Evan Davis presents a special edition of Newsnight from Stoke-on-Trent, ahead of the crucial by-election. With a live audience and guests from UKIP, Labour and the Conservatives.
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A city that has found itself in the national spotlight
in the last few weeks thanks to a local by-election tomorrow.
With an audience, politicians and experts, we are looking at the
relationship between government in London, Stoke and the great
industrial towns and cities elsewhere. Nobody has ever knocked
on my door during the election time, ever.
36000 and 27. People are frightened, you can tell. They are. Do you see
Ukip as a party of the left, like Labour? Yes, far left. Not a
backwater, but I have heard said of Stoke.
They are so prosperous in London, I think they think we are a lot of
idiots or something like that. If I could do that today, I would. It was
hard work. But everybody was happy. In those days, yes. I want people to
have hope and they have not got any help. -- hope.
Our programme comes from Stoke this evening.
In fact, we're in the Stoke Central constituency that votes tomorrow.
We're at the beautiful Regent Theatre, replete
with a Wedgewood style cupola - a reference to the designs
of Josiah Wedgewood, who made this area so famous.
He, with many others, made the Potteries a global centre
of ceramic and tableware manufacture.
There was also a sizeable steel industry, by the way,
Many of the manufacturing jobs have gone and service and distribution
jobs have replaced them, not to everybody's satisfaction.
And that means this by-election has made this
There is a feeling that people here have fallen out
with the governing classes of all parties.
When Stoke voted overwhelmingly for Brexit, many said it was out
of a sense that things needed to change.
We're up on stage with a local audience.
Not as big an audience, I'm afraid, as the stalls below us would hold.
But we will be hearing from this group in a moment and over
And we also have a panel of politicians and
I want to start with the Stoke perspective on politics.
Not about the by-election, but national politics.
Straight to the audience. A lot of people say what they think you think
Sue will ask you what you think. What do you think politics in
Westminster has got right or wrong over the last two decades? Any
views? I think the politicians are out of touch with people and
reality, they don't go around enough to see what damage they are doing
with their decisions at Westminster. They are completely out of touch
with reality. Give me an example. Something that is concrete. They
were spending ?50 billion on HS2, which nobody wants, digging up the
countryside and not in consultation with the electorate. It doesn't come
out of their back pocket and we have to pay for it. Any other views on
how Westminster has been doing? I will jump around. Madam? Obviously,
Parliament has become about party bashing rather than debate and
politicians from different parties are not represented. If you look at
the government, they were not elected by a majority of the
country, more people did not vote conservative than did so. Do you
support proportional representation? Yes, that would be the democratic
way. How many of you are basically fed up with politics? Yes to that?
How many say you are not fed up with politics? Quite a divide but most of
you are not fed up because there is a sense of disconnect. Somebody who
said they were not fed up? I am fed up. Just saying! Madam? Near the
back. What do you think, how connected is Westminster? Understand
the problems of cities like Stoke which have seen enormous changes in
the economy? Politicians are completely disconnected with the
people, I believe in politics and the political system, we have one of
the Best democracies in the world but I think there is a huge
disconnect, they have no idea of what it is like outside London and
it sounds weird for me, I am a Londoner, but I have been here since
the 1980s and what is going on in Stoke, the politicians and MPs just
do not seem to be able to take that back to London and say what people
want. Who champions Stoke? Who do you look to? Local authorities?
