KeeleCast Episode #1: Paul Farrelly MP

For over 18 years Paul Farrelly has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Newcastle-under-Lyme. Concourse writer George Richards met him to chat Brexit, elections and the local area. Listen below:

Summary:

It is clear that from the first moment I see Paul Farrelly, down the central stairs of the Students Union, that he feels at home in his surroundings. He tells me about how he has just been over to the other side of the campus at a sports event organised for some local school children. We carry on up the stairs to an empty meeting room, I clumsily set up some recording equipment and we begin. 

 From the moment we begin the interview, Farrelly is very obviously passionate about the area he represents but he has an extra glint in his eye when he mentions his youth, coming up to Keele’s campus to use the library and go to student parties. Newcastle-under-Lyme and the university itself, clearly has a special place in his heart. When I ask him about the university he has plenty to say about how it has changed and grown. He singles out the relatively new business park that  was, in his view, “at risk of becoming an industrial estate” next to a university but, he replies, this is not the case. 

 Looking more widely at the town and how it works with the university, he tells me that as a town Newcastle “offers everything that you want”. Making it clear his feelings that the town and the university come as one, he tells me that “if you talked about Newcastle, you would call it a market town, still; and very definitely a university town”. To me it seems as if Paul wishes that those who live on campus, would come down from Keele Hill and actually explore the town centre, outside of their weekly shop.

 When I ask him to point out one thing in the local area to direct freshers towards he excitedly tells me instead about three areas of interest. First he talks about all the great activities to do on campus, then he talks about the town centre and then lastly, all the great countryside, like the Peak District, that surround Keele. 

 Naturally we turn to politics. Neither of his parents were particularly political, Paul was  influenced by his Grandfather who joined the Labour party a year after the First World War. He is also quick to point out that Newcastle-under-Lyme has been continuously represented by the Labour party since 1919. 

 When I eventually turn to talking about current politics Paul’s posture changes slightly, he becomes more business-like, I suppose for him, it is his job. I mention Brexit, which he says he has been against since 2016 and long before. Comparing himself to the “far more famous”, ex-Tory MP and Father of the House, Ken Clarke he points out that only he and Clarke had voted both against the legislation for the 2016 EU Referendum and the triggering of Article 50, six months later. 

He  is forthright when talking about Brexit, calling the idea to hold the referendum “bloody stupid” and the fact that the country then went on to vote to Leave a “national tragedy”. Interestingly enough he also tells me that when he talks to the people of Newcastle, it seems as if most people want to talk about schools, the NHS or social care before they mention Europe. This is how he squares being a Remain MP, representing an area that voted 60% Leave. He adds that the way how some areas have changed “brutally” since the 1980s can also give us a clue why some areas voted the way they did. 

 Turning to the condition of the Labour party, Paul admits that since he first arrived in Westminster in 2001 the party has changed significantly; pointing to the way the leadership was “put up for auction” when Corbyn was elected in 2015. While he doesn’t seem like a massive cheerleader for any of the leaders he has served under, he does say that in recent years the “entire franchise has changed” as has the “character of the Labour Party”. 

 We finish by talking about the anti-semitism issues that have caused problems for Labour for the past year or so. Paul’s posture changes again, he becomes more serious and straight to the point when he speaks. I ask about Chris Williams, who at the time of the interview had just been re-admitted to the party, and he replies that he has “rather taken leave of his senses”. While he doesn’t attack the leadership for their part in the problems, he does admit that Jeremy Corbyn is “possible too idealistic”.

 It is clear that Paul is passionate about being the MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, and extremely proud to represent his hometown. He obviously also thinks a lot of the university and although, since our interview, he has said he will step down at the next election, I don’t believe it will be with any hard feelings.

Concourse is Keele University’s independent student-run publication and has a long history of promoting student journalism. Having been established in 1964, Concourse has become an important part of the university and has been read by generations of Keelites.

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