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Dragon Interview: New Labour Chairman on the Crisis, It’s Impact and his New Party Leader

Published on: 11 Apr, 2020
Updated on: 11 Apr, 2020

Brian Creese

In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the Labour party has elected a new leader and Guildford Labour has a new chairman, Brian Creese.

Martin Giles spoke to him to discover his take on current events and his view of his new party leader.

Congratulations on your appointment as the new chairman of Guildford Labour. Was there a long list of applicants?

Not a long list, no (laughed).

How do you think the Coronavirus emergency is being handled by the government, Surrey County Council and Guildford Borough Council?

The government started well, taking the issue very seriously and outlining decisive action. The Chancellor, in particular, put in force a set of radical policies which were very much in line with Labour’s ideas outlined during the election last year. But now things are moving from rhetoric to action I do worry that the wheels are starting to come off.

There seems great confusion about what we are and are not allowed to do and the figures on testing are all over the place. The other problem appears to be personal protective equipment; do we have it, but can’t get it to front line workers? Or don’t we even have it in the first place? Every day more questions of competence seem to arise.

At this stage of the crisis, I think the ball is in the government’s court and there is little SCC or GBC can do but support government policy.

Are there any particular areas of concern you think still require extra attention?

I would like to see some forward planning locally on how our community, and our business community, in particular, can be better supported once the lockdown comes to an end.

Guildford is a town of small businesses and currently I can only see absolute catastrophe ahead for them; whether they be small, independent retailers, restaurants, pubs, music venues, arts groups or the business to business sector that supports them, they are all at risk of never opening their doors again. I really do fear for what is going to be left of the shopping centre once this is all over.

The council needs to be working out now how we can help as many of these businesses as possible to survive, be it through grants, loans, rates or rent holidays and so on. We are also likely to see a steep rise in unemployment and benefits claimants once the furloughing phase is over, and we need to hear positive plans for how we can support these damaged communities.

In your experience, how well do you think the local population is complying with the regulations on “social distancing”?

My experience has been really positive so far. I went out shopping last week – queued up for the fruit & veg stall on North Street, all very calm and civilised; then went up to the butchers on Aldershot Road for another calm and well-organised queue. No-one intruded on space, everyone was polite. A great tribute to the people of Guildford I thought. 

How is the situation affecting you personally?

We are very lucky. I have been working form home, which is not a problem, and we have a decent-sized garden – which needs a lot of work! So getting outside is very easy for us and there is plenty of incentive.

What is your view on using your car to travel a short distance so you can take your exercise in the surrounding countryside?

I think that is difficult. I know the “correct” answer is that everyone should stay local, but we are lucky enough to live on the edges of the countryside and can easily walk from our front door onto quiet and lovely open space. If you live in the more urban areas of Guildford I understand the desire to get outside the town once in a while. Sadly, too many people have behaved irresponsibly, which makes it more difficult for others.

How is the crisis affecting the running of Guildford Labour?

It has been very frustrating. We had an Environmental event planned at the Boileroom for today (April 11), the first of three events we were planning with the Boileroom over the summer. Whether we get to run any of them we just don’t know. We have also set up a series of policy groups, looking in detail at local policy areas and these were just getting into their stride when the lockdown came. We are trying to continue using Zoom [on-screen conferencing app, for online meetings], but it is not ideal. All our normal member meetings are currently suspended and our AGM will also be delayed. So we do feel that after generating some energy and enthusiasm after the disappointments of December we have been stopped in our tracks.

How do you think the crisis will affect the popularity of the Labour Party, locally and nationally?

In situations like this it is very hard for an opposition party to make the weather. We just have to support the government where appropriate, ask questions when necessary and suggest improvements where we think there are better alternatives. It is a difficult balancing act.

The new Labour leader and deputy leader have been elected. What are you hoping for? What changes need to be made?

I am absolutely delighted to see Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner elected to the leadership. It is a difficult time to take over, but we now need a coherent response from the new leadership team who have both received really good endorsements from all wings of the party. I think Keir will be extremely good at constructive opposition and holding the government to account with his forensic grasp of detail.

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