ELECTION | OTS News interviews Sean Halsall

2nd July 2024

For this week’s general election, OTS News invited all six Southport parliamentary candidates to interview. Patrick Hurley, Sean Halsall, and Edwin Black were interviewed in person. Damien Moore and Erin Harvey agreed to recorded interviews, but due to internal constraints, these were conducted in writing. Reform UK’s Andrew Lynn declined to participate.

OTS News: You’ve got a big battle ahead of you. You’re up against established parties. You’ve recently left the Labour Party, I’m sure we’ll come on to that in a bit more detail. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you stand for and what a voter who votes for you will be getting at the ballot box.

So I was born in the town, Hart Street, and I’ve lived here my whole life, I’ve never lived outside of the constituency. I think my family goes back five generations in the town. Not that I think that should matter too much. But my family is well rooted here. I’ve got no plans to leave. I think a big reason that steps me aside from the other parties… And you’re right, not having that party machinery for the campaign does make it an uphill battle. But it also gives me freedom to actually say what I believe and campaign on what I believe in, rather than worrying that I’m going to not do what the party line is. And again, you mentioned me leaving the Labour Party, a big issue with the Labour Party and other mainstream parties is the whip system. You’re going to come up at times when you’re forced to vote against your community’s interests in favor of what your National Party wants you to do. I think we need to get away from that. Democracy is broken. And we need to empower the residents here. So one of the big things I’m looking at doing is setting up assemblies. Community assemblies, so that local people can engage and come together to see what the problems in their community are. But also find solutions and work collectively to address those solutions. So where they live and work, looks and feels like how they want it to, rather than a council or government just proposing things and getting rushed through.

OTS News: Local assemblies… I remember you talking about this at your launch event. I asked you about it at the time and to go into a bit more detail about it. I remember asking you at the time and maybe you could repeat the answer what power do you see these assemblies having? How do they actually help in addressing the issues that local people face? And I think the other thing I’d contend is in Sefton Council for the past couple of meetings one of the things that’s been talked about a couple of times is the Southport Area Committee is this not just a return of that? It was scrapped in fact the Labour Party actually have talked against bringing that back. And again, you were part of the party at the time. So is it not just a repeat of the same thing?

No, no, that’s very much people in specific areas, councillors, community leaders, charities coming together and discussing what’s going on. This is about people. And it’s about engaging people in a non formal space, it’s not going to be settled like a boardroom. There’s no committees. It’s just giving people that space to talk about their concerns. And again, come up with some solutions. And if I’m elected, informing me of what they want me to vote on there. So it’s not a party, I’m going be whipped by, it’s the people who vote for me. I think, working people and people coming together and campaigning on issues is the only thing that has ever changed anything. No party does things without pressure from the outside. This is about building that pressure and leverage and telling people “if you’re not going to represent us, then we’re going to use our votes somewhere else on somebody who is going to represent us does listen to us and has our best interests at heart.”

OTS News: You mentioned the whip system. Were you ever prevented from voting your conscience while you were a Labour councillor?

Yes

OTS News: In what respect?

So, not to go into loads of detail, but there was a motion moved by an independent a few years ago during COVID, when we were in Aintree, which mentioned a trade union. And without us knowing about it, there was an amendment circulated as the meeting went on, which we were whipped to vote for, which just redacted any mention of the trade unions. Most people will know my background is very heavily been involved in trade union organizing and working within the trade union movement. I don’t see any reason why we should ever whitewash history and take out the contribution of trade unions to improve and things. I think that was abhorent and actually approached the chief whip at the time and said “that is the last time I will vote against my conscience.”

OTS News: Going back to your time in the Labour Party, you were you were elected to Kew Ward, as a Labour councillor, you only very recently left the party. Why did you leave?

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I left for a number of reasons. Rolling back on a lot of policy… So lifting the two-child benefit cap, that for me is a no brainer. It’s something we can do relatively cheaply that’s going to lift so many kids out of poverty. I think in Southport 27% of children live below the poverty line. That’s disgusting and abhorrent and we shouldn’t see that in, what’s technically, the sixth richest economy in the world (although I’d argue it’s an economy with rich people in it – it isn’t a rich economy, because we see the deprivation everywhere). We see the position on Gaza, I cannot agree with this position of hiding what’s going on there. I think we’ve got the UN saying that there is potential for war crimes, we need to sit up and listen and do something. I think these situations are never fixed by military actions. It’s a political problem that needs a political solution. People have to get around the table and speak. By dropping bombs on people there, (which we’ve seen – everyone’s seen on social media), you’re just making sure the next generation of people aren’t going to be able to sit around the table and come to come to decisions that benefit everyone.

