The spectre of a general election is beginning to loom large in British politics. Over the last four years, Keir Starmer and the Labour Party have crafted a successful strategy which has seen them steadily gather electoral momentum. For many the prospect of a Labour government is signed and sealed, but the delivery is yet to unfold.
Here in Exeter Ben Bradshaw MP is retiring after an impressive 25-year tenure and last week I had the privilege of sitting down with the man who hopes to succeed him: Labour’s parliamentary candidate Steve Race.
Our discussion was wide ranging, we discussed what him from his youth motivated him to get involved in politics, his plans for Exeter particularly regarding decarbonisation and what we can expect from a Labour government.
Our conversation began by delving into the Labour victories, specifically the landslide success of 1997. Steve told me how at fourteen he could feel “that it was an important victory and that things were going to get better”. His sister had been born four years previously with Hurler’s Syndrome which brought around daily challenges and battles with “waiting lists, operations, and seeing specialists which all got better under a Labour government.”
In his twenties, Steve went on to raise £20,000 for his late sister’s children’s hospice by tackling the three peaks of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. He detailed how skilfully he felt that children’s hospices provide a dual provision for families with not just direct healthcare but support for the wider family unit.
“More acceptance is needed from government that hospice care receives more state funding and isn’t entirely based on charitable donations.”
Here in Devon, Hospiscare has been delivering specialised end-of-life care for over four decades, yet 82% of its funding is through charitable donations. The Devon Integrated Care Board only provides 18% of the £10 million to sustain this vital service.
Reflecting on life as a young man, Steve passionately expressed the profound social justice and equality ethos which he felt embedded in the Labour Party: “I knew I was gay from an early age; I felt the difference [of a Labour government] from the equalisation of the age of consent to the repeal of Section 28.”
I knew I was gay from an early age; I felt the difference [of a Labour government] from the equalisation of the age of consent to the repeal of Section 28Steve Race
Section 28 was a controversial piece of legislation in the United Kingdom. It stated that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality’, it was and remains, a widely criticised part of the Thatcher government for perpetuating discrimination.
After graduating from the University of Manchester, Steve stuck around to work on the widening participation programme. This initiative not only left an undeniable mark locally but also served as a trailblazer, inspiring similar programs up and down the country. The primary objective was to emphatically communicate that “university was for everyone,” with a special emphasis on reaching out to white working-class children within Manchester who had previously been unaware of the opportunities right on their doorstep. The Manchester Access Programme, continues to be a pioneer in empowering students and equipping them with the skills needed to succeed in higher education.
I queried Steve on his stance regarding the government’s initiative to eliminate what they term as ‘rip-off degrees,’ driven by the perception that too many young people are pursuing university education. He wittily remarked, “When the Tories claim there are too many people going to university, they never mean their kids!”
Steve emphasised that the fundamental value of higher education should revolve around a “parity of esteem,” where degrees, apprenticeships, and in-work training are all regarded as equally valuable career paths. He firmly believed that no one trajectory should be deemed superior to another. Given the evolving landscape of our increasingly knowledge-based economy, Steve asserted that specialists are becoming an indispensable commodity, underscoring the importance of diverse educational and career pathways.
Steve emphasised that the fundamental value of higher education should revolve around a “parity of esteem,” where degrees, apprenticeships, and in-work training are all regarded as equally valuable career paths
A significant portion of Steve’s campaign materials, likely finding their way through your letterbox, has focused on decarbonising Exeter and ensuring the NHS is working for everyone. He made clear that road transport and home insulation are the two big areas which Exeter needs to get right on the path to net zero. Our housing stock, as he described, is the “leakiest and coldest in Europe.”
Highlighting the potentially steep costs of comprehensive home insulation, he elaborated on Labour’s Green Prosperity Plan, proposing an annual investment of £28 billion to insulate homes. The ambitious aim is to stimulate £3 of private investment for every £1 of government spending. However, the magnitude of this endeavour remains colossal with the UK Climate Change Committee estimating an average retrofit cost of £26,000 per home for achieving net-zero standards.
