Stephen Kinnock Interview: Stereophonics, Locking MPs In A Windowless Room And What Brings Tears To His Eyes

Stephen Kinnock on Stereophonics, Locking MPs In A Windowless Room And What Brings Tears To His Eyes
Stephen Kinnock

The 2015 General Election saw 176 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, The Huffington Post UK is speaking to 15 MPs from the 2015 intake of the Conservatives, Labour and SNP. This week, it's the globe-trotting Stephen Kinnock...

Having a famous name can be a curse and a blessing.

To many, when you hear the name Kinnock, the image of former Labour leader Neil immediately springs to mind.

But if his son Stephen carries on in his current trajectory then a new generation may well defer to the Aberavon MP when the name Kinnock is mentioned.

Elected in May with a 10,445 majority, Stephen wasted no time in establishing his own voice in the Labour Party.

If his surname wasn't Kinnock, Stephen would no doubt be heralded as one of the great discoveries of the new Labour intake.

However, anyone who cites the Stereophonics as their favourite band should perhaps be held back from the highest levels of public office.

Here is Stephen Kinnock's 15 from '15:

1) Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Tredegar in South Wales, lived there until I was four or five years old, and then moved to London because of dad’s job. We decided to move the family home to London and grew up first in suburbia and then in slightly more urban-type suburbia in London. So from Kingston first to Ealing. In my maiden speech I referred to myself as a global Welshman, a weird, hybrid breed. I do feel very Welsh, certainly emotionally, and literally there is no finer sound than the national anthem at the Millennium Stadium. It literally brings tears to my eyes every single time. I was very lucky a little while back I got to see Wales vs New Zealand in the Millennium so you got to see the national anthem and the haka.

2) What did you want to be when you were a child?

I wanted to be a professional footballer. I loved my rugby but I think probably loved my football more. Back then you couldn’t play professional rugby. I love my football, I’m a Cardiff City fan but when I was a little lad I was a Liverpool fan because everybody backed the winners and Liverpool at that time were winning everything and had amazing players like Kenny Dalglish, John Toshack, Ian Rush. I used to like Liverpool as they often had some really classy Welsh players coming through as well.

Liverpool and Wales legend Ian Rush

In later years, I moved on to become a Cardiff City fan. It was appalling [when they changes shirts from blue to red]. It just shows how football has become too much like a business and not close enough to what the fans actually want to see. It was a real shame that we did that. We loved the fact that Vincent Tan came with money and helped to invest, got us into the Premiership but unfortunately everything’s gone a bit pear shaped since then.

3) When did you first become interested in politics?

It was obviously always there from a very, very young age what with coming from a very political family. But what’s interesting, and I read the Jess Phillips 15/15 you did, and she said she was from a very political family, so many of my colleagues here when we talk about our family backgrounds we have parents who were either councillors or very engaged community activists, so in a sense it makes me think we are all, the vast majority of politicians in this place, are the offspring of some kind of political parentage. I just happened to have parents who became very high profile politicians.

From the moment I could engage in any kind of rational conversation it was always there at the dinner table. We never really as a family talked about ‘politics’ with a small ‘p’, it was always much more about values, what’s the right thing to do, what’s the right way to behave. No sort of lobby gossip, nothing from the members’ tea room, my dad just never engaged in any of that, partly because it didn’t interest him that much. He also wanted us to make our own minds up but within a very clearly defined value frame.

Stephen Kinnock (far left) with his mother Glenys, sister Rachel and father Neil in 1987

Then I joined the Labour Party when I was 15, Dad was elected leader when I was 13, and it was a funny kind of mixture of part of you when you’re a 13 year old boy you get pretty embarrassed by anything and then suddenly you’re walking round a shopping centre in Ealing with a famous dad and there’s an element of sort of resenting that. But an element always of burning for it as well, the burn to get involved to stand up for what you believe in, to be proud of your values and where you come from and be driven by the desire to make the world a better place, and that is in my DNA.

