judge that. What I can say is that Jeremy and I have campaigned for the last few years on abolition of tuition fees, we voted against them. The argument we’ve put forward being that education is not a commodity to be bought or sold, it’s to be given from one generation to another. It’s our ambition to scrap them. We want an education service like the NHS which is free at the point of use throughout one person’s life. That means investing in skills training as well as Higher Education. There are lots of students now who are under a lot of pressure working lots of hours in jobs during their studies. Trying to combine working and studying hours together to get some income and that’s unfair. When I went to university, we went on a grant and you worked during the summer months. It’s different now from our day.

How do you hope to encourage more young people to vote?

The key thing for us over the next couple of weeks is to make sure people are registered. Part of the problem is the way the election has fallen. A lot of students will be going back home and they’ll be registered at university, so we’re doing a registration drive which we are launching on the 29th April, particularly aimed at young people, that will help ensure as many people as possible are properly registered.

Recent media exposure has highlighted a growing trend of mental health problems at universities in the UK – particularly the news that five students have committed suicide at University of Bristol this academic year. Mental health problems, varying from anxiety to depression, are common to many students at the moment. What would be done by a future Labour government to tackle the rise in student mental health issues? 

This is really important to us. We’ve been arguing for increased investment in walk-in facilities for mental health. It has been trialled elsewhere and has been particularly effective for young people where they can actually get access to a reputable counselling service when needed. There are increasing worries now that although there are promises from this current government and has been a cross-party campaign, the delivery has been extremely poor and must do better.

It’s about investment in these sort of services to help people at their most vulnerable but also before more long term problems arise. It’s about investment in different therapies. We thought we had a breakthrough last year when there was announcement of more money but that hasn’t seemed to come through yet. With cutbacks to the NHS overall, it’s meant that mental health has become a serious problem that needs to be solved.

St George’s Hall was packed for the rally on Friday Night

Young people are struggling more and more to get on the housing ladder, what would your government do to tackle lack of affordable housing in this country? 

The key issue for us is building on a large scale. We’ve launched our campaign for a million homes to be built, with half of those being council houses. We’re also concerned about high levels and rates of rent in central areas of cities. We’ve been campaigning for rent controls for a long time; if you look at what’s happening in London, rent is consistently high and continues to go through the roof.  Another issue for us is that on new developments that are taking place in some cities, investor firms are often involved and they don’t publish their plans or codes. We’ll seek to re-correct that in our government.

You were born in Liverpool – do you manage to come back up a lot? 

I do actually, I’ve got cousins who live near the city centre and I was grateful to see they were in the audience tonight. I’m a Red so I go to Anfield from time to time, it’s a great atmosphere there. We try to come up for weekends up here also because it is a great city and the social life is also fantastic too. It’s nice to come up and see the family too.

What’s your favourite thing to do when you come up here then?

I like going to the theatre, art galleries and of course the music scene too – the Liverpool Phil is amazing.

We may find you down at the Cavern Club at some point in the future then?!

*laughs* That is my era actually, so definitely.

Register to vote here by the 22 May to vote in the General Election on the 8th June.