‘Not voting is ridiculous’

The Labour and Co-operative candidate for Winton East, Mike Goff, on the cost of living, trade unions and why Russell Brand was wrong

Labour by-election candidate Mike Goff has had less of a profile during the Breaker’s recent string of interviews with Winton East hopefuls.

To recap: the Lib Dem had a pop at the Conservative, the Conservative warned about the UKIP protest vote, and the UKIP candidate aimed his fire at Europe. So where does Labour – nationally, the official opposition – come in to this?

The Winton East council seat was made vacant following the resignation of Conservative Anniina Davie in October. Six candidates are competing for the position in time for polling day on Thursday, after which the winner would join the Tory-dominated council.

The seat has flipped between the Lib Dems and Conservatives over the past 10 years, and factoring in the mainstream media’s fascination with the various eccentricities of UKIP, it seems to make sense to take them seriously as well. But Labour shouldn’t be written off completely, despite the council ward’s blue and yellow hue. There’s the possibility of the right wing vote being torn between UKIP and Conservatives, and that the potentially large student vote will remain unforgiving of the Lib Dems following their infamous U-turn on student fees.

“Can I win?” said Goff, “Yes – we do see the possibility.”

“In 2010 one Labour candidate came within 87 votes of winning a council seat here. That was a good one for us.”

“Can I win? Yes – we do see the possibility” – Mike Goff

Could UKIP help Labour by weakening the Tories? “That’s one of the questions we have discussed,” said Goff. “UKIP would take a few Tory votes, but Labour’s as well. Perhaps it’s an unknown quantity.”

He added, “The Liberal chap also seems to fairly popular with some people.”

“But some people are saying get this lot out and get Labour in.”

Union membership

Goff, a retired hospital worker and union rep, is a far cry from the polished Labour career politicians you are most likely to see on BBC Parliament. He talked passionately about his background with the GMB union, which began in 1980 when he worked at Christchurch Borough Council and continues to this day.

Union membership “had the advantage of putting forward views to the management. I became a steward until I was made redundant.”

“I worked for a while in Sainsbury’s, got a position in Bournemouth Christchurch Hospital, where I worked on laundry. I have a background in motor engineering, but I just couldn’t get that type of work any more.”

“I later worked in housekeeping department and became a GMB steward there as well. I represented hospital workers for about 15 years until I retired.”

Goff is officially standing as the Labour and Co-operative candidate. “The Co-operative is a very good system, giving ordinary members a say on how the co-operative works. The money goes into the pockets of members, not directors.”

“Russell Brand said you don’t need to vote, but that’s ridiculous” – Mike Goff

So where on the Labour Party spectrum does he stand? “Ed Miliband gets some things right at times and wrong at others,” Goff said.

“He’s right on freezing energy prices for example, and wrong on trade unions,” he said, referring to Miliband’s plan to stop block Labour membership in some Labour affiliated unions, including the GMB.

“The system at the moment is very fair – if someone becomes a member of a trade union they automatically pay a small subsidy to the Labour Party.”

“That’s what funds the Labour Party to a large extent. We’re the only party that does represent working people like that.”

But “we have tiffs here and there, especially when Tony Blair was in power”.

Goff said that his Conservative rival, Pat Oakley, was in the Labour party until around the time of the 2010 general election.

“He never came to any meetings, a lot of them don’t. He seemed to go when Labour lost the last election and he joined the Tories.”

Cost of living

What are people’s concerns on the doorstep? “The cost of living is a big problem,” said Goff.

“Twice today people were talking about the bedroom tax. One woman was in tears and up in arms about it because she might lose her accommodation, and another lady was saying similar things.

“And with energy companies jacking up their prices, Ed Miliband’s idea of freezing prices is quite good actually. It’s just about being able to afford everything.”

Unlike much of the UK, public spending cuts by the council seem quite moderate in the area. I asked Goff if the town had it quite easy by comparison.

“We’ve had Remploy closed up here – we fought hard against that,” he replied, referring to the Poole Remploy factory which employed people with disabilities.

“There have been cuts to the NHS and hospital staff numbers, local government as well,” he added.

“Of course, we’ve also got shops boarded up and small businesses going to the wall.”

But aside from the national issues, what could Goff do at a local level?

“My priorities are to represent local people,” he said. “Already people want me to visit them with various problems that they’ve got. I want to do more than what I hear the Conservatives have been doing – not very much at all.”

He listed street cleanliness, pot-holes in the road and a lack of car parking areas as issues he would like to concentrate on.

Students

“Some people also complain about student noise,” he added. “But if you have a problem like that you can contact the university, they can bring a bit of pressure to bare on the students.”

Goff is a keen advocate of the Living Wage Foundation, which advocates the voluntary rate of £7.65 per hour to be paid instead of the national minimum wage of £6.31.

“We need to get the living wage adopted more universally really. Some members of government want it as well, even David Cameron and Boris Johnson,” he said.

“It means people not going to food banks, and not going to government saying ‘I’m only on the minimum wage so I need benefits’. I think the council would be in favour of that.”

Goff continued, “My message has been very well received on the doorstep, even if people have not made their mind up on who to vote for. In order to make the council more democratic, we need to put up our tally to nine Labour councillors. That would be great, we could have one on each committee.”

The Winton mix of students and long-term residents sometimes causes friction in the community. Goff said that specific student accommodation can help ease such tensions.

“We do welcome students into our town. Like tourism, it’s very important,” he said.

“It’s also important they are offered some designated accommodation. Opposite where I live there were protests when they first built student accommodation there,” he continued, before adding, “Not by me.” He added that there had actually been very little nuisance from the student halls once they were being used.

In the wake of comedian Russell Brand’s much-publicised call for people not to vote due to his distrust in politicians, I asked Goff why he thought students should go to the ballot box on Thursday.

Russell Brand said you don’t need to vote, but that’s ridiculous,” Goff replied.

“Most students I meet don’t say, ‘Why should I vote?’ They say, ‘Oh, well I better get registered’. It’s quite positive really.

“Some people also see MPs fiddling expenses and think, why should I vote for these people?” – Mike Goff

“But yes, some people say they don’t vote any more. I say, you’re allowing governments to be elected without your taking part in it. If nobody voted you would get a government of the extreme right.”

But could he see why so many young people are disillusioned in mainstream politics?

“Yes – they see on the news and Prime Minister’s Questions both leaders arguing hammer and tong at each other, it’s a big off-put really,” he said.

“Some people also see MPs fiddling expenses and think, why should I vote for these people?”

“My answer is that Westminster is a reflection of society. In society you get a certain percentage of people willing to fiddle. The important thins is to find them out and take action against them.”

“A lot goes on at local government – not on the surface, but it’s very beneficial to society, you’ve just got to have that,” he concluded. “If you didn’t have that you’d have a dictatorship.”

The Winton East by-election takes place on 14 November. Also standing are Matt Gillett (Liberal Democrats), Laurence Fear (UKIP), Sandra Hale (Green Party), Pat Oakley (Conservative) and Kathleen Mortimer (Independent). Follow the links above for further interviews in this series.

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