Lib Dem candidate Caroline Kenyon talks to The Linc about celebrity dinners, the motivation to run a business, and the world’s longest street party…

If you could have dinner with three celebrities, alive or dead, who and why?

Two people immediately come to mind. First, Winston Churchill. Original a liberal, but crossed to the Conservatives – he graced almost all branches of politics in his life time. He was a hero. And whilst he faced great peril, he started great things. I have a copy of his great speeches next to my bed, and he told it how it was. I have to respect that. And I bet he would be amazing company at the dinner table – he loved champagne!

Second, Frances Mary Busse. A pioneer of women’s education, and a great campaigner for women’s education. She actually had to campaign for her daughter’s to take the Cambridge maths exam because people genuinely thought that if women did maths they would go insane.

Third, Jamie Oliver. I love his cooking, it’s very free flow, very ‘if you don’t have this, try this or this.’ If you don’t have his cooking books, buy them. And his campaigning is great – free school meals, ministry of food… I’d be scared to cook for him though!

What are the biggest issues for Lincoln going into this election?

Three things. The economy (particularly business and jobs), education – and fighting against cuts to the education system – and finally health, ranging from hospitals, to GP care, to social care.

The issue of Brexit is particularly important to us as students and young people. What would you like to say on this topic?

The referendum result is what made me step up into politics again. I’ve been in and out for years, but when I found out the result I wept – I really did! Your future is being stolen from you. I’ve always found that your generation is a fantastic exchange of cultures – you’re colour blind, gender blind, sexuality blind – and this is what Europe offered you. On this note, the Conservative manifesto to me feels like a middle aged and old person manifesto. Not the culture of exchange your generation are so used to.

“I want to be a proactive MP, not a reactive MP.” Photo: Jamie Sleep.

Do you think running a business has prepared you for politics?

If this is the route that you want to take, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. I want to be a proactive MP, not a reactive MP. A lot of MP’s will have surgeries and someone may say ‘funding has been cut for our nursery, will you help us’ and they will. But I want to, in this scenario, stop the funding being cut in the first place. I want to be an agent of change. And without sounding conceited, I’ve built myself from the ground up really. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and how I wanted to get there, and I did it without the recommended two years working for a local paper. I became an editor, a magazine editor. And then, when I set up my PR company, everyone told me I didn’t know anything about PR. But being an editor, I did. And then when I was setting up my food photography awards business, I knew what I wanted to do. I could visualise it so well I could practically taste it! I’ve always known what I wanted my whole life and I’ve motivated myself to do it. I suppose you have to similarly motivate yourselves in your degree?

It’s been a mixture of self-motivation and motivation from friends and family – but it’s definitely difficult at times! But we both have a goal too, like you did, and what we have to do to make it. 

And this is what is so important in education, and it’s a scheme I would like to start in Lincoln. Starting in primary school, where we take children from disadvantaged homes – I mean some of them don’t even have a table to do their homework on – who just don’t know what they want to do and help them find their way. From primary school to university. And hopefully, it’ll become big enough in Lincoln and we can role it out nationally.

How do you think your education has helped to prepare you as a politician?

I was very lucky to go to Cambridge, and my parents made huge sacrifices for me. It meant no TV, no car, no washing machine – it sounds like something out of a novel I suppose! But would I have been any different without education? I don’t know, because my parents have always supported me and motivated me. And even my team, a fantastic group of women, have a range of educational backgrounds from leaving school at sixteen to a masters degree. It’s a meritocratic team, and I hope this has helped to prepare me for politics more than my education.

You are one of the only parties offering a second Brexit referendum. Do you think it’s important we get another say?

I think what’s an important distinction is that it’s a referendum on the terms of the deal. We are leaving the European Union, but the British people should have a say on how we leave. Although Theresa May says strong and stable, there are inconsistencies in what she says. “No deal is better than a bad deal”, but her manifesto says no deal would be dire. It’s really strong language, and we must ask people what they want. The referendum started with the will of the British people, and this is how it should end.

An important question raised in the last few days has been safety and immigration – what will the Lib Dems do to reassure us and keep us safe? 

Something that wasn’t discussed around Brexit was the benefits of immigration. This country is all about coming together, and Manchester – though a profound tragedy – has brought us together. I want to develop a project which was started by Tim Smit called ‘The Big Lunch’ – an event in June, where people from all different cultures meet and have lunch together – because when you eat with people, you get to know them. We could run our own in Lincoln in the Autumn in church halls, or even do a street party.

We do have the longest high street in Europe – a world record perhaps?

I know the guy from The Guinness Book of World Records actually – now there’s an idea! A coming together of cultures all up and down the high street. A feeling of unity where we can have Jews and Muslims and eastern-Europeans and Christians can all come together and break bread as it were.

Now a lot of students might be hesitant to vote Lib Dem because of what happened the last time they were in power. The raising of tuition fees was a backtrack on a big promise to students. What’s to say it won’t happen again?

Just look at what happened to us in 2015 – we were punished awfully. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve finally atoned for our sins! Nick Clegg apologised – and how often do we see a politician apologise? We’re still waiting for Tony Blair’s apology and really I think hell will freeze over first. But we’re aware that it caused great pain, and I felt that pain with a son who is a university student. And really the focus now is what shape do you want Britain to be? The Britain you will navigate for the rest of your life. That’s a bigger issue than tuition fees alone.

Labour have promised to scrap tuition fees on June 9th – are they the party for students? 

The problem with the Labour manifesto is it doesn’t have any economic credibility. I like the ideas, but it’s jam yesterday, jam today and jam tomorrow. It promises too much. And I look at the Conservative manifesto, and it has some nice words but as they say nice words don’t butter no parsnips.

And what are you going to do for students?

Reintroduce maintenance grants, to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We want to introduce a commission that looks into the best way to fund higher education – such an important issue should be totally apolitical. And finally, we want Britain to be a land of opportunity and openness.

You’re also going to extend the vote to 16 year olds?

Your generation is far more mature than mine ever was, and we live in a finger-wagging culture that tells young people that they can’t engage in politics, but extending the vote to 16 year olds will help with this engagement. If 16-18 year olds had been allowed to vote remain would have won with 82% of the vote share. I think that is proof that 16 year olds should be extended the vote, and have a say in their future.

Anything you would like to add before we finish? 

Hearing Theresa May say that ‘a citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere’ genuinely terrified me. My background is Jewish, and luckily none of my family were victims in the Holocaust, but this language is dangerous. I’m here for my mother and my father – we have to fight for what is right. Britain is better than this.