4) Do you have any political heroes?

My political hero has always been Nye Bevan, and I know that from a Welsh Labour man that’s not going to be a surprise. Making radical change and actually getting to the foundations and the structure of things - that’s what I feel is really missing in today’s politics, that radical structural change.

Things like the minimum wage are quite rare in terms of not cyclical change but radical change. Nye Bevan epitomises that radicalism, the entire Attlee Government of 1945, that is what we should aspire to.

Nye Bevan

I also have a hero who has come a bit newer to me. It’s a young man called Dic Penderyn who was involved in the Merthyr uprisings in 1831. Merthyr at the time was the global capital of iron making. Appalling exploitation of workers led to a number of uprisings and unrest and at one point the government sent the army in and 17 or 18 of them were shot dead by the army. They looked for a scapegoat and they accused this young man of stabbing an army officer and he always protested his innocence. He was offered the opportunity of a plea bargain and he didn’t take it. He was hanged on the basis of a kangaroo court.

His struggle and his tragic demise optimised a struggle that working people that still resonates. It was a long time ago but I think it still resonates, because he’s so local to Port Talbot and has an iconic status in Port Talbot. I’m lobbying for his posthumous pardon, I’ve written to Michael Gove and we’re putting a petition together.

5) When did you first stand for election?

I stood to be selected as a candidate in the early months of 2014. March 23 was the day of the hustings and the vote, and then my first election as a candidate was on May 7. I stood to be on the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee, and it was heavily oversubscribed and I tied for third place with Peter Kyle MP and lost it on the toss of a coin.

6) What did you do for a living before becoming an MP?

I worked for a number of years for the British Council in Brussels and then in Russia – I had almost four years in St Petersburg. Then I did a year in Sierra Leone and then after that I went to work for the World Economic Forum in Geneva, the Davos people, and came back here in 2012 and worked for a small consultancy company specialising in green energy and helping large businesses to be sustainable in terms of their business models.

7) What do you do to relax?

I love to play sport and I go to the gym but I’m also in the five a-side football team that plays on a Tuesday morning here, made up of mainly MPs but a few other bods that come along. Certainly the highlight of my parliamentary career so far was nutmegging Justin Madders MP. That is my highlight. Love spending quality time with my family, obviously that’s a bit challenging given how busy we’ve all been.

8) If you could run any Government department, which would it be?

Business, Innovation and Skills. I’m sort of fascinated by the opportunities there are to drive a manufacturing renaissance to reinvent Labour’s relationship with business, and actually look at that really exciting area of the increasing confluence between our agenda and the business agenda. I think there’s an increasing number of CEOs who get it, who are out there saying because of our position in the market, brand reputation, the rise of the aware consumer, the fact that if you create more sustainable business models that’s often more efficient and is good for your bottom line. We haven’t had that conversation with business, we haven’t actually gone out there and said to them we are actually the party for you, because we’ve got that progressive agenda which businesses increasingly need to be moving in that direction.

9) What is your favourite film?

Donnie Darko, I love it. So many movies love to just tie up all the loose ends and there’s a lovely little nice symmetrical ending to the film and everybody goes away thinking 'oh that’s great there were no loose ends, no ambiguity'. Life is really, really ambiguous. Things are really complicated. It’s very rare you come out of a conversation and you go ‘I know exactly what that person was trying to say.’ You’ve always got unanswered questions and things that are not clear to you and that’s where I think Donnie Darko is so brave as a film because it leaves things [ambiguous]. You can sit and debate that film for three hours after it’s finished and not really come to any conclusive view. They are people with a lot of different views about what that rabbit means or what the actual time sequencing is in that film. That’s part of it, but also it just has a kick-arse soundtrack.

Donnie Darko. No, I haven't got a clue what it all means either.

10) Who is your favourite band/artist?

