Image: Chris McAndrew/Wikimedia Commons

“We are in crisis”: An interview with Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western 

As the UK faces a challenging winter ahead, The Boar sat down with Matt Western, the Labour MP for the Warwick and Leamington Constituency, to discuss issues facing the country and students. 

To kick off the interview, The Boar asked two rather simple and rather blunt questions: “Is the UK in crisis?” and “Do we have any national direction?” 

Western responded: “We are in a crisis. If you look at any charts, you’ll see that the UK economy is performing worse than its major competitors and the G7. Recession is now forecasted to be the longest in UK history.” 

The MP said that the UK’s national predicament was largely of its own making, pointing to Brexit and the mishandling of the pandemic as two such reasons: 

“We pursued a bad Brexit where we decided to go at it alone… we could have aligned closely with the EU, which would have had less damage in terms of consequences to the UK economy and, of course, to higher education as well. 

“We had the pandemic where the government was in denial… we were very slow to act. My goodness back in early April or late March 2020, I was wearing a face mask around and people were looking at me like I was odd. 

“But they did not know how to handle it… we had one of the worst death rates of all countries. That also had an economic impact because we were slow to actually prepare ourselves for the pandemic.” 

Western also raised more recent issues with the “general management of the country” adding that: “We had Truss and Kwarteng produce a kamikaze budget. This is now going to cost us, estimates say, about £30 billion. 

“Our reputation is so trashed internationally. It is a crisis on every front. There is not one thing this country is doing well at the moment.” 

Next, the interview moved on to the cost of living crisis and how it is affecting students across the country. The Boar asked about what support should be given to students amid high rent and spiralling bills. 

In response, Western said: “I genuinely believe that the government is not that bothered about the lives of students. They have this entitled and privileged view that you should just get on with it somehow.” 

He spoke about his efforts in Parliament to get the Government to raise the maintenance loans offered to students in line with the cost of living before pointing out that the cost of living for students is rising faster than the rest of the population especially due to “accommodation and transport costs”. 

“Students who typically go to more corner shops and local shops like Tesco in central Leamington are already paying a premium against the cost of buying something from a Tesco superstore out of town. 

“The cost of living crisis for students is ignored and not understood by the Government. It’s something that I’ve been talking about, but as an incoming government, we would wish to address it.” 

The Boar then raised the issue of accommodation shortages across the country. Durham, Glasgow, Manchester, and Liverpool universities have all been acutely affected with some students unable to receive any accommodation at their chosen university. 

“There is a responsibility for the institution not just to provide the breadth of education, courses, and opportunities for young people, but also to sort out where students live in year one and also in subsequent years.” 

The big issue, Western commented, was that: “The student community is being taken advantage of by certain sectors because they think you’re less organised. You’re less aware of rights you may have.” 

Western went on to mention some of his efforts within the local community including his work alongside Warwick’s Student Union to improve the season ticket for local buses. 

While rising costs have impacted students monetarily, it is also set to lead to further disruption to their access to education following the University and College Union’s (UCU) plans to strike on 24, 25, and 30 November as they demand increased pay to help mitigate inflation, alongside other demands for improvements to working conditions and working hours.  

The UCU represents around 70,000 university staff and so strikes are expected to lead to widespread disruption to students’ education, including here at Warwick. In light of this, The Boar was interested to ask Western about his position on these issues as well as the Government’s response to recent industrial action more broadly: 

“Well, the government has not done a very good job in any of the disputes that we’ve had, whether it was the key workers or rail strikes.  

“It was all right for the government, including Boris Johnson and others, to clap people on the doorstep. But that doesn’t pay the bills.”  

Western went on to highlight that: “All these people kept us going through an incredibly tough two years of the pandemic and I absolutely support them in feeling massively aggrieved by a government failing to acknowledge what they did during that period.”  

Western also mentioned the impact of the austerity measures that followed the 2010 election before reaffirming his support for people and unions to strike:  

“I absolutely support the right for people and unions to strike. It is an action of last resort but it is important that it is maintained, and I appreciate it also has an impact on young people’s education. But I am sure that for many there will be sympathy with teaching staff to take strike action. 

“I think this is particularly the case amongst early career teaching staff where the sector is much more uncertain. Their terms and conditions of employment are often much more precarious. I would like to see much greater security around their contracts because they’re really vital for institutions to prosper. 

“I think that for the future, we have a terrific higher education sector in this country. We need to ensure that we have young talent coming through. I totally understand the wish to strike and if I was in government, I would be seeking to moderate and help facilitate some sort of resolution.”   

“It’s absolutely core and central to everything we want to do as an incoming administration to reset the economy into a green economy.”

Matt Western MP


An issue that is very important and pertinent to students is the climate crisis. A large proportion of the UK Green Party’s voter block is made up of students and it is often considered important for Labour to pick up much of the youth vote if it is to win the next election. The Boar asked the MP why students should put their faith in the Labour party to deal with climate change. 

Western first promoted Labour’s record on the climate: “It was Labour that introduced the first climate change action in the world. It was ground-breaking and that was in the wake of climate reports and the work of Al Gore and the Inconvenient Truth campaign. It was Labour who picked this issue up and ran with it. 

“Let’s look at what Labour would have done from 2010 onwards. We would have a very different society and economy right now, particularly on energy. We would have had more sustainable energy being produced, whether it be onshore wind or offshore wind.” 

Western highlighted how important the climate would be to the next Labour Government: “It’s absolutely core and central to everything we want to do as an incoming administration to reset the economy into a green economy… 

“Since 2010, we’ve had 1.2 million homes built that could have been sustainable electricity based with minimal gas usage. They could have been super insulated, and they would also have been energy generative. We would have been much more advanced in electric vehicle technology, as well. We would already be facing a much better future if we had a Labour Government these last 12 years.” 

Western added: “The Conservative government just doesn’t get it. They believe in the market resolving everything.” 

Finally, we asked Western about free speech on university campuses, an issue that has grown increasingly topical following the government’s plans to introduce a ‘Free Speech Bill’ as well as other protests against speakers at universities across the country including the then-Education Secretary’s visit to Warwick last year. 

 When asked about whether he thought there was a ‘culture war’, Western said: “I think there’s a culture war in the eyes of a few people and a few institutions. No students talk to me about this. 

“What the government has done is taken a sledgehammer to crack the smallest of nuts. And that is, as I say, not to suggest there are not a lot of things that need to be sorted on free speech, but it has become yet another wedge issue for this government to undermine the credibility and purpose of our higher education institutions”. 

Western then went on to highlight the damage that this debate has caused to the UK’s educational sector before commenting that: “These issues are not what I think we should be talking about – maintenance, the cost of living, the immense concerns that you were saying in your first question. They are the issues that students talk to me about. They are the things that preoccupied people worry about, but also about the future of work, and getting access to university.”  






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.