Someone from Stoke in the Houses of Parliament? Rather than Robbie
Williams? I think local MPs are very good at trying to talk to the local
communities but it is not getting back and bringing in funding to the
city, it is not happening. We will come back to you through the
programme. Before we go to the national
politicians, we're going to head out into town and catch up
on the by-election. Stoke Central has been a Labour seat
since it was invented decades ago. UKIP came second in the general
election, though, and yet it is the Conservatives who are way
ahead in the national opinion polls. A lot of eyes are focused on this
one - including those of our own John Sweeney,
who's been watching the campaign. Stoke-on-Trent, once
the home of pits and pots, Yet it has become
a by-election crucible It is here where Ukip
post-Brexit has been making big efforts to win a foothold
in Labour's angry heartlands. The seat has been Labour's
for three generations, yet Jeremy Corbyn has admitted
it is on a knife edge. If Labour loses places like Stoke,
where a donkey with a red rosette could once win comfortably,
then Corbyn is in dire trouble. In Stoke, particularly,
you have three parties, 5000 votes behind them,
in equal second place in 2015, The common assumption is this
is an area where Ukip should do better, it is not natural territory
for the Conservatives. But on the other hand, in national
polling since the referendum, we have seen the Conservatives
gaining a big chunk of vote, much of it perhaps coming from Ukip
voters who are quite happy with Theresa May's
hard Brexit approach. If that gets reflected in Stoke, it
could become a race between Labour But then Labour have to think
about their Remain flank, Is those leack across to
the Liberal Democrats, something that has been happening
quite consistently in local by-elections, it also happened
famously in the Richmond by-election that they took, then,
all of a sudden, you have four But as polling day draws nigh,
this by-election here in Stoke is becoming not just
about whether Brexit is the new fault line in British
politics or Labour's troubles, but more about whether Ukip's Paul
Nuttall has been telling the truth about something that happened
in his past. The man who now fills Nigel Farage's
brogues as Ukip leader believes his party has taken over
from Labour as the voice This place needs to be put
on the political map. It needs more investment
into the constituency. I believe when I stand up
in the House of Commons And if they have a national
political figure, we can ensure that more money comes up
to Stoke-on-Trent Central. But it is the Hillsborough tragedy
that has dogged Nuttall throughout the campaign,
with him facing allegations that he had not been
at the ground at all. Yes, I was 12 and
a half years of age. I was there with my family
and we were in the upper tier It was something I have very
rarely spoken about. Whether people were dead at that
point, I don't know. There were certainly people
teeming onto the pitch. I remember my dad, and thankfully,
my dad quickly realised And we left the stadium,
we were one of the first out. Why hasn't he given a statement
on public so we can hear it We actually gave the newspaper
witness statements, people Look, my dad and my family,
they are private individuals, OK? This isn't a court of law
where you are innocent You are trying to
become the MP here. And therefore, you have to go out
and prove your innocence. Well, look, I think the fact that
I have been prepared to go to Operation Resolve and give
a witness statement I have told them that I am
prepared to stand up In normal times, Labour's Gareth
Snell should be a shoo-in The Labour Party is the party that
will protect the NHS. It will give the funding
that our hospitals and our social Because we are the party that
will make Brexit work Stoke-on-Trent needs an MP
who is going to go to Westminster and work for the people
of Stoke-on-Trent, not But not like, say,
Alfred Lord Tennyson. "Soft Brexit, hard Brexit,
massive pile of sh*t. Sloppy Brexit, messy
Brexit, quit, quit, quit. For the fact that she was not
delivering a Brexit And after four months after telling
us that there was a plan, She was vacillating,
she was dithering, and that was damaging
the local industry. There is going to be Brexit.
You support that? Aren't you turning on a sixpence
into what you yourself said, in September, is a massive
pile of sh*t? No, what I said in September
was the fact that the Prime Minister was not delivering the plan,
Article 50 has now been... And what I will say is that Brexit
is not the end of something, Stoke politics, for the best part
of 20 years, has featured a fairly large disaffected,
perhaps anti-politics vote, it has gone in some elections
to independence, this was an area that was also an area of strength
for the BNP. And Ukip have since surged
on the back of that sentiment. So there is a long-running sense
of the system is not working for us and we want to change
it type sentiment. The Liberal Democrats
came fifth in 2015. But they are pushing
hard on being the only Mainly it is the NHS and secondly,
we also talk about the Brexit issue. Especially, when I talk to them
that we want people to have another say on the final deal when it comes
to leaving the European Union. And people listen to it
and I think there is quite I am speaking to people
on the doorsteps. The Greens think they could
boost their showing We're going to be working
in the community, we're going to be talking about the things that matter
in their daily lives. Like getting gridlock
off of the roads. Unfortunately, some
national parties... Brexit is important to people
but I think quality-of-life in this area and how we can improve things,
I know we can show this area to the world, which is the great
thing this by-election does. The Tories are riding
extraordinarily high Lots of people in this area
feel let down by Labour, that Labour doesn't represent
them any more. And also, people who were thinking
about voting Ukip are now thinking about the Conservatives
because we are the only ones with a clear plan
to deliver Brexit. If Labour win and Ukip lose here,
maybe you could see it as a moment when the rising tide of populism
which has been surging across the Western world
is beginning to run out of energy. A Labour victory would be parlayed
by Team Corbyn as a great success. And that, in a safe seat like Stoke,
just tells you how desperate things The word is that
turnout will be low. But tomorrow, the attention
of the British political establishment and wider yet will be
on this lovely old town There are ten candidates standing
in the Stoke Central by-election, And you can see the list
on the politics section We have both here in
Regent Theatre in Stoke. Three leading politicians,
Peter Whittle is the deputy leader of Ukip, and group leader
on the London Assembly. Mark Harper is the Conservative MP
for the Forest of Dean, he's a former Chief Whip
and was an Immigration Minister Also, for Labour we have
Debbie Abrahams, who is the Shadow Work and Pensions
Secretary. And also with us here
is Geoff Evans, who was brought up here, worked in the pottery
industry, and is now a professor at Oxford University, specialising
in the sociology of politics. Thank you for coming. Mark Harper,
your party is in government. DUP guilty to big, old traditional
industrial towns being neglected by Westminster -- do you plead guilty.
I think Theresa May made it quite clear, and audience forgive me for
using a slogan, but a country that works for everyone. She's made it
clear one of the lessons she took from the Brexit decision was that
there were parts of the country that felt they were left behind. And one
of the things the government should do is look at making sure parts of
the country where traditional industries have disappeared,
actually we thought about how to make sure we got things like
motoring, getting that industry back here. I think she recognises that
and that's one of the things she wants to deliver. There was an
industrial green paper, can you name me one thing in that but we haven't
tried before? I think actually the floor in what you've just said is
that it wasn't one thing, it's a strategy. Just name one thing. If
there's a whole strategy, just name one thing. Part of it is about the
government looking at the industries Britain thinks it will be successful
in, thinking about how it can help them. If you take the car industry
for example, some of the investment in battery technology... There was
no money in the green paper, the government didn't say it is
investing in battery technology. I'm asking for one thing in the
industrial strategy which might affect industry in Stoke. If I had
to pick one thing it would be about making sure that we did a better job
of investing in skills. We spent the last three decades talking about
investing in skills. We've had loads of reforms of the skills agenda. The
question is, we've done a lot of reform, the question is has it been
as successful as it should be. Why will it be another reform, be better
than the last government did, or the one that your government did in the
1990s? One of the things we've done with the apprenticeship levy and
things like that is making sure you get businesses to invest in the
areas they need to, to be successful. One of the things I
think, areas of the country, I think it was in your introduction, where
we had trait in macro changes in trade and globalisation, there are
parts of the country and people that haven't kept up with the changes and
haven't therefore been able to be as successful as they should have been.
I think that's what the industrial strategy and what the Prime Minister
is intending to do. That's why Stoke needs a strong voice tomorrow. I
can't say I'm clear about what the industrial strategy is. Let me that
the same question, DUP guilty to having overlooked or neglected the
interests of some of these big Northern, Midlands, towns and
cities, particularly the ones that have had big industrial change?
Clearly, the woman who commented at the beginning that she feels
alienated, that there has been the divide, we can't ignore that. That's
how people feel. And yes, the figures also bear that out, in terms
of the investment, the labour market inequalities. There are parts of
Stoke that doing really poorly in terms of unemployment sickness. What
happened, you admitted you got it wrong, where usage used by the banks
in London and the tax they pay? What was it? I'm not in London, I live
around my constituency. I was a public health consultant before I
became an MP. One of the reasons I became active was I care
passionately about the NHS. Other people have mentioned this as well.
