Kevin Pascoe came from a coal mining community in the Welsh valleys. He is a retired Trade Union and Employment Engagement Manager with the Open University, who trained as a tool maker in his youth. Kevin was lucky to have a former employer sponsor him on part-time study programmes through to his Masters. He worked in further education for over a decade, then eventually got his dream job with the Open University, helping mature students already in the world of work to access university education. Kevin is pro-Welsh independence and stood for the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) as a Welsh Labour candidate. He is Chair of his local Labour branch and is Political Education Officer for the Constituency Labour Party (CLP).
A working-class existence of heavy, dangerous work, early death and very few opportunities typified many pit villages of the past, and Kevin’s background was no exception. He feels his socialism came from his parents. “We lived in a close-knit coal mining village in the Welsh valleys. Everybody was very left wing. If I’m perfectly honest, you were considered an outsider if you had any other views. I lost my father who was a miner when I was 16, and he was only 53 years old. My mother lost her mother in her early teenage years. I think there’s a trend here, because my dad lost his own father as a youngster. Therefore, although a very intelligent man, my father had to start work as a miner from the age of just 14.”
“I was fortunate because we lived in a council house, so when father died we still had a home. We had the benefit of extended family living close by and my mother received the widows’ pension, but I knew I had to start work soon, as there still wasn’t enough money coming in. There was very little choice about where you worked, you either went into the steel works, the mines or the local council. That’s just the way life was in the South Wales valleys in the 60s and 70s. If things were different I might have had other opportunities. But at 16 I started work as an apprentice toolmaker and joined what was then the old Amalgamated Engineering Union Workers (AEUW). In those days you literally became part of the Labour Party by default as soon as you joined a union.”
Kevin hasn’t always believed in the Labour Party: “I lost all interest in left wing politics for years after Blair and Iraq, until Jeremy Corbyn relit the fuse. I remember going to a rally in 2015. I was really shocked. It was all ordinary people, they weren’t what you’d consider ‘political’ people at all. They were people in wheelchairs, with their children, their pets, and so many enthusiastic young people too. I felt it… being given hope again, the first time in such a long time. So, I supported Jeremy through his leadership campaign, went out and canvassed, did whatever I could to support him. But, after the defeat of the 2019 election, which we should have won, I went through what you might call a period of bereavement.”
Not impressed by any of the new leadership contenders after Jeremy Corbyn, Kevin felt Keir Starmer only gained power by misleading people. In fact he sees Westminster as a corrupt place, with very little relevance, especially for the people of Wales. Although not constitutionally speaking a separate party from Starmer’s Labour, Kevin prefers to view Welsh Labour as a separate entity: “We have a genuinely socialist First Minister in Mark Drakeford and many good socialists within the Welsh Labour Party. Mark is my prime motivator and has remarkably similar values to myself and Jeremy. He is very pragmatic, but one advantage he has over Jeremy Corbyn, I suppose, is he’s not under the microscope of the London media. Mark is able to come up with some very radical policies and present them as common sense”. A latter convert to Welsh independence, Kevin finds there is no conflict between his socialist beliefs, his membership of the Welsh Labour Party and his support for Welsh independence.
Nevertheless, Kevin has genuine concerns about the quality of left-wing political candidates in the UK as a whole. “We have millionaire parliamentarians who have no real world experience. Okay, that was always the case with the Tory party, but in the post Blair years it’s now just as bad in the Labour Party. All parties are dominated by Oxbridge educated professionals, lawyers, journalists, those from financial services backgrounds and political researchers, straight out of doing their PPE degrees. None of them have experienced real crises and they don’t talk to or understand ordinary people.” Kevin also despairs at the lack of truthful, unbiased reporting from the media and a deliberate dumbing down of TV programmes such as ‘I’m a Celebrity’. He feels people are kept ignorant of the manipulation or are anaesthetised to it. “It’s difficult because lots of people who are un-politicised comment on my Twitter posts as though I’m some kind of outlandish radical, when I’m not. You only have to look at the corruption in the money laundering capital of the world, the City of London, at the billionaire, ultra-rich, pay-no-taxes, who have now shaped an un-sharing, uncaring society, to know it’s wrong.”
Asked about his views on capitalism, Kevin said it’s something to be constrained. “If you take the most liberal interpretation of socialism, it isn’t necessarily about the control of the means of production, it can also be about the regulation. I take the view on capitalism that it’s inherently dangerous because of human nature and the risks of exploitation. Capitalism therefore needs to be highly regulated. I don’t think it has a role in the commanding heights of the economy, like energy, like delivering core public services. Whereas in other areas of, let’s say, manufacturing, it does have a role but again the need for restraints is critical. We cannot allow the obscene capitalism we see today to flourish.
“Socialism represents what I do every day. Basically, it’s about sharing, being helpful and compassionate. My career was about facilitating opportunities for people, making positive changes through education. My father questioned everything, saying change is always possible. That’s what I say now. You don’t have to accept the hand of cards you’re dealt, you can always change your life and the lives of others for the better. Political theory isn’t my area of expertise, but my version of socialism is a practical version of politics. Some would disagree with me, I know. But for me It’s about society taking its role seriously and people caring for one another. I’m also a christian, with a small ‘c’ because I’m not a church goer, but my religious and political values are almost identical. When I first went to listen to Jeremy Corbyn talk in 2015, he could just as easily have been in church. He spoke so compassionately and humanely about social justice, support and protection for all.”
Kevin worries about climate change and the vulnerability of those unable to respond to environmental changes quickly enough. He feels a lot of debate is being suppressed with regard to Palestine, Yemen, Ukraine and Russia with certain nations not receiving fair treatment from the international community. Concerned too about events closer to home, Kevin feels that “domestically we are living through a time of even greater austerity. Jeremy Hunt talks of trying to balance the books, but it’s utter lunacy. This is from the man who, as a health minister, failed to protect the UK from a pandemic, thanks to the decisions he took between 2012 and 2018, then has the audacity to tell us that we’re the ones who have to suffer the fiscal pain! Again, I keep on coming back to practical ‘common sense’ socialism. Vulnerable citizens should not suffer for his actions, it’s just not right.” Kevin’s hopes for the future include “the hope that we do have a future, that we survive the climate crisis. I also hope from a geo-political point of view that we don’t end up destroying the planet through war, as I’m mindful of the recent missile landing in Poland and the Cold War implications that incident conjured up. Again I come back to education. People need knowledge, they need to understand for themselves what’s actually going on.”
In a nutshell, Kevin’s religious beliefs and the values of community instilled in him as a child certainly mirror his left-wing principles. Compassion, community and knowledge, commitment and honesty are the main themes that came across during our conversation. As a youth, Kevin and many before him had little control over their future, their choices and their opportunities. Kevin has tried to change that and his life has centred on helping people access education and sharing information to create a more equitable society. Whether talking formal education or main stream media, if ‘ignorance breeds contempt’, then from Kevin’s perspective knowledge and communication breed humility and respect.
Support from Kevin Pascoe and the local Welsh Labour Party at the RCN picket line at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend