In the first of a series of chats for The Mead, Southmead Resident Sher Fowler interviewed MP Darren Jones at the Greenway Centre, just before he met this Summer’s Southmead Star Pickles McPrickles. Here’s how it went.
DARREN: I normally start by saying who I am, Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West.
SHER: And I’m Sher Fowler, local resident, trustee and general dog’s body around the Greenway Centre (lots of laughter) Well Darren, on this very hot day I’ve got a few questions to ask you, I’ve never done this before so I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing . . .
DARREN: Just ask me questions?
SHER: Right, so here we go then . . . I know you’re the first Darren in the House of Commons but what do you want me to call you?
DARREN: Whatever you like, Darren, Dazza, and yes there’s never been a Darren in the House of Commons before. Darren’s not a very popular name but apparently there was a bit of a bump in the late 70s early 80s. Not only did the BBC report that I’m the first Darren in the House of Commons they also reported that I’m likely to be the last coz there was only 100 babies registered with the name Darren in the last year – so it’s not a very popular name sadly . . .
SHER: Well it’s nice because I least I know who they’re talking about!
DAZZA: Exactly! It’s either me or no-one else! (Lots of laughter)
SHER: So, what should we know about you?
DAZZA: Uh, what should you know about me, well, I’m the first MP to be born here, so I was born at Southmead Hospital, the old one, and grew up in Lawrence Weston and Shirehampton, so went to what was Portway School which is now Oasis Academy Brightstow, and ever since Bristol North West has existed as a constituency (it came about in the 1950s) we’ve never actually had an MP that is from here, so I’m the first one which makes it quite nice really because it means a lot more to be the Labour MP where you were born and grew up.
SHER: That’s lovely, and what do you know about the Southmead Community?
DAZZA: So I’ve been in and around Southmead for a really long time, before being the MP as well, so I used to work at the Southmead and Henbury Family Practice down the road – my Mum used to work there so when I was a student I did some work there for a couple of years. My sister now works at the Greenway Practice so we kind of have a bit of a history being around working at the local GP centres and my Gran lives round the corner at the St Monica’s Trust thing . . .
SHER: Westbury Fields?
DAZZA: That’s the one! Yes, she lives there, so I know the area really well and then obviously as the MP I get invited to lots of good things like the Southmead Community Fair, and I was at the Southmead Community Centre last Saturday . . . we get to talk about some of the new stuff that’s happening, you know some new housing’s being built? I have to come here sometimes when things don’t always go well so you know last summer when we had those problems down the square I was around then trying to make sure that everything was being done properly, so I feel like I know the area really well.
SHER: That’s good, but how will you keep Southmead’s support at the next election – I mean we’re all really fed up of cuts to services?
DAZZA: So I suppose there’s two questions there I think – the first one is whether I’m doing a good job as the local MP and the other one is like the national government stuff and that’s about the cuts to services. So the first one, whether I’m doing a good job as a local MP, that’s up to you guys. I mean I keep working hard and doing my best to be helpful and getting things changed but you know we live in a democracy and you’ve got the right to boot me out if you want to at the next election or keep me, I mean depends who else is on offer . . .
DAZZA: Um, I like to think I work really hard but ultimately that’s for you guys to decide – I respect the decision either way. In terms of the national stuff around cuts, I mean we’ve been facing cuts now for eight years, a long time. Southmead Hospital’s really feeling it, you’ve seen the cut-backs in police in the area, local schools are really struggling as well and everyone’s really feeling it now. My view is that it’s just gone on for too long and actually what we want to do is to make sure that we are funding our public services properly coz that’s what we pay our taxes for.
SHER: Okeedokes. Now, what do you think about Southmead being on the Gromit Trail for the first time?
DAZZA: I think it’s fantastic coz with a lot of these trails that we’ve had in the past they don’t come out here very much, I think the nearest one before I was an MP was on the Downs which is pretty much in town and so people were rummaging around the City Centre, Broadmead and stuff and Clifton, they didn’t really come out this way so I think it’s really good that it’s here coz people want to visit and we’ve got so many great things in this part of the City that people might not normally visit – good for the local coffee shops and stuff.
SHER: Definitely, and he’s quite good looking . . .
DAZZA: The Gromit?
SHER: And he’s very well behaved . . .
DAZZA: Ah very good, I’m going to meet him later on (lots of laughter)
SHER: Now tell us something surprising we don’t know about you?
DAZZA: Oooh, as an MP you know pretty much everything to be honest because it’s so public . . . I’m vegan, do you know that . . .
SHER: Noooo . . .
DAZZA: Well I’m kind of a chilled-out vegan which means I don’t normally eat any animal products or dairy products because I am concerned about over farming and what that means for the environment and climate change, but because I’m a chilled-out vegan you know sometimes I’ll have a bit of cheese, which you’re not really supposed to do but my argument is that if we all cut down our meat and dairy intake then that will be good for everybody but that doesn’t mean you have to be kind of militant about it.
SHER: Well no because if everyone did it we’d have no cheese . . .
DAZZA: Exactly . . . which would be bad right?
SHER: Well it’s no good for the Gromit . . . or Wallace . . .
DAZZA: No good for the Gromit? (lots of laughter) We need less cheese, less cheese! (lots of laughter)
SHER: So what’s your message to our readers and Meaders . . .
DAZZA: Two things – my job as your Member of Parliament is to be your voice in Parliament and your champion in Bristol. What that means is that I have to stand up in the House of Commons and tell the Government what you think is right – I have to do that for a hundred thousand people, that’s quite a lot of people. But in order to do that I need to hear from you and I need people to come and talk to me, whether it’s in my coffee mornings or in my pub politics or coming to events or on my Facebook page, you know tell me what you care about, tell me what you don’t like and want changed and I then I can better represent you.
And the second thing is about being your champion in Bristol – make sure you invite me to things. You know I’m here every Friday and Saturday, when Westminster’s sitting in London Monday to Thursday, and I’m keen to get around as much as possible to meet people and help people out so if there’s things that people in Southmead want me to go to invite me and I’ll be thrilled to come.
SHER: Brilliant. Now, I want to know do they really fall asleep in parliament and have you done it yet?
DAZZA: I haven’t done it yet –
SHER: I really hope you don’t –
DAZZA: So in the House of Commons it’s quite rare – um I have seen a couple of MPs asleep in the library before, and there’s like a gentleman’s room and a ladies room where there’s showers and stuff and I’ve seen someone have a nap in there before. It’s a bit more common in the House of Lords where they’re all generally a bit older and sometimes the House of Lords can go on very very late . . .
SHER: So they miss their afternoon naps a bit . . .
DAZZA: Yeah they miss their naps and if they’re there at 1 am in the morning sometimes they often have a bit of a snooze . . .
SHER: Yeah I suppose you can understand that . . . Alright well that’s great – it’s lovely to talk to you . .
DAZZA: Thank you very much
SHER: and, keep doing what you’re doing . . .
DAZZA: Thanks very much . . .
Thank you to both Darren and Sher for their time and good humour. We look forward to Sher’s next interview.