Perhaps it's a bit in terms of why people get into politics. The
question wasn't why have Westminster politicians, you say they haven't
neglected Stoke... Why has politics neglected Stoke? I think it is
partly about investment but it's also about how we have done politics
for a long while now. If you look at how politics involves over the 20th
century around community around being based in York community, and
politicians being part of the community, taking on board the
issues, recognising them and doing something about it, that's what
we've got to change. I call it the community development type of
approach to politics, where we engage and involve... We are public
servants, we reflect and represent the views of our constituents, and
part of our communities. The points have been made about democracy,
absolutely. That's fundamental to what we should be about as
politicians. You've heard about an industrial strategy, you've heard
about and out their politics from Debbie Abrahams. Are you satisfied,
dissatisfied with what you've heard? I think part of the problem is we
get forgotten as a city. We've fallen between the north and the
north-west, the Midlands, we slipped in between the cracks. Because we've
had three macro Labour MPs for decades, the Conservatives don't
they can win until recently and traditionally Labour take the votes
for granted. There's no incentive for politicians in London to bother
with cities like Stoke. If you're a marginal seat they give you more and
attention. Both those politicians gave very fluent answers, but like
you say, they didn't really answer the core question. Stoke has always
been a Labour seat. Maybe it will be a good thing if they voted a bit
differently tomorrow and a shot in the arm and Ukip got in, maybe it
would give a bit more attention to Stoke. Someone else had their hand
up? Is all well and good investing in skills, but there's nothing in
the local area that warrants them. The biggest industries are call
centres, care homes and distribution centres, they aren't skilled
employment. Peter Whittle, we've heard, and I know this from other
pieces we've run on Newsnight, we've always voted Labour, they've taken
us for granted, that is your pitch hair. But you alternative
government? You're a UK Independence party, you're about Brexit and
you've got Brexit, what is the point of Ukip now? We aren't just about
Brexit any more. Obviously Brexit has happened in terms of a
referendum, but the fact is it's far from happened yet. It's very, very
instructive because you're talking about the difference between
Westminster and the rest of the country. The rest of the country are
looking on, and have been looking on at Westminster thinking, what the
hell is going on? If you're a party of government, what would you do for
Stoke? And towns and cities like Stoke? First of all, I completely
agree that Westminster is totally out of touch. You're sounding like
an old-style politician. I said what would you do, and you immediately
said the other politicians are no good. We've accepted people feel let
down by politicians. First of all, huge problems with infrastructure in
Stoke, huge problems in social housing. Labour has been in for 50
years, there hasn't been one single new council house built in 30 years,
can you believe that? We would like a golden age of council housing. I'm
a great believer, and we are as a party, in social housing. Because
basically, it helps build solid communities, my grandparents were in
council housing. It means people are not constantly fighting to get on
the ladder. They can actually build a real community. Debbie Abrahams,
that sounds like what should be able Labour policy, with respect. What
happened there? It is a Labour policy. You were in government all
those years. It's a fair point and we didn't get everything right. You
haven't built any houses in Stoke for 30 years. I can't defend that,
we should have done. We now know we've got the lowest level of social
housing building since the 1920s. We do need it. It's absolutely key. For
our young people to have a future. We've got generation rent, haven't
we. They need to feel secure, being able to afford to invest in their
communities... You would be building more council houses just as Ukip
would? Why is the government not doing that, it's talked about
building more houses but a lot of people think it should be council
housing. The housing White Paper we published a couple of weeks ago
covered all of the types of tenure. It talked about people being able to
buy but it also talked about people being able to rent, both social
housing and in the private rented sector. It looked at all of them and
the house-building numbers now, as the housing minister said, people
can't live in planning permissions, and the number of houses built last
year was 190,000, so we are on track to build the 1 million houses over
the parliament. I think we do have a plan to deliver it. The whole
political establishment has been completely neglectful of this. Just
go around any part of Stoke or the six cities of Stoke, or any of the
cities we are talking about. There is absolutely no question about it,
that when all those council houses were sold off, the money was simply
frittered away. It should have been kept and reinvested in new housing.
It's exactly what we should be doing now. We are believers in the
cultural life of the country is just as important as the economic one.
That's when things like social housing are so important. Jeff
Evans, you have documented quite a lot of political alienation in some
areas of the country from what is going on at Westminster. Do you
think it's because people have found better things to do and they are
bored of politics, or do you blame the politicians? I blame the
politicians, very much so. For a long time people have ignored class
divisions, they pretended they either don't matter any more... What
is actually changing isn't the class divisions in our society but what
politicians offer. I have to put the blame on Labour on this one, because
during the 90s in particular Labour were so keen to appeal to the
affluent middle class electoral base, they distance as they possibly
could. Basically there are no working-class people as MPs any
more. The rhetoric adopted by Labour, by Tony Blair, was very much
chosen to be acceptable to the Metropolitan London middle classes
and similar travellers. People find it hard to believe in politicians
who don't share any point of social contact. They've got alien accents,
Labour is increasingly Oxbridge, it doesn't have any trade union intake
in terms of working-class people. You've got the odd Remain Campaign
alike Alan Johnson, he's not really there any more. They've left their
social connection. Labour more than the Tories on this. How many of you
are Labour voters? We balance the panel to some extent. Do any of you
agree with what Jeff is saying about the party you are going to support?
