"Cambridge has a hidden underbelly of poverty": John Hayward on inequality and his Conservative candidacy

Image credit: Hettie O'Brien

In its recent history, Cambridge has been hotly contested between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with the incumbent Labour MP Daniel Zeichner winning by a slim margin of 599 votes in the last general election. For many pundits, it seems obvious that the Conservatives stand little chance in winning on 8 June. Yet, as with all things political during the past year, nothing is certain but unpredictability. I sat down with John Hayward, Conservative candidate for Cambridge, to discuss what he felt he could bring to the Cambridge constituency.

Hayward comes across as friendly and softly spoken (I have to move my microphone closer towards him to catch his voice in the noisy Waterstone’s Café). Despite first impressions, it becomes clear that he is anything but retiring. His varied career attests to his resilient character. Although he was born with no legs and one arm, Hayward has worked with international development charities in Zimbabwe and the former Soviet Union, and completed a PhD in Genetics at the University of Cambridge.

On the subject of Corbyn, Hayward is vociferous, telling me how his friends in the Soviet Union have expressed their dismay at the prospect of the UK voting for a candidate who has backing from well known Marxist organisations. I point out that Labour’s manifesto seems less radical when compared with policies in other European countries, and ask how he can criticise their manifesto when that of the Conservative party hasn’t been costed. Hayward bluntly responds that a £58 billion question mark still hangs over many of Labour’s proposed policies.

It is clear that Hayward has much experience with local issues in Cambridge. While a student at the University, he spent time working with people at the Arbury Estate, an experience that opened his eyes to Cambridge’s persistent problem of inequality. “It’s wrong that a city and region so prosperous does have such difficult pockets of poverty where it fundamentally affects life expectancy,” he says. “I’m very aware of the fact that there is this hidden underbelly to Cambridge.” At other points during our conversation, he recounts anecdotes of young people he knows in Cambridge who have gained skils and found fulfilling work in apprenticeships.

Despite pressing him about the austerity cuts administered by the Conservatives, Hayward expresses his pride at the fact that over the past ten years, “while Labour has been banging on about making a difference and championing social justice, we’ve actually been delivering it. Income inequality now is actually at its lowest, since before I was here as a student.”

On the thorny issue of inequality, I point out the role that one’s assets, not just one’s income, play a significant role in contributing to overarching wealth disparities. In response, Hayward speaks passionately about the Conservative plans under Theresa May’s leadership to create a thriving meritocracy for all. Reflecting on David Cameron’s term, he acknowledges that some policies, such as those of Ian Duncan Smith, had unintended consequences.

For residents of a town that voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, Brexit will doubtlessly be a pressing issue for many in the forthcoming election. Hayward muses on his hopes for a “smart” Brexit, which will see a flexible and controlled immigration policy “that means our universities can still continue to attract foreign students, our hospitals can continue to attract foreign nurses and doctors, and our high tech industries can continue to attract foreign investment for long term growth”. With Julian Huppert or Daniel Zeichner, the respective Lib Dem and Labour candidates, Hayward warns that Cambridge risks having an “MP who is shouting from the backbenches” rather than someone who has the ear of government.

Before leaving, I ask him what, in comparison with these two candidates, he feels he can offer Cambridge. “Unlike many typical career politicians I actually have a lot of real world experience. I got my background in science, and have done a lot in adult education, international development, and obviously I also bring a personal experience with resilience and determination that comes with overcoming personal challenges, such as my physical disabilities”.

“I’m showing by example that it is possible to get on, to persevere, to not give up.” 

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