Article published: Monday, November 12th 2012
Continuing our series on by-election candidates, Beth Knowles interviews the Pirate Party UK’s leader Loz Kaye, as he prepares for the Manchester Central by-election on Thursday 15 November.Loz Kaye, leader of the Pirate Party UK, is the grassroots political party’s candidate for the Manchester Central by-election. The Pirate Party began life in Sweden in 2006, three years later they held two of the eighteen Swedish MEP seats in European Parliament. What makes the Pirate Party different to other mainstream political parties is this international network, where the Labour Party has sister parties internationally such as the French Socialists, the Pirate Party was born in Northern Europe and its ideology spread due to their young and digitally connected membership base.
Social deprivation and poverty
The Pirate Party came in to existence to support digital rights, privacy, freedom on the internet and in civil society as a whole. Whilst these are all very noble causes, Manchester Central has many larger under-lying social issues including one of the highest rates of child poverty in the UK and a crippling social housing deficit, which need to be championed in Parliament. The question is are the Pirates a one-issue party, or have they learnt from the Greens and shifted focus on to how their core concern can boost the economy and close the gap between rich and poor?
“All of these problems are intertwined; it’s really about a long legacy of successive governments not having the right ideas for this city. Right at the heart is a feeling powerlessness, to be able to be listened to. The question really is about finding an economy that works, where people can get a fair share.”
Kaye went on to explain how he would work to tackle this inequality: “To address this you have to look at the financial crisis… it’s time for strict liability for the bank directors to hold them to account, to find credible sources of income – for us it’s about a transaction tax and provide growth that is about inventing our way out of it. We are not going to be able to either tax our way to solving social problems or hope that corporates are going to help us out… It’s about looking at how the economy and society meet and dealing with that as a whole.”
Turning away from big party politics is, in part, what has turned so many people on to the Pirate Party. Running in the fourth safest Labour seat in the country with lowest voter turnout Loz Kaye believes:
“A lot of people feel like the results are inevitable, in a way the whole process of democratic participation has broken down. We’ve had wave upon wave of issues like MP’s expenses, or broken promises such as tuition fees and so often I hear ’they’re all the same’. If they’re the actions people see, no wonder that’s what people express. For the Pirate Party it’s about how we address that, we’re looking at trying to restore faith in government. So we’re supporting votes at 16, so the habit and culture of voting feels more meaningful.”
He continued: “It’s also the democratic process, it’s not just about putting across a cross in a box on November 15th, it’s equally protest, criticism, and things like the right to protest have been undermined recently, as far as I can see I’m more supportive of the right to strike than the Labour Party leader.”
Housing and regeneration are some of the foremost issues in the Pirate Party’s manifesto for Manchester, making them one of the few parties to pay real attention to the overburdening private regeneration and inadequate social housing within the constituency. Loz Kaye reaffirms their commitment:
“I think housing is the most shameful story of Manchester and Manchester council in particular. Social housing is all boarded up where regeneration was promised, still there is inertia. The most urgent thing that needs to be done is the council needs to stop being pally with celebrity developers.”
He furthered: “Out of my window I can see the tower blocks owned by Urban Splash which have remained empty for two decades… private profit has been allowed to happen at public expense… we need to be holding these companies to account.”
Kaye went on to criticise what he argued was an incoherent strategy by Labour. “We need to look at a more coherent strategy for the whole city in terms of regeneration… You get these pockets whether it’s in Miles Platting or Clayton where [social housing] is thought about piecemeal. I’m not naive this would be a battle, but I could be a independent voice that is sorely needed to say ‘ let’s take a step back here’ we’re encroaching on much needed green spaces, but there is inertia in other areas which is creating blights on the landscape.
With one in five 16-24 years old now unemployed or not in education in several areas of Manchester Central, the Pirate Party has a real opportunity to find new voters by providing innovative ways back in to work or further education. Kaye discusses their plans from the grassroots of the party membership:
“One thing we want to create is cross-generational programs, where young people are brought together with older people to set up businesses… Even if you wanted to set up your own business or get a job, where exactly in the area would you?”
Kaye blamed the recent re-designing of the outer city centre and poor town planning for exacerbating youth unemployment. “We’ve created dead zones in the city… and when public transport is both expensive and not connecting up areas, no wonder young people in particular are left out on all sorts of levels. It’s like there’s privatised space everywhere and no matter what you do you’re about to do something wrong.”
Financing the ideas
Social responsibility, education and digital infrastructure are at the heart of the Pirate Party’s values, but these all cost money, while the Pirates don’t have to think about this concretely until they achieve a seat in Parliament, Kaye said that crowd-sourcing ideas has developed some tangible initiatives.
“The internet is the light spot, the good news, in the British economy; it’s bigger than construction and education, that’s why we can’t burden it with ‘the hunt for internet pirates’. Abandoning anti-privacy bills could save £2billion which could be used to build the necessary infrastructure.”
Harking back to the Pirate Party’s Scandinavian foundations he believes: “We should take a leaf out of several Scandinavian countries, by having a powerful Tax Minister within the treasury who has responsibility for looking at what we can do [on the transaction tax, tax avoidance, evasion and havens].”
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