As I sat down for a coffee with Chris Altree, at first, he seemed a bit nervous, a self-confessed 100/1 shot to win Barrow’s nomination for Labour candidate – he needn’t be. He described that his victory would be the equivalent of Wimbledon winning the FA Cup. However, based on our conversation, crazier things have happened. His approachable nature and charisma seem to resonate with that of Labour’s leader, and I have no doubt that on the campaign trail, he will connect with potential voters. First things first though, as he points out.
Having grown-up in Barrow on a council estate to a single-mum, he has expert knowledge of local issues and what successive Tory governments have done in areas such as Barrow. Chris recognises that change is in the distance, but that requires Labour at the helm. Currently working for Network Rail, he is happy to discuss the problems of privatisation of the railways. Network Rail itself had to be brought back into public ownership after failed privatisation attempts. Interestingly, Chris was nicknamed ‘Lefty-Chris’ when serving in the Royal Marines.
He points out that the Labour manifesto in 2017 reaffirmed the commitment to a nuclear deterrent, something that is a pressing issue in a town where BAE Systems employs several thousand people earning above the average national-wage, with billions of pounds worth of contracts coming into the town.
He says that there needs to be increased corporate responsibility, wondering how can it be that there exists such inequality in the area. A recent government report found that 46% of children in the centre of Barrow grow up in poverty, with the figure around 24% for the Furness area as a whole. Such responsibility could be written into government contracts. Though he is sceptical of local influence by the employer in schools, as they are said to fund one of the secondary schools in the town.
Chris strikes me as a realist, recognising the imperfections that currently exist on the opposition benches and I feel he represents a pragmatic approach to politics. Saying that the increasing power of big corporations must be stemmed, but also that Labour could handle things better to reconstruct their image. For example, he says that Labour policies need to get beyond the noise of the establishment, as when you take away the party that is proposing the changes, Labour have overwhelming support.
He points out that one of the greatest misconceptions of Labour is that there is a dictator at the helm, which he points out is false, and getting people to understand that members now decide the direction of the party is crucial. Collectivism seems to underpin much of Chris’ message, with his friends helping and funding with his campaign, his knowledge and approach to questions makes me believe his values are representative of those of Labour as a whole.
Despite voting remain, he says the party should be wary of losing Labour voters in marginal seats over their EU position, which has some basis. The constituency he is attempting to win over currently has a majority of around 200 votes. It voted to leave, heavily, and says that risking a 2nd referendum could ultimately end up swinging many northern towns blue. That is something none of us want.
For more information, Chris’ website can be found here.