Mike Parker: “Cuts, cuts and more cuts… Ceredigion cannot take it. More cuts will push us over the edge”

MIKE PARKER, the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Plaid Cymru, is clearly proud of his adopted Welsh home. Hailing from Kidderminster, near Birmingham, he moved to Wales in 2000 after spending most of the 1990s working for ITV Wales on travel programmes, which he describes as “weird, off-beat travelogues with my dog, trundling around Wales in a campervan, poking our noses into other people’s business, basically. It was absolute license to go anywhere and ask anything.”

Mike ParkerHe joined Plaid Cymru around the same time that he moved to Wales, and campaigned in Ceredigion for Simon Thomas in 2001, the last time Plaid Cymru won the Ceredigion seat; they lost it to the Liberal Democrats by the narrowest of margins in 2005. A close personal friend of Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Mike was selected as the Plaid Cymru candidate for Ceredigion in June 2013. Win or lose on May 7th, it is an experience he has cherished: “It’s been an amazing experience, whatever happens with the result, it has been an incredible experience and one I will never regret taking.”

Mike is not the most obvious Plaid Cymru candidate. Born and raised in England, clearly the party has come a long way from its insular roots. “My Welsh isn’t brilliant, but that’s life, and I will get better. Leanne is far from being a fluent Welsh speaker and she’s the leader. The perception is that we’ve grown out of the Welsh language, and to some extent that was true fifty years ago but it hasn’t been the case for a long time. We’ve got people in Plaid from every background, from all over the world, and a lot of people who’ve moved across the border are active members. The whole point of Plaid is that it’s a party for everybody and anybody in Wales that wants to show commitment to Wales as a “thing”, as an entity, and do the best for the place. There’s so much potential here and that’s what we’re about as a party.”

What importance, then, does he place on speaking Welsh in Wales today? “Learning Welsh, even to the imperfect state that I have, has given me more of a window on Wales. On the way down here I listened to a hilarious interview on Radio Cymru; I didn’t get every word but I really enjoyed it. You can live your life here without a word of Welsh, and plenty of people do, but it’s a shame to me that most of them only hear 50% of conversations. And that just seems a shame to me. Languages are doors into worlds and cultures and I think you can lead a fuller life, a more interesting life with them. The world that exists through Welsh is so interesting and so varied. I would encourage people to have a go, because it’s so rewarding.”

He is clearly passionate about Ceredigion and the issues facing it, particularly the dangers of marginalisation in a society so far from the centres of power in London and Cardiff. He is keen, too, to emphasise the appeal of Plaid Cymru for students, even non-Welsh students. “We believe in free higher education. That is absolutely our ambition and we need to aspire to that because education is an investment. I very soon became self-employed after I left university as a writer because I didn’t have a massive debt hanging over me, and I can’t imagine what it’s like for students these days. Basically it’s a straight fight in this constituency between Plaid and the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems, for all their fine words and principles have shown, particularly on the student fees issue, what they’re worth. And that’s what motivated me to stand in the first place.”

Mark Williams, incumbent Liberal Democrat MP, did rebel against the government and vote against tuition fees though, on what he describes as a “point of principle”. “He has two universities in his constituency; he could not possibly have done anything but vote against it. He wouldn’t have survived the election if he hadn’t. I think there’s quite a lot of differences between us and the Liberal Democrats; we would not prop up a Tory government, full stop.”

Plaid Cymru are, of course, well known for their anti-austerity agenda, and Mike is particularly outspoken on the issue of cuts under the coalition government. “There have been cuts, cuts, and more cuts to the public sector, another £30 billion in the next few years. I can tell you just from travelling around Ceredigion, this sort of area cannot take it. The infrastructure, the fabric of rural areas like this is at breaking point and more cuts will push us over the edge. That’s what the Lib Dems have done, propping us this government. Now they’re saying “We don’t like the Bedroom tax!” Well, they should’ve said that at the time. Fought harder for the marginalised people they’ve been pushing to the edge and I won’t let them escape that.”

So would Plaid consider a coalition with the Labour Party? “It’s more likely, yes”. Plaid Cymru operate currently in a block with the Green MP, Caroline Lucas, and the Scottish National Party, who currently have five Members of Parliament. “It’s not a big block”, Mike concedes, “but on so many issues: opposing austerity, opposing fracking, opposing the renewal of Trident, that block has forced debate on all those issues and plenty more. By ensuring that this block is as large as possible we have some real, significant leverage to rebalance our economy. The economy is so skewed under this Tory government towards the overheated South-East area and between the sectors of society, between the super-rich and everybody else. We want to be up there to say ‘Austerity hasn’t worked’. It’s shredding the fabric of society in the process. If we did form a coalition, that would be our fundamental demand.”

And the reports in the media of a rift between Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, with allegations that Plaid Cymru have asked the Greens not to stand in certain constituencies? Completely untrue, Mike says. “It’s always Ceredigion that gets mentioned in this. Never have I asked anybody to stand down. Everyone is within their right to stand.” But he is clear that he believes the division of votes between Plaid and the Green Party could cost both parties the seat to the Liberal Democrats; “Green MPs in Wales have no chance of getting any seats. I can’t tell the Greens what to do, but Plaid and the Greens get along well. We share a lot of similar goals, ambitions and policies, so it’s purely a pragmatic thing.”

Mike seems clear, too, on why young people are so disillusioned with politics. “Who can blame them? You hear most politicians from the big three parties, and you can write the script in your own head. They are sticking to such a tight, spin doctor-ordered list of things to say. It oozes insincerity. They sound like they’re from another planet and it’s such a turn-off, especially to young people.” He is keen to get more young people involved in politics, seeing them as having “the most to gain from politics because it’s their future. Older people tend not to vote for the future; young people are such an important group to help make policies and decisions.”

It is isolation and lack of infrastructure then, that he sees as the greatest challenge facing Ceredigion, with a significant lack of investment in infrastructure in West Wales. “One of the great hopes I’ve got for an area like this is that with the digital evolution, isolation isn’t so important. That’s starting to happen here but it needs some encouragement. I believe we’re on the cusp of a really exciting new era for rural Wales. And making sure we value the institutions in Ceredigion; the University, the National Library; these are important bedrocks of civilisation in Ceredigion and I want to see them flourishing, but they’re all suffering from cuts and that grieves me greatly. But I’m optimistic, I think we’re on the cusp of something new.”