Do you agree with what he has said? I think they are all London
Metropolitan. He is bang on. There's no working-class MPs any more. I
think they have deserted the working class, Labour. Debbie Abrahams, that
is a feeling and a sentiment, you recognise it? That can't be ignored.
Gareth is a local lad, he's worked in the community. I think there is,
we are doing politics differently. We didn't get it all right, in spite
of much good stuff that we did, and we haven't talked about the health
service. I'd like to know Ukip's position on that, which is a real
local issue. It's absolutely clear. It's not absolutely clear at all. I
was in a by-election with Paul Nuttall when he said he wanted to
privatise the NHS. This is absolutely untrue. The most
important thing is that my party, Ukip, has always stood on a platform
of celebrating the NHS and believing it should be free at the point of
delivery. It was the by-election I was elected
to in 2011. The fact is that Paul Nuttall said some things about
certain areas of the NHS about procurement, about five years ago,
and he has said I change my mind. The important thing, whether he
changes his mind or not, is that Ukip manifesto in 2015 was
absolutely clear, we Remain clear, we believe... In the national Health
Service, not international. We will get the other experts back. We have
a lot to get through. I will thank the panel.
Let's pause the conversation for a moment.
In a few minutes we'll see if there are any specific ideas
for bringing extra life to the economy here.
But first, Katie Razzall has been hearing about life here,
as it was, and some hope it might be.
Time to pause and reflect now, Katie Razzall has been hearing
about life in Stoke, as it was, and how
The people of Stoke need a voice from our politicians.
I want people to have hope, and they haven't got hope.
People have felt forgotten and left behind.
We feel like we are at a crossroads, but I feel that it's an opportunity
to change the way that people see Stoke.
If the overwhelming out vote put Stoke on the political map,
this by-election will send another message about what people here want
Newsnight's returned to Stoke's Bentilee estate,
Where the raffle comes with a variety of prizes.
Many here had highly-skilled jobs in Stoke's once proud Potteries.
If I could do that job today I would.
How do you make Stoke happy again, for you?
Well, the NHS, we'd like that to get better than it is.
Because like I say, people are frightened to get old.
We need manufacturing, we need apprenticeships.
They made the biggest mistake they ever did
But we've got no skilled workers, without going to those
The majority here who voted in the referendum told me
they voted out, no matter their political affiliation.
Do you see Ukip as a party of the left, like labour?
Previously Labour, Tony's voting Ukip in the by-election.
He's going to put this city on the map.
He's going to try and build this city up, because other
parts of the country, they think Stoke-on-Trent's a dump.
Uniting young and old in a city where some feel almost written off.
This lady is a stalwart on the estate.
It's not our first encounter, but this time it's her birthday
I just want it to be totally different for these kids.
And the MP is not going to provide that.
Across in Hanley, in the so-called Cultural Quarter, it feels
Entrepreneurs and artists are building a future in a city
I am hoping that we don't end up with a Ukip MP, for one thing.
I think, I am hoping it is a chance for Stoke to show the country
what we all know about the city, that it is a welcoming,
Not a backwater, which I have heard said of Stoke.
The gallery offers residencies to graduates to attract
All part of efforts to revive the city through culture.
Change doesn't happen overnight and I think we're not there yet.
Stoke is not at that tipping point yet.
But it feels to me that we are close.
And I think that is why the result is so important,
A negative result could really set Stoke back.
I don't think it has ever been this great.
This entrepreneur's Hanley coffee shop is now in its third year.
I think the things that we really want to focus on and could really do
And to achieve that, says another Hanley entrepreneur,
An MP needs to balance between being local and still
How does Stoke fit in with the national agenda
Because without that bigger push and that drive,
I think we are in risk of just staying where we are.
Stoke's future could be brighter than it has been recently.
And while people across the city may not agree on how to achieve
that, surely everyone, no matter their politics,
is united by the feeling that the city they love deserves
Now, I'm still with my panel of politicians, but I'd
like to bring in some external commentators now.
Afua Hirsch, journalist and broadcaster and who has written
on Britishness and identity, Hugo Dixon is a journalist,
economist, and entrepreneur, and was a passionate Remain
And Iain Martin is a Times columnist, and edits
Reaction, a web platform for commentary and discussion.
