Gisela Stuart, MP for Edgbaston, is in the race to become mayor.
In the second of a series of student-led debates hosted by students from the School of Social Policy, the Labour MP Gisela Stuart, visited the University of Birmingham to discuss her party’s policies on Friday 30th January.
Encouraging students to vote.
Stuart spoke of Labour’s mission to improve the NHS and housing, the latter of which “should be the main starting point” in Labour’s manifesto. But she stressed throughout that her main message was encouraging students to vote in the upcoming general election on 7th May 2014.
Stuart said “you can vote against me or even for me, but please do take the opportunity to voice your opinion”. This plea comes after increasing political apathy from 18-25 year olds, highlighted by the surprisingly low turnout at the event.
She is the incumbent MP for Birmingham Edgbaston which she has represented in Parliament since 1997. However, in the last election she won by a mere 3.1%, or 1274 votes, making Edgbaston – traditionally a conservative area – the 54th closest seat and justifying her ‘Survivor of the Year’ award.
With such a tiny majority, Stuart realises that the student vote could really make the difference this year in what will the “the most unpredictable election” in decades.
Lowering fees to £6000.
The main focus of questions by the audience predictably concerned tuition fees. Stuart was controversially in favour of lifting the cap on fees, as indicated by her votes in the House of Commons, despite not admitting so in our interview.
She claimed in the past that grants were insufficient and the “money has to come from somewhere”, principally from a rise in fees.
On Friday, though, Stuart agreed with her party leader Ed Miliband – who she incidentally voted against in 2010, preferring his Blairite brother David for the leadership position – that fees should be lowered to £6000.
In her eyes, the Tory’s project has failed, seeing as non Russell Group universities are charging the same rates, undermining the plan to have a price differentiation between institutions depending on quality.
Sustaining the success of the Birmingham Baccalaureate.
The discussion soon turned to what she could do for those living in Birmingham (the city with the fastest growing youth population in Europe) and those graduating. Stuart responded that she hopes to sustain the success of the ‘Birmingham Baccalaureate’ giving teens the appropriate skills and abilities for a job in business.
She also recognised the demand for more trainee programs, like the BBC journalism scheme, to be held in Birmingham rather than exclusively in London or Manchester.
However, in the week of Syriza’s victory in Greece, the topic of the EU could not be avoided. Gisela Stuart is German and at one point helped draw up the European Union Constitution, so has strong views on the subject.
She feels that Britain “are in danger of being left by” the EU, and with the implementation of the single currency, Euro countries require deeper integration, but the UK appears to be stuck on the side and consequently losing “all our friends”.
As expressed in the interview, she is keen for Miliband not to commit to an in-out referendum yet, and commented that if any country should leave the EU, it must be actually Germany, allowing other members to set on policy.
Possible Coalition partners?
When quizzed over her thoughts on the election, and which coalition she’d prefer out of the Liberal Democrats or SNP, Mrs Stuart clarified that Labour cannot start thinking about the possibility of a coalition because they will lose the “trust” of the electorate and so she will fight until the “last second” to secure a majority in the Commons.
Though pressed into an answer, seeing as the public deserve the right to know which party Miliband will choose given the inevitability of another hung Parliament, Stuart valiantly stood firm and denied to admit her preference.
Although, she did interestingly note that it will all depend on whether the socially left-wing Liberal Democrat MPs (who have more common ground with Labour) hang on to their seats, or if the fiscally liberal ones succeed instead.
Stuart ended by reiterating her initial message: register to vote, and make it to the polling station come the election in May.
The next session will be held on Thursday 19th February with Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell of the Conservative Party, the former Chief Whip involved in the famous ‘pleb-gate’ row.
Photo Credits: Adam Gerrard/SWNS