GE19: A cup of Brexspresso with Sarah Olney

Our Political Editor sat down with the Liberal Democrat candidate for Richmond Park – one of the most marginal seats in London – to talk all things Brexit, General Election, and universities.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty political chat, it’s fair to say that a lot of people have a notion that politicians are boring and dull. Let’s dispel that rumour once and for all by getting to know a bit about you: where did you grow up, where did you go university, and what do you get up to outside of the political bubble?

(Laughter). Let’s see… I live in North Kingston with my husband and two children. When I’m not a politician, I’m an accountant at Hampton Court Palace. I grew up in Surrey – not far from here in fact – and studied English at King’s College London. And I really really loved it! I did a lot of student theatre at uni, which I feel set me up really well for politics.

Let’s crack on with the politics: we have an election in less than a week… What is your prediction?

What I’m really hoping for is a hung parliament seeing as we’ve got only two foreseeable outcomes. And I am really praying that it’s not a Conservative majority, as it’ll be a green light for Boris to ram his withdrawal agreement through parliament, which he has said he wants to do before Christmas. Boris claims he’ll be able to negotiate a magic free-trade agreement with the EU by next year, which is, well, impossible. And Brexit, as we all now, will be economic apocalypse.

It’s safe to say that there’s been a surge in student popularity for the Liberal Democrats due to their strong pro-remain message. However, many students have still not forgiven the Lib Dems for the tuition fees scandal back in the coalition days. Are the Lib Dems the party for the student?

Yes we are, because well… you won’t always be students! I’m assuming you’re studying to gain qualifications that you’d want to use in the working world, and as students you want a world to be waiting for you that values [your qualification] and wants to use your skills. The Liberal Democrats are the best party to build that society. We are the party for business, and we have the best policies for taxation to allow our economy to thrive, as well as reforming health and further education. And if you are blessed enough to have a family, we are the best party to support you throughout your life.

But let’s not forget that a massive swathe of current students will be looking for policies or reforms that will affect them right now. Is there anything the Lib Dems can promise the student now?

I think one of the things that’s changed a lot since I was a student is that there are so many more young people struggling with mental health issues, and we’re the party that’s trying to make mental health have parity with physical health. We want to provide extra funding for the NHS, and we’ve been very upfront that we would tax people more to pay for this. So I’d say in that regard we’re definitely the party of the students.

I agree that’s an important and critical issue that needs to be tackled, but I know for sure another issue on the minds of many students will be the hefty £9,250 paid every year. Will the Lib Dems support scrapping tuition fees?

Well it’s not in our manifesto because we believe it’s a privilege to have a further education, and a privilege not everyone in the country enjoys. It’s also a privilege which manifests in higher salaries later in life, and society as a whole will definitely benefit.

There are also other pressing issues such as alleviating poverty … which has mainly come about due to the way universal credit has been implemented. There’s also an immediate need for more housing and policing. While I am completely convinced by the idea of not paying a thing for education from the day you’re born until, well, whenever you want to stop studying, it’s not a pressing spending priority at the moment.

So do you not empathise with students who feel tuition fees is an unnecessary burden?

Of course I do. The current interest rate is a scandal, but it’s not like you’re paying a council tax bill. It’s of course based on your salary. A tuition fee is a burden, but I feel you are getting something back.

Now back to the election: will the Lib Dems play a key role in deciding who gets into Number 10 next week?

Well (laughter), we don’t know! If we win enough MPs, I’d like to think we can have a positive impact on what happens next.

So, will the Lib Dems do anything necessary to stop Boris Johnson retaining the keys of Number 10?

If he wins a majority next week, there’s nothing much we can do. If he is the head of the largest party, I don’t see us doing any deal whatsoever with the Tories so long as we want to stop Brexit and they want to deliver it.

Well that leaves us with the question: will the Lib Dems support a minority Corbyn government?

Um, again it depends. This is why I hate this binary choice: it’s gone on too long. The choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is the most dismal choice ever, and I’m not too sure which one the lesser evil is. But I’m not here to lend my vote to get Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10, let’s just say that.

And finally, why is a revocation of Article 50 a better idea than a second referendum?

It’s just certainty. We don’t have much time, and revoking Article 50 means we can just get on with talking about the things that need to be talked about: housing, the NHS, education. And we won’t have to spend any more time talking about Brexit. And now (looks at phone), I need to shoot!

Mikail Javaid is London Student’s Assistant News Editor (Politics).

Photo by Ming Jun Tan on Unsplash.

Political Editor at the London Student

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