He was a prominent leaver back last June.
I want to focus on specific things that can be done to improve
political engagement and help communities, such as Stoke and to
get away from words. You have thought about social integration and
the sense of well-being and identity. What would you do as
opposed to just saying things about that? Listening to the people in the
audience and the voices in that package, this is about alienation
and people wanting to be heard and from my perspective, these are
long-term problems with the political system and what people
want, to hear an old person saying it is scary to get old because the
NHS is in freefall is appalling. Not acceptable. Instead of offering
answers, politicians are exploiting the quick fix by offering leaving
the European Union, stopping immigration, things which will not
solve these problems and they play on the sense that identity is under
threat instead of addressing the very tangible things that people
want. Are you saying... A lot of people have said there is a sense of
cultural discombobulated, there is too much change, people do not feel
this is their country any more, is that a distraction from the kind of
things like the NHS? That is what it is interesting about here, when you
drill into what people really want here, everyone we have heard from,
it is children centres, the NHS working, school places, things are
functional government should provide. Social housing. These are
achievable things and they are not the things that can be solved by any
of the major platforms that parties offer, like leaving the EU and
stopping immigration. They are the symptoms and not causes of problems.
You are very intimate with this area. Does that ring true? Yes, it
does. One of the key things about this area, talking about political
engagement, is that nobody votes. Just under 50% of people who voted
in the 20 15th election, one of the lowest if not the lowest ever in
Britain and this is because people do not feel they are being
represented with the choices available. Is that bread and butter
issues like the NHS that they feel are not looked after or is it flags
and symbols and nationality and immigration? That is interesting
because when Labour were in power and when things were going well
economically, they spent a lot of money on the NHS, and they still
haemorrhaged votes in places like Stoke, it is not about that sheer
economic thing, it is about rhetoric and symbols and immigration, for
example, part of Labour's strategy in 2004, to open the doors to
European immigration, that led to a decline in their appeal amongst many
people in places like Stoke. One of the key differences between 2015 and
2016 is a massive 16% jump in participation in Stoke, far more
than the jump in more affluent parts of the country. Given the choice,
the simple choice about something they cared about, people will
participate. Iain Martin, you are free-market man, you are not a fan
of government, a lot of the ideas were hearing about are basically
government ideas, council houses, more money for the NHS. Is that a
fair reflection? This might be what people want, my concern is I would
argue that the only thing which can really work is dramatically
increasing growth and the market functioning smartly and starting new
companies and creating jobs, there is a lot that can be done. And I
think that we talk about technical skills and scaling up, dramatically
improving the education system, the single biggest thing that happens
nationally to make a difference is taxing the economy differently,
taxing big corporations and global technology companies properly and
taking some of the pressure away from small business and new
businesses and the tax system is skewed against them so there is a
lot that can be done. My criticism is the government does not have any
agenda for after Brexit, for helping places like Stoke and making the
economy more dynamic to create jobs. Hugo Dixon, big on Remain, do you
think the London establishment, did they run out of ideas for places
like Stoke? Iain Martin has come up with things we have heard... I think
so, there has been a serious problem of geographic justice in our country
and this is something we need to address. -- injustice. And it is
partly going to involve money so we are going to have to invest in those
towns and cities like Stoke which have been left behind and that will
have to be investing in skills, and it was interesting to earlier hear
about the government industrial strategy, the green paper, the new
money for the country was ?170 million, that is not enough. It is
other things, other sorts of things like infrastructure, so that what
you need is cities like Stoke, they must be able to generate the
opportunity and must have the infrastructure and the skills so
that the sort of market solutions that Iain Martin is talking about
can actually bear fruit. If what you are seeing, and you are in a lot of
these times, despite what we have heard about the cultural quarter,
you are seeing the brain drain from a lot of these times, and we have
one of the brilliant minds here who is not in Oxford. That is one thing
but beyond money, we need something on a political level and on that
level I think we need to have a significant devolution of power. Not
just to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland but to the regions
of the UK. Because that will be more empowering for people. We have heard
a lot of ideas, how many people like the idea of more devolution for city
regions or far the biggest cities, how many of you are sceptical of
giving more power to local areas? Slightly more enthusiasm. OK,
significantly more for devolution. Give me some of your requests?
