Jess Mayo is a businesswoman and local political activist. She is a member of the Green Party of England and Wales and is the party’s candidate for the parliamentary seat of Manchester Gorton. The UK general election will be held on 8th June 2017. We sat down with Ms Mayo at the Green Party’s headquarters in Chorlton for the first of a series of interviews with left-wing general election candidates in this constituency. Here is what she had to say.
So to start off with, why are you standing in Gorton?
I’ve lived in Manchester for a very long time and I’ve lived in Gorton for quite some time. When I had my son I needed some help and so I asked the health visitors, but they said that they had no money so we can’t help you. I moved to one road outside of Gorton and the health visitor contacted me, they were in my house that week and I had more support than I could possibly imagine. What I couldn’t understand was why, when I lived on that side of the road, I couldn’t get help and there are thousands of mums in Gorton who are not receiving any help. I am petrified about my children’s future and the solutions are out there. All we need is the political will to put those solutions into practice.
Why should people vote for you over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party or George Galloway who is running as an independent candidate?
On Manchester City Council, there are 96 councilors and 95 of them are Labour. Where’s the accountability for them? There isn’t any. The problems that I experienced and others like child poverty, NHS privatisation, little social housing have been going on since Blair. They can’t pass it off as a Tory problem because it is embedded in what they do. At the Green Party we do positive campaigning, highlighting our policies rather than focus on what other parties are saying. People are scared of the Tories so its tempting for people to vote Labour and not think about it. With George Galloway, he has a bit of celebrity appeal, and I think his objective, which I support, is to go after Tony Blair. The Greens are solutions based and want to make the kinds of change that our one, award-winning MP has done.
Since Manchester City FC moved away from the area, many businesses have noticed a substantial decline in economic activity. What will you do, in your capacity as a constituency MP, to improve jobs and investment in Gorton as opposed to other parts of Manchester?
The Council are looking to increase business rates, so first of all you can block that. Let’s lower business rates on independent shops and raise them on the multinationals and I think that will help the local area. There are lots of independent shops in Gorton and that would really help. Also, you can promote public bodies to use local businesses. If you are getting married in the Town Hall, then you go say that the people who try to get the business to do the flowers for that are local contractors. You can also clamp down on rogue businesses that don’t play by the rules, but that would be more of a national approach.
Rusholme is largely located between the University of Manchester’s Oxford Road and Fallowfield campuses, and there is a perception among students that the area is somehow ‘Other’. How will you, as the local MP, work to improve community cohesion?
It’s looking at having the funding for residence associations, so that incorporates everybody. We also need to make sure that people feel like Rusholme and other parts of Gorton feel like home so that people are invested in their community. For example, it’s not a law that housing has to be fit for human habitation and so landlords have they’re role to play in this wider discussion about community cohesion. But it’s not just students and local people, the back end of Rusholme is very middle class so its also about improving community relations within Rusholme as well.
The Wilmslow Road is one of the key bus routes in the whole of Manchester, and whilst public transport is important in reducing pollution the flow of traffic reduces the air quality in Rusholme and Fallowfield. How will you work as a constituency MP to improve air quality in the area?
Our air is constantly over the legal limit for pollution and so this is a serious issue. The public transport in Manchester is great in some areas but terrible in others, and this is down to poor planning. Manchester actually made me want to learn to drive because I couldn’t take two hours to go ten minutes down the road. Rather than impose a congestion charge like they have in London, I’d put money into public transport to reduce pollution that way.
On that point, Manchester City Council is currently completing a project to boost cycling in the city. Do you support the Go Dutch campaign and will you seek to improve cycling safety routes in other parts of the constituency?
I completely support the Go Dutch campaign. When I turned 17 I went to live in Holland to be an au pair and when I saw their cycle lanes I understood how it made it easier. The cycle network was designed so that you are never in danger, and we need more of this in Gorton to boost cycling in the area.
Although gang-related violent crime has declined in recent years, there remains problems with mugging and burglary in Longsight, Rusholme and Fallowfield. How would you address these problems?
You’re right that it has declined in recent years and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It makes my heart bleed because at a certain age you can develop in different ways, but if you are told there is no funding for anything that you then what will these young people do? Young people need places to go and develop there self esteem, and because society is just about getting a job and the media is full of hate, we will start getting these problems. A whole load of these social problems have economic causes and if there was funding available for community projects crime would drop.
Turning to national issues, one of the most important political issues in the country right now is Brexit. I, along with two of my political heroes Tony Benn and Bob Crow, advocated for advocated Britain withdrawing from the bloc. Why should left-wingers like myself vote for a candidate whose party is so openly pro-EU?
In this area it was 62% Remain and one of things that got me about the referendum was the lies that were told. As I said I used to live in Holland and then I moved on to France and Italy, and everywhere I went I was treated as an equal. The prospect of those doors being shut and freedom of movement ending really worries me. I like the concept of not having any borders and being able to move around freely is a gone one. But it’s also about sharing knowledge. If scientists were able to freely share knowledge across borders, imagine how evolved our societies would look. For us it’s a question of reform from within rather than pulling out.
One of the consequences of the Brexit vote appears to be a constitutional headache for Theresa May. The Scottish Parliament has now voted in support of Nicola Sturgeon pursuing a Section 30 order to have another independence referendum. The Scottish Greens support independence and so will you, if elected, work with the SNP in Westminster to facilitate another referendum?
It would depend on what is going on at the time. Apart from oil and gas and a few other things, there is not much difference between the Greens and the SNP. I do support them but I also don’t want to see a Tory government so it’s hard to say what I would do if I was elected.
Something that is not often talked about is the consequences for other parts of the UK. What would you do, in your capacity as an MP in Westminster, to decentralise power to other parts of the UK like Northern Ireland, Wales, and the English regions?
