Alex Ross joined the Labour party in late 2007, becoming Youth Officer for Shipley CLP. In Feburary 2009 he became the party's candidate for the local elections due to take place in 2010. He started the Wage Concern campaign against a Conservative backbench Bill to allow opt-outs of the Minimum Wage. The campaign was taken on by John Prescott and the GoFourth team, culminating in a rally held in the Houses of Parliament on the day of the Bill’s reading on Friday May 15th, where Alex spoke. The campaign has been a success and pushed the Conservatives to pull the Bill due to be read on May 15th and instead it is to be read on June 12th. He blogs at http://alexross.wordpress.com/ and can be found on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Alex_Ross1983.
What made you decide to start blogging?
It’s the easiest way to directly communicate your thoughts to the outside world. I don’t have to rely on the local media to relate my opinions to an audience, though frankly I can’t hope to complete with a 30,000+ daily audience, so it is important to try utilise all possible avenues, which is what I do.
What is your best blogging experience?
Being able to blog about John Prescott and James Purnell backing Wage Concern, and revealing Wage Concern itself, was a thrill. The funniest was using theyworkforyou.com to bookmark the video of John Bercow calling our MP, Philip Davies, a troglodyte for his opposition to the Equalities Bill.
And your worst?
Accidently posting some incorrect stuff about Philip Davies was embarassing. He was nice about it but it was frustrating. I’d basically noted a story from another website, which clearly hadn’t updated itself since the story – about a fight between him and a Labour MP at a radio station – was rebutted by both MPs. It was annoying too as the Labour MP had the surname ‘Pound’, so I managed to get in a good pun about Davies giving him a ‘pounding’. I kept the post up there though, and just updated it – making clear my mistake – as with blogging you tend to have to ‘fess up to mistakes, which is as it should be, rather than pretend they never happened, which some people try get away with.
What do you regard as your best blog entry?
Blimey, perhaps the one I mentioned above about Philip Davies being referred to as a troglodyte. Stuff like that just doesn’t get in the local papers but people need to know how he is thought of in the Commons and more importantly why. It helps explain his views and opinions on things, and other peoples reactions, that don’t get reported. Plus it was hilarious.
Hopi Sen is great, as is Tom Harris MP. Duncans Economics Blog is also very good for a left-wing economic perspective that’s measured and thoughtful. Conor Ryan is also a good one, as is Alastair Campbell. And I can’t not mention John Prescott can I?
What inspired you to go into politics?
It was around the time of the Northern Rock saga that I joined the Labour party. Before then I’d gone from being a casual supporter to identifying myself more and more as ‘Labour’ over the course of several years. I have no idea how that progression was made, it started probably when I was a teenager and just carried on as I got older and widened my perspective beyond the occasional single issue.
When I started getting into politics as a subject, I was living in Beeston, Leeds, which has three Labour councillors and Hilary Benn as the MP, so I saw first hand the effect good councillors and MPs can have on their local community – Benn helping a neighbour resolve a tax credits issue sticks in the mind as they could have lost their home - and I’d guess that cemented not so much my support, which was well defined by then, but my determination to get involved at some level.
When Northern Rock collapsed I felt the government was pursuing the right policies (though ultimately holding on too long before nationalising it) and the Conservatives were all over the place and not getting held to account on it enough.
Basically something inside me must have snapped and I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was, join the party and stand up for what I believed in. I was living in Shipley by this point so it was a bit of a culture shock moving to an area with a Conservative MP and Green councillors.
Tell us about the circumstances with which you helped start the Wage Concern campaign and how you feel it is going so far?
I’m signed up to theyworkforyou.com for updates whenever our MP speaks or does anything in the House, so we can keep up to date with what he’s up to, what he backs and what he opposes. I found out he’d sponsored a Bill that would allow employees to ‘opt-out’ of the Minimum Wage, effectively abolishing it. He’s a total market fundamentalist so I’d always presumed he’d oppose something like the Minimum Wage but I was surprised he’d put his name to it (credit to him for standing by his beliefs I guess).
It was obvious we needed to campaign on the issue and we had a street stall in Shipley town centre booked, so I made a petition and we went about collecting signatures.
In tandem with this I created a Facebook group and an online petition to help organise things online, but I couldn’t find contact details for many other CLPs with Conservative MPs who backed the Bill, so I sent an email to John Prescott via Facebook and asked that he do a blog on the issue, as he’d done similar things calling out Daniel Hannan after the NHS comments he made.
Once Prescott got on board and rebranded it Wage Concern, getting unions involved, it took off from there until our successful rally in London on Friday May 15th. I got there only to find out the MPs had pulled it from the days readings, after they were asked to go on the Today show to explain it. They’re going to try put it through again on June 12th, so we’ve got an extra month to campaign on it.
As you can imagine, I’m delighted with the success of the campaign so far, basically we won and forced the Conservative MPs into a climb-down. The next stage is to try flush out more MPs who are opposed to the Minimum Wage and locally we need to tell as many people as possible that their MP opposes the Minimum Wage.
How do you find life as a Labour Candidate for the 2010 Bradford Council elections?
It’s good! One thing about being a candidate is you get to go out to a lot of local meetings and see the people in your community who are out there all the time trying to make a difference to their community, often with little funding and little recognition for what they do. In that respect it’s very inspiring, though also quite tiring when you work full-time as well! It’s also good to be able to hold the council to account in an official position as a candidate, and try make a positive difference even as a candidate as opposed to a councillor.
Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?
Switzerland is the first place that springs to mind, my girlfriend wants to go because she loves the place and I want to go to visit the HR Giger bar, as I love the Alien films. It’s expensive though, and as such we’ll be sticking with Scarborough and Whitby for the foreseeable future. San Francisco as well is somewhere we’ve always wanted to go to.
Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?
The USA, where my dad lives in Manchester, New Hampshire, which is about an hour out of Boston. Prague as well, which I visited with my girlfriend last year, is a wonderful and very friendly city, unless you’re in a rock club, where the staff seemed quite churlish. It was about a pound a pint though, so I didn’t care.
Who, excluding the present leader and Prime Minister, do you regard as the best British Prime Minister, and if different, the best Labour leader?
Blimey. I suppose you can’t look past Churchill just because of the enormity of what he did in leading the country against Hitler. Though I always find it intriguing that he was voted out straight after and without the war would be considered a rather mundane and mediocre domestic Prime Minister. Best Labour leader would have to be Tony Blair, despite any faults you could attribute to him he led us to three election victories that allowed us to put in place policies like the National Minimum Wage and Sure Start.
Which political figure has been your greatest inspiration?
I’m not a great studier of politics so I don’t have or know of that wide an array of figures to choose from to be honest. I know it’s not very popular to complement him but I’ve always found Gordon Brown’s commitment to reducing poverty, both at home and abroad, very inspiring. Whatever flaws he had and has as both chancellor and Prime Minister, I’ve always found his specific commitment to eradicating poverty inspiring. Britain is the only country (I think) currently on target to meet it’s Millennium Development Goals for instance, and the drive he shows in going for this (over such a long period of time) I find totally admirable.
Favourite Bond movie?
Oh dear, I’m not a huge Bond fan to be honest. I’ve always prefered the first Tom Cruise Mission Impossible film! Sacrilege I know. I used to love the ones with Jaws in them though – the guy, not the shark. Though that would be great, Bond vs. Jaws. I probably need to sit down and re-watch them to re-appreciate them.
Favorite Doctor Who?
Another one I was never in to, it always seemed really cheesy to me and as such it just passed me by. The news ones aren’t bad but it’s not something I’d ever regard myself as a fan of. Tom Harris is a total Dr Who geek though, so I’ll direct you on to him!
Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?
I like all of them but can never understand how anyone can turn down chocolate.
Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?
Well my aim when I was younger (I’m only 25 now but still) was to see Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses. I’ve done that, so I guess The Beatles would be amazing but I don’t think their music would translate as well live unless they stuck to the blues and rock n’ roll based stuff, so I think people would actually be a bit disappointed if they saw them live (hypothetically, dead members notwithstanding). Prince and his band circa 86-88 would have been amazing.
In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?
Scarborough is always fun as the in-laws (or the ‘outlaws’ as the missus refers to them) live there and I love 2p slot machines and House of the Dead arcades. Not sure where else – would love to go to Edinburgh for the weekend but it would cost as much as a weekend abroad, same with London. Weekends away are always fun so usually I don’t mind where I go, I know Hedben Bridge is on our list of ‘places to stay overnight’. As long as there are pubs with real ale I tend to be happy!
Favourite national newspaper?
I’m afraid I’m one of those annoying people who don’t really buy papers anymore. I read the Guardian, The Independent and The Times online though.
What would you say your hobbies were?
Listening to music, I used to play it but never seem to find the time these days, ‘socialising’ – which I’ve always been told to put on my CV or personal records instead of ‘going out drinking’ – with friends, either going out into town, going for dinner – the usual stuff I guess. Sadly, the more you get into politics the easier it is for it to become your hobby as well, which isn’t always very healthy.
I enjoy hill walking – I recently went up to Masham, near Ripon, and also did Penny Ghent. About 8 miles is my limit when walking as I have bad knees.
And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?
This is the hardest question to answer! Three albums might be slightly easier but specific songs? The three I’m probably listening to most at the moment would be ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ by The Beatles from the Magical Mystery Tour album, which I’ve just dug out from my collection and am giving a proper listen to, ‘Number One Song In Heaven’ by The Sparks, and probably anything by Prince, though specifically something off his new albums Lotusflow3r (yes, it has a 3 instead of an ‘e’!) and Mplsound. I’ll go with his cover of ‘Crimson and Clover’, which is gorgeous.
My three all-time favourite songs – and I appreciate I’ve fudged your answer here – would probably be ‘The Ballad of Dorothy Parker’ by Prince, ‘Combination’ by Aerosmith and possibly ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles, or the acoustic demo of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ by Lennon.
I can assure you I’m more decisive in politics than I am when choosing favourite songs!
Books? I initially read that as films for some reason (Spinal Tap, Monty Python and Holy Grail, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind if you’re asking).
Wizard and Glass by Stephen King springs to mind, book four of his
War of the Worlds is an old favourite I haven’t read in years.
The Foundation Saga by Isaac Asimov is a series close to my heart as well, as I studied it for my dissertation so it has a lot of memories from that time of my life associated with it. I choose that as one book as the originals were all released in magazines and collected into books anyway so they’re not novels in the traditional sense in some regards.