Fifteen for 2015: Breaking down the barriers

Jo Stevens is one of the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) profiled in the new Young Fabians pamphlet 'Fifteen for 2015'. You can read the pamphlet here.

Jo Stevens has a taste for campaigning. I ask her how she musters up the energy to go canvassing door-to-door in her constituency of Cardiff Central day in, day out, and the answer surprises me. “I get adrenaline from it, I enjoy it,” she says. This enthusiasm is reflected in her team’s voter contact rate. Jo claims the local party has talked to 13,000 people in Cardiff in the first three months of 2015 alone, and that many residents are being doorstepped for the third or even fourth time in the final push towards May 7.

 

According to Jo, doorknocking is the only path to a Labour victory both locally and across the country. “I really believe you can shove as many leaflets as you want through people’s doors, but most of them will end up in the bin. But if you knock on people’s doors and start listening to what they have to say, you break down those walls between politicians and the public and people start to engage.”

And it will take an engaged electorate, along with a disciplined Labour party machine, to turn Cardiff Central red. It is currently the “crown jewel”- as Jo explains- of the Liberal Democrats’ trio of seats in Wales. It is also one of the few Lib Dem seats to receive a £20,000 election war chest from Liberal Lord Oakeshott, meaning incumbent Jenny Willot holds a hefty paper advantage over her Labour rival.

How will Jo win? Hers is a two-pronged strategy. The first is mobilising Cardiff’s battalions of student voters. Thirty-four percent of the electorate are in full-time education and voted heavily for the Liberal Democrats in 2010. If this cohort of voters breaks for Labour this time around, Willot’s majority will be left in tatters.

This being the case, it’s no surprise Jo is targeting her campaign at younger people. This goes for the way in which the message is delivered as well as the message itself: “We’ve done a lot of social media campaigning and a lot of our younger members are doing some very interesting things online to connect with young people in innovative ways,” she says.

For example, the local party has plans to use the instant photo app SnapChat on May 7 to share supporters’ stories throughout the day and remind students to vote. It’s also going to be hard at work in the next few weeks putting young people on the electoral roll. “Cardiff is a seat with one of the worst records for people dropping off the register. For example, I have a ward of 14,000 where 60% have come off the register at one point or other,” says Jo.

The second prong of the strategy is a relentless focus on living standards and the scourge of low pay. “In Wales we have a serious problem where the proportion of women paid less than men is greater than anywhere else in the country, and where there are many, many women paid less than the living wage. That’s not just Cardiff, it’s the whole of Wales,” she says. For Jo, boosting the incomes of working people is the means by which Labour can effectively reduce inequality, and the key to unlocking social mobility.

“If you tackle inequality through decent pay, you stop all those other social inequalities like inequality in education, health and housing. Decent pay also leads to less household debt, which means less pressure on families and less chance of family breakdown. If you look at workplaces across the country, those where employees are organising through trade unions are better paid than those who are not. I believe promoting trade union membership and promoting fairness in the workplace will help build a strong platform for a living wage,” she says.

Jo affiliates instinctively with Labour’s mission for greater social equality. She cites one example from her childhood when she first became aware of the corrosive effect a lack of equality can have on individuals. “I grew up in a small village in North Wales, a school made up entirely of white children, except for one black child with foster parents. I remember seeing the abuse and attacks thrown at this child in primary and secondary school and thought: this is wrong.”

To Jo, Labour is the only party truly fighting for equality. And it’s a fight she is confident can be won in Cardiff Central.

Louie Woodall is a member of the Young Fabians Executive Committee

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