The Labour candidate for the key Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election believes that his day job with UNISON – “at the coalface of public services” – has had a major impact on his campaign.
Gareth Snell (pictured with Labour MPs Angela Rayner, left, and Ruth Smeeth) is in the last stages of a high-profile election fight, in which his chief rival is UKIP leader Paul Nuttall.
One of the key differences between the Mr Snell and Mr Nuttall is that only one of them is a local. While the UKIP leader recently moved to the constituency in order to contest it, Mr Snell has lived in the Potteries for the past 13 years.
He is a former leader of the nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme council and has worked with UNISON since 2014 – first as an organiser and now as a manager for the West Midlands region, responsible for such internal services as the membership database, regional finances and branch democracy at conference.
“Trade unionism and the Labour Party go hand in hand,” he says, in a break from the campaign trail. “My local organising post was in this constituency.
“I can draw on stories that have been told to me by people at the coalface of public services – talking to members in hospitals about how much pressure they’re under, local government employees who are overworked because of massive cuts and redundancies, higher education members about the funding issues in their sector.
“All of this is informing my campaign. Also, being a trade unionist means I’m able to see what we need to do as a Labour government to help these people.”
One of the biggest issues in the constituency is the under-funding and under-staffing of the Royal Stoke Hospital, and its need for better integration with social care.
He also cites a widespread desire for a Brexit deal that “works for Stoke” – but he has not hidden his own vote to ‘remain’ from the electorate.
“People are not interested in returning to the referendum,” he says, “they are interested in what’s happening on day one and day two of Brexit.
“I have accepted the result and most people have accepted that. It’s my duty now to get the best outcome.”
But he does acknowledge the continuing uncertainty for UNISON members born in other EU countries about whether they will have to right to remain and work in the UK.
Mr Snell admits that the campaign against UKIP has become “tetchy” with some very heated hustings.
“But what I’ve been more worried about is that Paul Nuttall keeps saying how awful the city is.
“I’m more focussed on keeping our campaign positive, and focussed on the people of Stoke.”
Both Stoke and the Copeland constituency in West Cumbria go to the polls on Thursday 23 February.
In total, 10 candidates are contesting Stoke Central:
- Mohammed Yaqub Akram – Independent
- Zulfiqar Ali – Liberal Democrats
- Jack Brereton – Conservatives
- The Incredible Flying Brick – Official Monster Raving Loony Party
- Adam Colclough – Green Party
- Godfrey Davies – Christian Peoples Alliance
- Barbara Fielding – Independent
- David Furness – British National Party Local People First
- Paul Nuttall – UKIP
- Gareth Snell – Labour