Gair Rhydd meets: Jo Stevens MP

By George Cook

After being elected to the Cardiff Central constituency in 2015, Jo Stevens has already developed into an MP who has campaigned on several significant local and national issues. Gair Rhydd was fortunate to conduct an interview with her about some of these campaigns and other big issues affecting people across the country.

Having forgot her snow boots which meant she couldn’t go to Davos, we kicked things off by talking about the significant impact that the Save Womanby Street campaign has had economically, culturally and socially. ‘This campaign is a really good example of what happens when you get all parts of the city and the community together’, Stevens stated, and it was clear that she was very proud of what the community has achieved.

Their achievements on the campaign that started as a ‘little thing in Cardiff Central’, are now being implemented in England, and hopefully in Scotland, through the Agent of Change Principle. This bill aims to protect the music industry by making sure that those responsible for a change, are also responsible for the impacts of that change. As the overall campaign to protect the live music industry goes national, Stevens is passionate about continuing her involvement on a UK wide basis.

‘Over the last decade about 35% of music venues have closed’, and Stevens wants to prevent a situation where the damage to the live music industry ‘goes too far you can’t recover from it.’ From the Digital, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry, Stevens wants to see a ‘recognition from government about the value, both economic and culture, of music and arts to the British economy.’ Like many of us, Jo has spent many nights in the clubs and bars down Womanby Street and is determined to protect its significant place in the fabric of the city.

After discussing some local issues, the conversation began to focus on the national scale and in particular the role of banks and corporations, as recent events have demonstrated that RBS ‘has behaved appallingly, despite being part-owned by the taxpayer.’ Speaking in Parliament last week, Stevens was keen to protect the interests of small and medium businesses ‘which are the backbone of the economy’. She touched upon the power of big corporations and how they need to be ‘more people focused’. Stevens was supportive of limiting the salaries of CEO’s of big corporations because it demonstrates how things have become extremely ‘unfair’, for both consumers and employees.

Drawing upon the notion of unfair and unjust pay, Stevens talked about women’s pay at the BBC which has been a very topical issue of late. As we spoke, it was reported that some high-profile figures at the BBC had volunteered to take a pay cut in order to reduce inequality between staff. ‘At last, in the past few months…women’s voices collectively are starting to get heard’, she stated, and Stevens was keen to highlight the important work of other men, who have been ‘allies of women’s equality’.

Despite the interesting conversation there was an elephant in the room, something we hadn’t touched on yet: Brexit. With debate about a second referendum intensifying, Stevens was quick to joke that she ‘takes everything Nigel Farage says with a pinch of salt’.

Britain’s relationship with the European Union is an issue that she feels very strongly about. After campaigning strongly to remain in the EU, she was even willing to forsake her position in the Shadow Cabinet over the decision to trigger article 50. When Stevens went to look at the impact assessments under heavy security, she was ‘frightened at the Wikipedia cut and paste job that had been done’. She even went as far to say that ‘my 16-year old’s son worst homework was more detailed than what I saw in those documents’.

The possible impacts of Brexit on students and universities overall was something that she was keen to highlight, and Stevens seemed concerned about the opportunities for studying abroad and the economy, which benefits from EU nationals studying here. Critical about the lack of clarity provided by David Davis and Theresa May over their approach, Stevens did acknowledge the clear way Brexiteers like Rees Mogg articulate their views, whether she agrees with them or not.

As negotiations progress, Stevens said ‘it is our job to scrutinise and challenge’ the government’s approach.

Something that affects all of us here at Cardiff and students across the country are tuition fees, and Jo was sceptical about the ‘commodification of higher education that prices out huge swathes of society’ and the way students are treated as ‘customers’. Stevens is genuinely passionate about ensuring that education is a right and is accessible to all people, regardless of background or geography.

Recently, its been announced that Trump will be visiting the UK later this year. Stevens said, ‘he could come to Cardiff, see what we’re all about, but I don’t want him to come here though by the way’.

Since his election, she noted the power of populist politics where ‘truth doesn’t seem to matter anymore’, and was ‘hopeful that there will be peaceful protests taking place, where she went on to say: ‘and I’ll be there with ‘em!’

Focusing back on the local area, Stevens was ‘really disappointed’ at the fact Cardiff was unsuccessful in its bid to host European football in 2020, despite several high-profile sporting events being situated here previously. On her hopes for the future, Stevens stated ‘I want to see Cardiff as a Living Wage city, I want to see more investment here for transport and infrastructure and for students who come here to do their degrees to stay in Cardiff’.

As a closing note, Stevens said:

‘I represent Cardiff Central, and the university, its students and teaching staff are at the heart of the constituency and I’m here to help. If people have got issues that they need help with, I’m there for students and for constituents so please get in touch’.

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