‘Climate change is more important than Brexit’ says Soton’s Labour candidate
Southampton Itchen is the most marginal Tory seat in the country
Southampton Itchen is the most marginal Tory seat in the UK – it was won by just 31 votes in 2017, after three re-counts were needed of the vote. Now it's been identified as a key seat that could decide the outcome of the General Election.
Simon Letts is the man taking on this challenge for Labour.
He ran for the seat in 2017, slashing the Tory majority from over 2,000 to just 31. Simon is a secondary school science teacher, who was on the Southampton City Council for 18 years, including five as Leader.
The Soton Tab spoke to Simon to find out more about campaigning for Labour and his plans for Southampton:
How does it feel to be campaigning in the national spotlight, in a seat that's been said to be key to swinging the election result?
It does change the way the campaign is run, because you do have to deal with more interest than maybe some of the other 636 seats in the country. We've had newspapers and news crews follow us round while we were canvassing, so that adds an extra dimension to the campaign. You just have to "roll with the shots", as it were.
Why is it so important that students and other young people vote?
There are two main reasons why young people should vote.
This will be the election that effectively decides our future in relation to Brexit – there won't be an opportunity to go back. That is a decision that will have 10, 20, 30 year ramifications so it won't only affect young people now but for decades into the future. This election is probably the most important one for probably 20 or 30 years for young people to get involved in and engage with.
The second reason is that there's a clear division between the parties. I think Labour’s got a really positive agenda for young people and students, not only around investment in education and the end of tuition fees but also giving extra powers and investment into the housing sector.
Many young people will probably not be able to buy a house like the people of my generation were able to do because of the cost of housing, so giving people extra protections in the private rented sector as well as building cheaper, affordable public housing will be a big issue for people. The £10 minimum wage I expect will be attractive for many young people, as well as our other proposal to give a free bus pass to the under 25s.
Of course the most important issue of all is climate change, which is far more important than Brexit in my opinion. Taking positive action on climate change not only creates new jobs and opportunities but will hopefully play a part in safeguarding the very existence of our species on this planet.
Many of your constituents are students at The University of Southampton and Solent University. How will a Labour government help students?
We do need a government to back young people and invest in their futures and in their lives. People ask why we are spending so much money on cancelling tuition fees, but the reason is young people are being asked to spend an additional 7 per cent tax rate over and above what everybody else pays just because they got an education.
That seems entirely unfair to me, and young people would of course be spending that money in the wider economy which would probably be an economic boost rather than a drain.
You’ve taken Friends of the Earth’s Climate Action Pledge. How do you aim to further the importance of sustainability in your own constituency?
The first issue is the sustainability of where we live. We've got a lot of old housing stock, and many students will live in probably poorly insulated and poorly provided for properties. Investing in the housing stock in the city would mean better insulation and solar panels.
The University of Southampton did a study that found the city could generate a quarter of our own electricity by just putting solar panels on south-facing roofs. Initiatives like this would have a big impact locally.
In addition we are of course a coastal city so we're more prone to the potential risks of sea level rise than many other places. We will need an investment in flood defences for the city and I would like to think we can come up with a way of defending the city using a barrage that enables us to generate clean electricity via tidal energy. This would be something that I would be really pushing for under a new Labour government.
And finally we need to plant a lot of trees – because trees are the best machines ever invented for absorbing carbon dioxide!
Thanks to the Labour members who joined persuasive conversations training tonight – more talented members ready to get out and canvass to turn Itchen red! I hope to see you all out there ✊? #labourdoorstep #VoteLabour pic.twitter.com/ooCh1V5j4R
— Simon Letts (@LabourLetts) November 6, 2019
A quarter of all prescriptions in Southampton are for antidepressants, which is shocking. With student mental health in crisis, what is Labour planning to do to help tackle this in the UK and in Southampton?
I think if we don’t invest in young people’s mental health in the early stages of potential mental illness then not only is it a disaster for them but it’s for society as well. Unless you address it early the potential for long term and significant issues is far greater.
The solution isn’t to put people on antidepressants just because it’s cheap, the solution is to have an engaging counselling service which allows people to talk through their issues and to seek resolution by human contact.
In Southampton, we need to build on our mental health services. Principally the investment would go into people on that rather than infrastructure or buildings. It's about employing the right amount of people with the right amount of training to pick up the slack and give people the choice of care.
Lots of people that I've spoken to find it very difficult to get any alternative other than the antidepressants, so it’s a long-term investment in staff training, using the talents we’ve got in the city to help each other.
What's your proudest achievement?
I was Leader of the City Council for 5 years here. There are the two things on different ends of the spectrum that I'd be most proud of in my time as Leader.
I’m a real supporter of what I call "high quality public spaces", like parks. My proudest achievement is the re-development of the city centre: Building the new West Quay and developing the public space around our brilliant city walls and allowing people to enjoy that. I think that will be a lasting thing that will be here for many decades.
On the social side, I think being able to keep all of the city’s Sure Start centres open. Despite 10 years of austerity we've kept those resources open in all of our communities to support families at the very start of children’s lives.
Thank you, Simon.
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