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‘A vote is for my brand of Labour’ says Bermondsey & Old Southwark candidate Neil Coyle

Neil Coyle is perhaps feeling a bit short-changed after having his tenure as Bermondsey and Old Southwark’s MP interrupted abruptly after two years.

The Newington ward Labour councillor fought hard in the 2015 general election to win the seat by 4,489 votes from the deep-rooted Liberal Democrat Sir Simon Hughes, who had held the position for 32 years.

And all eyes are on the north of the borough once again, as the Labour MP battles it out with his Lib Dem rival in one of the most talked-about seats of the 2017 election.

Mr Coyle may not have been as well-known as his veteran opponent when he stood two years ago – but things are bound to have changed after his numerous television appearances, his outspoken nature in the Commons, and his open public criticism of his leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

In his short time as MP, the new father stood up against his Labour colleagues in Lewisham when the future of Millwall FC was put at risk by a compulsory purchase order, campaigned to keep the community’s under-threat pubs open, and helped Bermondsey boy Harvey Brown get treatment for his ultra-rare Morquio syndrome. And he’s far from finished.

Sat in his constituency office on Jamaica Road, Mr Coyle tells me he wants to “make a difference in a positive way in people’s lives” and to “continue [his] work on health, education and opposing Brexit” if re-elected.

And, unsurprisingly, as soon as the topic of affordable housing is broached, his attention instantly turns to his Lib-Dem rival.

“Simon Hughes sat in government and voted to cut the budget for affordable housing,” he says. “He had one chance in government and suddenly he voted to cut that budget, which could have helped get a better percentage of social housing.

“If I have my chance to be in government, you won’t find me cutting the budget for affordable housing. I’d never vote for anything like that – I want to see councils supported to do far more.”

Neil Coyle with daughter Esme

Mr Coyle’s vision is for Southwark to become a “mortgage advisor”.

“Think what that would mean,” he says enthusiastically. “They could have greater responsibility to borrow at genuinely affordable rates on long-term and on the scale that would allow them to build more, but also would help reduce some of the pressure.

“If Southwark was trusted by Labour or any other government to borrow to build, they could actually be providing mortgages for those who want to buy and managing other people’s debt to build the homes we know we need.”

Although he says he isn’t “tribal” and admits Labour could have and should have done more for housing when in government.

Mr Coyle believes locals should have “first dibs” on any affordable housing built and wants to bring back key worker status for the likes of police officers and medical workers.

He wants to see every school given dedicated support for tackling knife crime and proper penalties handed out to those convicted for knife crime.

“In a home office report published earlier this year, there was a five-year plan and not a mention of knife crime,” he says.

“We need to involve schools much better and I think it should be compulsory that all schools are involved, so no school feels stigmatised by having to have dedicated practical support.”

When asked whether taxing more and borrowing more is the solution to police cuts and school funding cuts – as Labour’s manifesto suggests – Mr Coyle says his party is offering 10,000 extra police and £4billion for schools.

“It’s absolutely crucial that we knock back that agenda [of cuts] and Labour’s investing £4billion in schools is really welcome and it would make a huge difference,” he explains.

“People have noticed [police cuts] especially locally when we had the changes to the clusters from dedicated ward officers, which has really affected police visibility and that was a mistake. 10,000 officers would make a big difference.”

When challenged on whether he would hold the Labour-run Southwark Council to account, Mr Coyle launches into the case of a woman living not far from his office on Jamaica Road with three disabled children – one of whom was refused transport to school by the council.

Labour candidate Neil Coyle is fighting to win back his seat in Bermondsey and Old Southwark

“Southwark was claiming that their policy meant she lived about 70 metres down the road from the perimeter of where they would provide transport,” he says. “It was very clear to me that this was a mistake.

“I supported the family to go to the Ombudsman and the council no surprise lost. They could’ve acted much quicker and been more flexible and saved a lot of trauma and anxiety.”

Mr Coyle vows he will stand up against his Labour colleagues in Lewisham if the council there makes any future attempts to compulsory purchase land used by Millwall Football Club to sell to a developer.

“I raised it with Lewisham and the mayor over there and their cabinet and also took it beyond that,” he says. “Lewisham got it wrong and have actually acknowledged that, thankfully, and they’ve also said after pressure that they will now involve fully the club in any further plan – so I hope that the outcome is that the club’s future is safe where they are.”

Mr Coyle says a vote for him is a vote for his “brand of Labour” in this election – not the Labour party.

It doesn’t quite echo what he said the year he was elected, when he told the News he thought the electorate was “voting based on how people perceive the values of political parties”.

But after denying he ever said a vote for him was a vote for Labour, the Bermondsey and Old Southwark candidate simply says it will be his name on the ballot paper on June 8.

And despite his open criticism of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, he is adamant he doesn’t want to be the next party leader, or indeed prime minister, one day.

When asked what he has been doing on the doorstep to convince people to vote for him even if they don’t want Corbyn as leader, he remarks: “voters are not stupid”.

“With all due respect, Labour and the Lib Dems have held this seat for yonks but there aren’t many people I know believe that Tim Farron is going to be prime minister and the polls suggest that nor will Jeremy Corbyn – so a vote for me is a vote for Neil Coyle, here, Labour,” he says.

“Voters are not stupid and they do recognise the state of national politics, so they do have a bit more confidence certainly that in choosing me they are choosing Neil Coyle and my brand of Labour.”

We’ll have to wait until June 9 to find out whether Neil Coyle has done enough in his two short years as MP to convince voters he is the best person for the job.

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1 COMMENT

  1. He’s not the best person for the job but many people voted for him because they believed and trusted in Jeremy Corbyn. Sadly, Coyle is determined to represent himself and his Blairite, neo-liberal views rather than any such views from his constituents. I must admit that I did vote for him but had to hold my nose while doing so. His interview straight after the election in The Daily Mail of all places, confirmed that he would continue to undermine the elected leadership of the party rather than help in the massive swing to Labour and the potential for a new broom to sweep away blatant self-interest.

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