I think that there is a lot that Stoke has to offer. Sometimes as
much as we can look to Westminster and politicians in the rest of the
country, what I've discovered having moved up here five years ago, is a
rich vein of cultural, wonderful, creative and dedicated people. We
saw that lady on the TV talking about the skills that she has.
Sometimes we've neglected it ourselves as people in
Stoke-on-Trent. We should be proud of what we have achieved, and we
should stand on the history, so that we can look beyond ourselves and see
what's possible. Certainly what I'm doing is... The gentleman at the
back. I was just thinking about higher education funding. I've got
four kids, they are all faced with tuition fees. If you look at
regional strategy, could we do something around reducing tuition
fees regionally, to attract people to local universities, and also look
at the science parks and facilities around the universities. Keele
University, we need to look at further investment at Staffordshire
University and the issue of tuition fees and how that is affecting young
people. The lady at the back? I would like to personally take
exception to what Hugo said. There are a lot of very bright people
here. We aren't stupid. I've got 2 degrees, there are people in our
area who are very, very clever. So please don't tarnish us with that
brush. Peter and Mark, did you use your satnavs to get here today?
Gareth is for the people and representing us. Debbie, please stop
apologising, you're doing a good job. Why did he call Brexit a pile
of... And basically he and many of his colleagues have been very clear
of talking about people being racist for boating Brexit, being stupid and
educated. He isn't here to answer that particular... Did you get here
by satnav or did you know where Stoke is? Of course I knew. I'm only
in London a few days a week because that is where Parliament is. The
idea we are all based in London... I think the important thing for the
choice tomorrow is, our candidate is someone who has always lived in
Stoke, he was born here, he's a Cabinet member... I want to stick to
the big issues, what we do for places like Stoke. Is Brexit
actually in practice going to provide, is that the silver bullet
that is going to help Stoke or is it going to get in the way? Well,
Brexit is going to be absolutely brilliant for the Midlands and the
north, for once people are looking at where we are sending our money.
We sending it all to the EU, are we sending it all abroad, are we
spending five times more, ten times more, no, where is the money going.
It is going to spark more engagement and people demanding the money is
spent in their areas. You really think Brexit is going to make
material improvement? It can do. I never argued that it's some kind of
magic solution on its own, self-government. But what I would
say is, if you look at the problems in a place like Stoke, membership of
the EU doesn't seem to have done it very much good in the last 30 years.
You can understand why people might want to try an alternative. I think
people are underestimating the people of Stoke. All the parties are
exploiting this. Even Labour have been using the St Georges flag,
playing to that sense of identity. I think voters are right to be cynical
because that isn't the answer to the problems. Politicians are tapping in
to what they think is the easiest way of getting votes without
offering solutions. Everyone says they want to be heard but the only
reason people are listening to people in Stoke today is because
there is a by-election. APPLAUSE I think there is a risk about
Brexit, and that is this particularly hard, destructive
Brexit, that Theresa May is charging towards. That could tank the
economy. If that happens, there won't be money for the NHS, there
won't be money for skills, there won't be money for infrastructure. I
think that is something that will not be helpful for the people of
Stoke. We are virtually out of time. People have said things about
labour, you wanted to come in, Debbie? The point that has been made
about the campaign, and so on, and it being this prism we are seeing
it, this needs to happen all year round. It's a new type of politics
we need, where we empower and engage our communities, it's absolutely
key. APPLAUSE Did we solve it? We've had a lot of
words and ideas. Did we find that silver bullet? I don't know. Stoke
Central by-election tomorrow has ten candidates and you get another
chance to see who they all are. More parties on the list than we could
represent here today. You can see a slate of all
the candidates standing We leave you with Staffordshire's
renowned poet, the late Let me thank our guests and those
who are local. Thank you very much indeed, to our lovely audience too.
APPLAUSE We leave you with Staffordshire's
renowned poet, the late Charles Tomlinson, and his
memories of Stoke-on-Trent, It was a language of
water, light and air I sought-to speak
myself free of a world Whose stoic lethargy
seemed the one reply To horizons and to streets
that blocked them back To tell of all that
seasoned and imprisoned: From a landscape of
disembowellings, underworlds Digging the marl,
they dug a second nature And water, seeping up
to fill their pits, Sheeted them to lakes
that wink and shine Between tips and steeples,
streets and waste In slow reclaimings,
shimmers, balancings, As if kindling Eden
rescinded its own loss And words and water came
of the same source.