Lisa Forbes is one of the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) profiled in the new Young Fabians pamphlet 'Fifteen for 2015'. You can read the pamphlet here.
There are some moments from our childhood that stick with us forever and shape the people we eventually become. Such moments can determine our attitudes towards work; others our attitudes towards relationships. Still others can indelibly change our outlook on society, and instil political beliefs that last a lifetime.
Lisa Forbes, Labour’s PPC for Peterborough, can pinpoint the time she first became switched on to politics. “The first time it became real to me was as a teenager in the eighties. My dad was collecting food to send to the miners, where the families of those on strike were struggling as many modern day families are now. There was a lot of unfairness and injustice happening across the country and that really fired me up to get involved.”
Lisa grew up in a working class neighbourhood where everyone was Labour from the womb, so for her there was never any question about which party would hold her allegiance. Despite its transformation in the decades following the miners’ strike, she is adamant that it remains the only party for equality in Britain today. “Labour stands up for everyone rather than the privileged few at the top. My priorities, like the Labour party’s, are to close the gap between the rich and poor and to bring about social justice. I also strongly believe in the NHS and want it to be there for my children, as it was there for me and my parents.”
These are beliefs rooted in lived experience, rather than distant observations. Lisa is a local councillor in Peterborough as well as a full-time mum. In these times of austerity her family, like hundreds in her constituency, are struggling to get by. “We’re in a situation personally where some things are getting too expensive to afford. The other week I chipped my tooth, so I went to the dentist to get it looked at and the dentist said I needed a root canal and that it would cost £450. The only alternative was to have it pulled out because that was actually cheaper! In the end I got it fixed, but it took some time as we couldn’t afford it for a while.”
Lisa says this is a good example of why we have an NHS that is free at the point of need. A chipped tooth is one thing, but what if she or a member of her family was faced with a serious health condition they couldn’t afford? What would happen then? Lisa believes only a Labour government can ensure the NHS stays a truly national, and truly free, health service for all.
In this she is not alone. Recent polls have consistently put the future of the NHS as one of the top three issues that concerns the country. Listening to those with these concerns and responding to them is key to winning the election in Peterborough, says Lisa.
“We’re at our best when we’re out there, connected to people’s lives and really understanding their issues. We fail when we think we have all the answers without going out there and listening to what people think. When we’re listening, we create a movement where people feel they can get involved and change things, and where people want to get involved.”
At some points in the New Labour years, Lisa thinks we may have lost sight of this. A government that doesn’t listen, or thinks it has all the answers will not be a government for long, she says.
When asked about her other priority - closing the gap between rich and poor - Lisa thinks we need to see past crude fixes to the tax system and tackle the problem at its source. “It starts with education. We need to afford everyone the same opportunities. It really matters that kids from poorer backgrounds go to good nursery schools. It really matters that we get good teachers in all schools so kids get a good education. My children are bright and have inquisitive minds and I want to make sure they get the same opportunities as those who can afford a private education. Then it’s about making sure the skilled jobs are there for when they leave school so that no-one gets left behind whether they take the academic or vocational route.”
However, Lisa is also clear that the cost of living crisis needs to be reversed for inequality to be brought under control. Peterborough is a low-wage, low-skill economy, meaning coalition cuts, the VAT rise and high prices really hurt. “The cost of living crisis sounds like a cliché, but it’s true - I’ve spoken to people who are living by candlelight because they can’t afford their electricity bills, or are turning to foodbanks because they’ve fallen on hard times or are simply not earning enough to make ends meet.”
What Peterborough needs is a big boost to get it on its feet again. Lisa thinks a new university would fit the bill nicely. “We’re a large and fast growing city, and one of the only ones of its size in the country without its own university. So Peterborough’s students tend to leave the city for universities elsewhere and not come back once they’ve graduated as we don’t have the types of jobs they want. If we had our own university, campus and all, we would be able to attract new businesses which offer higher skilled, higher salaried employment”
It’s impossible to fault Lisa on ambition. Few candidates would place the goal of founding an entire new university as an election centrepiece. But then few candidates are quite like Lisa Forbes