Devolution to me just means lack of money. I do support pushing powers away from Westminster and to the people but the Tories have done it in a way that shifts blame away from them. If a left-wing government was the ones pushing devolution, I’d be all for it. But, when the Tories have been doing it they’ve sold people a lie as a way of cutting funding and moving the blame onto other people.
Aside from Brexit, there also a number of other pressing issues that I want to touch upon. For many people living standards are either stagnating or declining, and part of the reason is that their wages are often not sufficient. Would you vote in Parliament for making the minimum wage a living wage? And if the government chooses not to act, how will you promote the living wage in the constituency?
Of course and there are lots of things we can do on a local level. Take the Council’s bin contractors as an example, we can make sure that that contract goes to a company that pays its staff a living wage. This can be done so that all local government contracts go to living wage employers. Another thing we can do is the 10:1 ratio, so that public service contracts go to companies where profits are shared more equitably. I’d be more than happy to stand outside Tesco and demand that they pay a living wage, but we can act locally to encourage people to shop elsewhere until these big companies start paying their workers a good wage.
On the subject of raising wages, how will you resist the Trade Union Act and fight to increase unionisation within the constituency?
Boosting unionisation would have to be done on a case by case basis. It’s not something I’m too familiar with, I’m more focussed on the living wage. However, generally speaking, it goes back to your human rights. Workers’ rights are part of human rights and should be seen that way.
Recently the Greens announced a new policy to reduce workplace stress, and this was to introduce a three-day weekend. Given how many people are on hourly pay and do shift work, how will this policy work in practice?
Obviously it depends on where you work and what you do. We work the longest hours in Europe so getting people to work less would be better for them. We have a society where some people work too much and some don’t work at all. It would take a little while, but the idea is that there are problems with the way things are and this is a way to change that. This rigidity in work is not serving us.
Housing is also a massive problem across the country. As a resident of Manchester, it would take some avoidance to not see the rise in homeless in recent months. As a local MP what would you do to tackle to housing crisis in Manchester, and what would the Greens try to do at the national level?
One of the things we can do is we can double the rate of council tax on empty properties. At the moment they have reduced rates and pay no council tax but actually we need them. By doubling that we create an incentive for landlords to put people in those houses. We can also look at VAT. There is no VAT on new-build properties but the standard rate is paid on reappropriation. In terms of renting, we need to set up a landlord registry so that there is some oversight. There are some landlords who are shocking and some who are great. It’s about separating the wheat from the chaff.
Another area where this government is clearly failing is on the NHS. Not a day goes by without a story in the paper about A&E crises, nursing shortages, or the declining morale of doctors. What will the Greens do nationally to pressure the Tories into action to protect our NHS?
We put forward the Reinstatement Bill and that was to abolish competition, to re-establish public bodies, to make it publicly accountable and to restrict the roles of commercial companies. My step son has asthma and so I’m familiar with A&E. Let’s be honest, the doctors are shattered and there aren’t the resources there. I don’t know how the Reinstatement Bill didn’t get cross-party support. Too many people who profiteer from the failures of the NHS are people in power, and we need to point that out and talk about it more. We also need to repeal the Social Care Act.
An area that is related to health is that of drug policy. Obviously this is a highly complicated issue that has consequences for the criminal justice system and the NHS. Just briefly do you support the decriminalisation of all drugs, as has been the case in Portugal for a number of years?
Yes, completely. Drugs are everywhere, that’s the reality and the War on Drugs is creating more drugs. We can put our heads in the sand as a society or we can accept what is and deal with it. Just look at the success that Portugal has had. Even among teens there has been a 60% decline in the number of people who have even tried drugs.
And as a quick supplementary question, would you vote in parliament for the legalisation of marijuana, especially given the fact that it is empirically less dangerous than tobacco and alcohol?
Yes. The Greens support a law based on facts.
Finally let’s look at foreign policy. What is the Greens’ policy on Syria?
I would have to take advice on what to do but the ultimate goal would be to end conflict. I don’t support air-strikes and the whole of my party is united on that point. We need to get humanitarian aid to those in need, and the Greens are also united in providing aid.
I have argued in favour of creating a humanitarian service that would essentially be deployed overseas by the government to build schools, hospitals, roads etc. to prevent countries falling to extremism. Is this an idea that interests you and something that you would promote if elected?
I can’t say because you see so many conflicting reports about what humanitarian agencies achieve in the aftermath of disasters as well. It’s not that I don’t want to help it’s just that I don’t know what the results of that would be.
One of the most obvious consequences of the Refugee Crisis, many of whom have come from this part of the world. I have argued that countries like the UK should construct refugee camps domestically to take some of the pressure off of countries in the region. Do you support such a policy?
The Dubs amendment should be honoured. We were supposed to take in 3,000 refugee children and then the government rolled it back to 300 and we’ve only got around 150. In terms of refugees more broadly, they are welcome. For people who can travel, Britain should take in as many as we can. We know that migrants make a positive economic contribution and they bring a vibrancy to communities.
Saudi Arabia’s lukewarm response to the Refugee Crisis has been shameful, and the country’s indiscriminate bombing in Yemen has largely been under the radar. Do you believe, as I do, that Saudi Arabia should be subject to an economic boycott rather than the recipient of British weapons?
Yes I bloody do! Stop selling them arms and sell them Theresa May instead. Saudi Arabia should be boycotted because it’s an absolute disgrace that we champion business ties with them.
Do you support Kurdish independence as a way of changing the dynamics of the Middle East?
I would have to look at that in more depth and I would also have to have trusted sources to defer to. I would like the rest of Syria to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of conflict. I’m happy to seek advice on that issue.