OTS News: When you left the party you mentioned Labour’s stance on Gaza quite prominently on social media. You mentioned it at the time, you jointly raised a motion in council in relation to the Council’s stance on Gaza and Palestine. I wonder what you would say to a voter who would say they are more concerned with what you can do locally rather than internationally?

It’s not a binary choice. So I think people get trapped into this idea that you can only care about one thing at a time. I think if our world leaders were standing up and doing something about Gaza, we wouldn’t be put in a position where we have to raise these motions to try and force government leaders to do it because one of the stances on it was to write to both Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak and ask them to change their position.

OTS News: If I recall the issue in Council at the time was the removal of reference to Keir Starmer from the motion, that was one of the big controversial points of that.

Yeah, the Labour Party wanted to remove a clause about writing to Keir Starmer, and I understand why they did it because they don’t want to hold themselves to the same scrutiny that they want to hold their opponents. Also, I think that the more abhorrent parts that was removed was the word “permanent” after “immediate ceasefire”. Which, again, if you’re going to have a ceasefire, it’s no good having it long enough to get food in just before you start dropping bombs on people again. There needs to be a permanent solution. We don’t fix these issues without having talks and you can’t do that while people are still being bombed. I think as well, they removed or changed the word “condemned” to “regret”. Now the word “condemn” and “condemning” what Israel are doing and “regretting” are very different things. I think it was important that we as a Council (and hopefully the government would have taken that position), condemned those actions because… it isn’t all people who live in Israel. We see protests in Israel against what’s going on there as well. It is a government hell bent on destroying a group of people.

OTS News: You mentioned party machinery earlier, you don’t have the resources that, say, the local Labour candidate has and the local Conservative candidate have available to them. But if you are elected, you will also be in a minority of one – you will not be able to go to a party that you’re a member of, for support. How does that help the people of Southport if you know Damien can go to a Conservative government and seek out Town Deal Funding, Patrick Hurley might be able to go to a Labour Government and secure funding from his colleagues. This is something that you won’t be able to do. How do you address that?

I would flip on its head. I can work and have worked with people of all different political persuasions, I have my politics, anyone who looks into that will find where my politics lie. But it’s about listening to people and being open to working with everyone. In my time on the council, I’ve worked with people across parties on case work. It’s not personal to me, we hold our politics by no other means than the environment we grew up in. That’s where our politics comes from, wherever you’re like me: an ex bus driver who came from the trade union movement, and very much fall on that left side of politics. Or if you’re Boris Johnson, and were educated in private education, and had been gifted life on a golden platter. You can’t blame individuals, it’s the ideologies. But that shouldn’t matter. I think the only people I should be responsible to are the people live in Southport and would elect us. I’d argue as well that it hurts you more being in a big party when it comes to issues related to local people. We look at Damien Moore’s voting record on sewage being pumped into the sea. We’re at a seaside resort of a beach, how could that possibly help people living here? And again, we look at the Labour Party’s position on the two-child benefit cap – 27% of children in this town are living in poverty. That is something which is going to negatively affect people. The money is there to be found for stuff like that. There just needs to be the political will to find it.

OTS News: What would you say your biggest achievements as a councillor for Kew ward have been?

I think some of the most important ones are when people in crisis with housing reach out. So far. I’ve managed to get a 100% record on people reaching out and that’s been by far the biggest amount of casework I’ve had over my five years of being a councillor. I think when you get residents who are absolutely at a crisis point and see their world falling apart, being able to help them and make sure they’re going to be safe and secure, and then hearing about how their kids have done – there’s no feeling in the world that matches that. On a broader basis, we’ve supported the Birkdale irrigation allotments, which have done amazing things with community plots that supply food to the food banks and seeing that community grow and coalesce around each other and help each other and work. It’s been absolutely incredible to see.