Steve threw his support behind environmentally conscious road policies, such as Sadiq Khan’s contentious ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ). He underscored the critical need to safeguard citizens’ health, particularly in the face of the unintended consequences of new satnavs, which have significantly escalated traffic in residential areas through rerouting exercises. I pushed him on the public backlash on ULEZ and lack of public consultation: “things can always be implemented better in hindsight.”
Given Steve’s deep connection to the NHS, he shared insights on optimising existing capacity and considering the use of private resources to alleviate the strain of the 1 in 7 people currently on waiting lists. While expressing admiration for Wes Streeting, the Shadow Health Secretary, Steve acknowledged that the NHS, while having functioned effectively since 1948, still operates on an outdated model. He stressed the necessity of evolving the system to meet the demands of the next century, emphasising that continually pouring more money into the NHS without addressing its structure is not a sustainable solution.
He critiqued the Conservative approach to the NHS, Steve remarked that while they boast about funding, it consistently lags behind inflation and falls short of European benchmarks in health funding per capita.
On the Autumn Statement, Steve was unimpressed with the lack of policy objectives on the NHS, decarbonisation and the future economy. “It’s just the latest attempt to reset government: tax cuts before the general election, but growth is still down. They’re out of steam and ideas.”
Perhaps his most insightful revelation was looking at the potential direction of a Labour government, unveiling Keir Starmer’s “missions approach to government.” This approach entails the formulation of ten-year plans that transcend individual departments. Steve emphasised that with a Labour government we should anticipate a departure from the recent trend of department-by-department policymaking that has characterised the last few years of government.
Steve emphasised that with a Labour government we should anticipate a departure from the recent trend of department-by-department policymaking that has characterised the last few years of government.
As we approached the conclusion of our interview, I sought Steve’s perspective on the Middle East situation. He described being moved by the dawning realisation that the grim and horrifying scenes of October 7th were going to escalate into a full-blown conflict. On the SNP vote on a ceasefire, he condemned “political posturing off the back of a tragic and complex situation; you cannot say that someone who doesn’t call for a ceasefire is a war criminal.”
Finally, I asked Steve a list of quickfire questions with some thought-provoking responses:
Can you summarise your political philosophy in three words?
“European Social Democracy”
What’s the biggest issue facing Exeter, and how do you plan to tackle it?
“Jobs of the future and getting investment into Exeter, making sure that start-ups and scale-ups are able to access the funding that they need to start grow and develop especially in the green and blue tech sectors.”
What would be your offer to students specifically?
“We will start a review into student financing because the current system is untenable, but everything from the future economy, access to jobs, NHS, and education system for your children will all be better under a Labour government.”
Where’s your favourite place in Exeter?
“Probably the River Valley Park, I like the walk to the double locks and the way it changes with the seasons”.
Name a political hero of yours.
“Ernie Bevin. Churchill once said that he couldn’t have won the war without Bevin. He setup the Bevin Kitchens so all factory workers creating armaments for WW2 would be fed, then he setup NATO, so there’s a huge list of things that he did. A Devon boy originally who came the through trade union movement with no formal education, but clearly a towering intellect.”
Given Sunak brought back Cameron as foreign secretary, what former cabinet member would you like to see brought back?
Steve did attempt to select Ernie Bevin again but eventually settled for Alan Johnson. “He had a really great way of talking, really relaxed and really able to communicate with people.”
Brexit: yes, or no?
It’s a Saturday, are you watching Exeter Chiefs or Exeter City?
“I’m usually on the doorstep but I more often go to Exeter City than the rugby… A terrible season so far.”
What would be your advice to students looking for a career in politics?
“Just get involved and find out where you’re interested in. There’s a huge ecosystem around politics, it in terms of policy and geopolitics: the UK remains for now a centre of NGOs around the world which do great work. The other thing is, go door knocking I know it seems quite intimidating at first but actually people are very friendly, and they tell you exactly what they think. It just keeps you grounded, you know exactly what people are talking about, and keeps your finger on the pulse.