I love the Stereophonics, I’m a massive fan. Things like ‘Have A Nice Day’ and ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ – fantastic. I’m also a big fan of Radiohead, at least up to OK Computer. Quintessentially British group. But the Steroes are quintessentially Welsh, the way that they project themselves. I like those bands that have got a little bit of self-deprecation in there, and smart lyrics. Radiohead went a little bit off the rails after OK Computer, but some fantastic songs.

11) What is the best thing about the House of Commons?

Where I’ve really enjoyed being here is when I’ve managed to find that sweet spot between something which really resonates with my constituency and using this place as a kind of platform to put a spotlight on that issue and magnify it. I really enjoyed asking one of the ministers from the Department of Energy and Climate Change about what’s happening on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. It’s a huge project which could create thousands of jobs for the constituency. We now need to see the Government moving forward making progress with that. I really enjoyed being in the House and asking that question because I know how much that could mean to my constituents.

I like being in the House to ask about the scandal of contaminated blood, I have a constituent for whom it is a personal issue. It’s a real exemplar of democracy when an MP can go into the Chamber, the premier debating arena in the country, and ask about a specific constituent's case. That opportunity for the House of Commons to be a platform for campaigning and bringing together your role as a constituency MP with your role as holding your government to account and pushing forward issues at a national level is a really satisfying part of the job.

12) What is the worst thing about the House of Commons?

Prime Minister’s Questions. It is a zoo. I have to admit that one of the things I find quite worrying is when I’m in there I really get into it. The football fan in me comes out and if you think of something funny to shout, you will shout it. It’s a bit of a paradox because I know in my heart that this is not the right way to do politics but when I’m in there the adrenaline starts pumping and you become like a Viking in there.

13) What is the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could?

I would like to see more cross-party consensus on certain issues. I would like to see us saying there are certain issues and areas of strategic national interest, for example, long-term funding of the NHS. The NHS was created when people were dying at the age of 68, and that age has now risen to the age of 82. It doesn’t take a genius to see that there’s some fundamental thinking that needs to be done, and that should transcend the vagaries of the electoral cycle.

Long-term education needs. Look at the example of a country like Finland which put all of their political parties into a room and said 'All we’ve got in this country is our human capital. Our economy is in serious trouble, give us a 15 year plan'. That 15 year plan was set in stone and no new government coming in could change it, apart from some tinkering at the sidelines, and Finland is now always top of the PISA rankings.

I think there's a need for a 'Future State 2025' and that there are areas where you need to send a cross-party group into a room with no light whatsoever and a locked door, with maybe some food, and no Twitter and no telephones, and you say ‘Don’t come out of here until you’ve got something which we can seriously put together as a 10 to 15 year plan' and then lock it down. Long term infrastructure needs, the energy stuff. Business needs that certainty. We can’t do it with everything, of course, we’ve got to have a proper political debate but the way it’s happening at the moment is not conducive to solving some of the deep seated structural problems that we have and that’s why we keep doing cyclical things, not structural things.

14) What one reason would you give someone to visit your constituency?

Absolutely amazing beach. Wales’ best kept secret. But also the steel works. Making steel is an absolutely fascinating process and if you can go and look at the end process from the stuff coming in on the ship to what goes into the blast furnace and what goes into the BOS plant and what goes then to the rolling mill and what comes out the other end and you think then of all of the products and steel is the foundation industry. It’s the backbone of this country in so many ways. Far more people in this country should understand how steel is made and what an art it is.

Aberavon Beach

15) What are the best and worst aspects of your personality?

I’m very impatient and that’s probably the best and the worst because I really like to get things done and I really don’t like it if an email is left unanswered for too long. I suppose that’s a good thing, because there’s maybe a perception of ‘the public sector’, which is kind of Parliament included, and now I'm in the public sector having not really ever worked properly in the public sector before. You can end up in the stodgy bureaucratic mess and I’ve got no patience for any of that so I like to cut through, maybe it means sometimes I don’t consult enough people or make sure that everybody’s copied in on certain emails. I do live by the rule that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.


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