Article published: Tuesday, November 13th 2012
For the third profile in the Manchester Central by-election series, Beth Knowles speaks to Marc Ramsbottom, the Liberal Democrat candidate.
Marc Ramsbottom is preceded by a reputation in Manchester as former leader of the Liberal Democrats on the council, councillor of 12 years (before losing his seat in May’s local election) and the main opposition to the Labour incumbent, Tony Lloyd, in two General Elections in 2005 and 2010. Despite the haemorrhaging of Liberal Democrat seats in Manchester, Ramsbottom remains optimistic about the future of the party and maintains they are the only real opposition to Labour in the forth safest seat in the country.
As a candidate for one of the main three political parties and one that has always advocated proportional representation in favour of increased democracy in politics, I asked Ramsbottom why he thought voter turnout was the lowest in the country in Manchester Central.
“The city centre has a very high proportion of properties that are rented, many of those people are not permanent residents or people who don’t see themselves as permanent residents. They probably feel like they have less of an inclination to vote in an area where they don’t have long-term commitments.”
He said he agrees that the 70 year Labour majority wasn’t helping people to feel like their individual vote counted and continued:
“There are also a large group of people that for some time have been completely turned off by politics and politicians and don’t think they have any relevance to them and their lives, unfortunately Manchester Central is a constituency where there are a high number of those people perhaps disengaged with not just politics but society generally.”
Due to the rise in tuition fees, much of the Liberal Democrats’ core young supporter base has abandoned them; I questioned how Ramsbottom was engaging younger people with politics now his party is in government:
“I’ve got an incredible number of young people involved in my campaign… people who have almost become interested in the Liberal Democrats because we’re in government… There’s much more recognition that if you’re a member of that political party, or part of that campaign, you might actually have a say and influence in what the country does.”
Poverty and Deprivation
The Liberals’ supposed ideological foundations are built upon the trickling down of funds and gradual closing of the immense gap between rich and poor. Given his alleged interest in breaking down social barriers and sharing wealth more evenly, I asked Ramsbottom why he thought Manchester Central had one of the highest levels of inequality in 2007 according to Centre for Cities.
“The reasons behind it are a mixture of social and economic, the get rich quick economy we’ve had over the last 30 years which was based fundamentally around the financial services sector, has given a lot of people a lot of wealth and has left a lot of other people behind who are not on that ladder at all…”
Expanding on why Manchester specifically suffered the effects of inequality Ramsbottom added:
“Where I’d be slightly critical of the council is although Manchester has weathered the recession fairly well and been a boom city in terms of new businesses that have come here, the emphasis has been that that will trickle down to other people. What’s tended to happen is the new jobs that have been created are for people who are already skilled, there’s been very little job creation for people who need it most in the constituency.”
After spending twelve years on Manchester City Council, Ramsbottom is well aware of the burdening social housing waiting list, now he’s looking at the issue from outside the council with a national perspective I asked him how he plans to work with the council to tackle the housing deficit.
“Build more social housing, there needs to be investment, the government is putting this very high on their agenda. It was a lamentable failure of the last government that the numbers of social housing dwindled down to virtually nil.”
He continued “I don’t think there should be any area closed off around social housing, where we say ‘oh we can’t possibly do that’… We need to look at the way we provide and allocate social housing so there’s proper fairness.”
I questioned whether he thought the council was right in its drive for private regeneration in favour of social housing and if their new initiative to secure the development of new homes with the local government pension fund was the right next step.
“In an ideal world no it wouldn’t be right, in the past of course councils and governments would fund them [council houses], we’re not in that world anymore, we’re in a desperate financial situation where there is no money available so you do have to look at innovative ways of being able to achieve the same objective.”
Unemployment among 16-24 years olds has reached 20 per cent in some areas of Manchester Central, as someone who claims to be passionate about education I quizzed Marc on what his ambitions would be in government to reduce the social impact of youth unemployment locally.
“There needs to be three things, young people need to be given the right educational opportunities to improve their skills and their employability in the future. Secondly, apprenticeships and vocational on the job training…encouraging employers to take on apprentices.”
Of course the hike in tuition fees to £9,000 per year and dismantling of EMA will not help people move in to further education regardless of their background and Ramsbottom disagrees with the government on their decision to raise fees so high. However, his primary concern lies more with the opportunities for young people before and after further education.
“Where I’m slightly concerned about what the government is doing, is when children leave school/university/college making sure they get the right advice about what future career options they have… The closure of the Connexions Service I think was a mistake, proper quality careers advice, employment advice is really necessary and that’s one of the things if I was elected I would make sure the government really does something about.”
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