Matt Sanders: How attacks on single parent families motivated the Hampstead and Kilburn Lib Dem candidate

Ham & High's Hampstead and Kilburn Hustings at UCS Frognal on 02.12.19. Lib Dem candidate Matt Sande

Ham & High's Hampstead and Kilburn Hustings at UCS Frognal on 02.12.19. Lib Dem candidate Matt Sanders. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

It’s not often that John Major’s government politicised anybody.

Yet without the boy from Brixton's Back to Basics campaign, Matt Sanders wouldn't have got into politics.

When the Ham&High asked him what got him interested in politics, he pauses.

"I was a child in a single parent family in the north," he said. "Every day a Tory cabinet minister would point at families like mine and say that we were the problem. Single parent families were the problem."

It gave him extra motivation to go to University and prove them wrong.

"I will always reject that prejudice and stigma around certain types of families," he said. "I will never forgive that government and that cruel campaign, how it made teenagers like me feel."

Mr Sanders grew up in Barrow-in-Furness and was a recipient of free school meals, going on to study at Cambridge University and eventually advise Nick Clegg as deputy prime minister. An experience that adds to the moments where he wants to "pinch himself".

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This is the former Camden councillor's first run at a parliamentary seat. The Lib Dems have hung their campaign around a policy to revoke article 50. Mr Sanders remains bullish, despite the Lib Dem vote slipping in the national polls.

"In strong remain areas like this, our vote is holding up really well. We have been setting the pace. You only have to look at Labour candidate attacks me at every opportunity, and how the leaflets attack the Lib Dems and how Labour activists chase Jo Swinson down the street when she came to visit.

"They know we have a message that is resonating.

He acknowledges that people have concerns about the effect of reversing a Brexit vote, but said his duty would be "protect public services, jobs, people livelihoods

"I couldn't do something that I thought would make people's lives materially worse. The biggest threat to democracy is if we Brexit and people realise that all the things they were promised are not going to happen. If you want to see real anger, you are going to get it."

The Lib Dem vote in the area is still on the mend after the coalition years. Mr Sanders said that people now see the "moderating influence" they had on the Conservative Party during their five years in government. He said it did get things wrong during the partnership.

He said the Conservative Party had been overtaken by a group of "hardliners flirting with English nationalism" and Labour was offering policies that "hark back to the 1970s." He attributed it to all leaders being weak on Europe.

He said: "Tony Blair didn't make the case for Europe and was scared of public opinion on this. Gordon Brown went to an effort on the Lisbon Treaty where he wouldn't be in the photo signing it because of public opinion.

"David Cameron was another leader who was terrified and didn't make the case for Europe until it was too late. He spent years massaging and tolerating the Eurosceptic right of his party, then wondered why people didn't listen to him when he made a positive case."

While working for Mr Clegg, Mr Sanders crossed swords with Tory advisor Dominic Cummings, calling him a "dangerous and deeply pernicious presence" in the government.

He said he went to work every day to "fight Mr Cummings and his agenda," particularly on a battle to replace A Levels with O Levels. "He had zero interest on the impact on the less well off kids."

Mr Sanders said that Brexit and antisemitism are coming up equally on the doorstep with voters, and despairs at both.

He references a flashpoint at the Ham&High hustings between a Labour activist and Conservative candidate Johnny Luk about antisemitism and hate speech.

"It was really serious. You had a activist in one of the most Jewish constituencies in the whole country trying to suggest that it wasn't legitimate to talk about antisemitism in this election campaign.

"I have been talking about this because hundreds of voters have raised it with me. I'm a minority as a gay man. I feel this keenly as well, when one minority is under attack, so are all other minorities. The safeguard we have in a democracy is that you defend your minorities. I am not going to be bullied, and will continue to talk about it for as long as our Jewish communities are talking to me about it."

He said Jeremy Corbyn was a "rabbit in the headlights" about antisemitism and criticised Ms Siddiq's approach about "staying and fighting," referencing Luciana Berger's departure from the Labour Party in February.

"Staying and fighting is not working. I think the Labour candidate needs to take some responsibility for nominating him, despite his record. This has played a key role in enabling a hard left takeover of the Labour Party."

Mr Sanders is the only candidate standing in Hampstead and Kilburn that has not attended a private school but attacks Labour Party rhetoric of abolishing them.

"You don't fix any of the problems with state schools by abolishing private schools. I do want to see an effort to improve state education in this country. Better pay for teachers, reverse Tory cuts to schools since 2015, making sure every child gets a balanced, well rounded education.

"State education should be the thing that gives everyone a fair shot in life. I won't rest until it does."

The 36-year-old joined the Liberal Democrats aged 18 at Cambridge University. He recalls being attracted to the party by the late former leader Charles Kennedy saying that he cared about "what works" rather than ideology. He said he wants to work to ensure people from a similar background to him enjoy the same opportunities.

He said: "I still sometimes pinch myself that I live in a great liberal city like this. I wasn't born into privilege and worked my way into the life and feel really lucky to do that and have that opportunity.

"I did the same when I would come in or out of Downing Street. I feel incredibly lucky to have had those chances. But what drives me is wanting to repay those opportunities I've had. We still have incredibly inequality in our area.

"I know what it is to come from a background where you don't have those advantages. I want to fix that we have to fix that. It is a moral scandal that people from the moment they are born have the odds stacked against them."