Following an eventful hustings at St. Barnabas Church, TUXtra meets up with the Brexit Party’s candidate for Middlesbrough, Faye Clements, where we discuss Brexit, The Boro and a whole lot more.
As we meet for the first time in person, I ask the Brexit Party candidate for Middlesbrough, Faye Clements, how she’s feeling?
“Not great” comes the deflated response, with her tired and frustrated body language a telling sign of the level of the stress and strain that comes with a month long political campaign.
This wasn’t a totally unexpected answer either.
Our meeting was less than 48 hours from the ‘lively debate’ TUXtra witnessed at St. Barnabas Church, as five of the six prospective candidates to become Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough gathered to promote their credentials.
And it was Clements who was a particular focal point for the drama that occurred on the evening.
Having first made accusations of harassment and bullying against fellow Independent candidate and Deputy Mayor, Antony High, – claims the councillor would later refute as “unfounded” – a visibly upset Clements would later walk off stage following much derision to her suggestion that the NHS should “look towards Europe” in an effort to improve health outcomes.
Ok, yes – that phrase in isolation from a candidate representing the Brexit Party may strike highly on your irony meter.
Yet, in that moment, it was not hard to feel a level of sympathy towards Clements and it led me to think that perhaps sometimes, in this age of emotional and tribal politics, we forget about the person behind the political candidate?
And thus became a need to meet up and find out more about the Brexit Party’s candidate for Middlesbrough, Faye Clements.
The person behind the candidate
We would go on to discuss the theatrics of Wednesday night in due course.
But from my research, it was evident there was much more to learn about the 35-year-old, who’s career before entering into politics also heavily involved drama.
Having initially trained as a journalist, studying a HND at Darlington College, Clements initially worked within the PR & Marketing sector which included a period working for North Yorkshire Council as a Communications Officer.
Describing this early part of her career as “a very long time ago”, Clements would go on to admit her “heart was never in that” and would eventually decide to make the jump into the fashion industry.
This saw Clements studying Creative Fashion Practices at Cleveland College of Art and Design and later enrol on an intensive course at York’s, Northern College of Costume, paving the way for a career in fashion industry ever since which has seen her launch her own petite clothing line, sewing-school businesses and work as a freelance theatrical costume maker.
Now making her name through a wide range of projects for stage and screen, the self-dubbed ‘White Rose Costumier’ high point has been to provide some of the costumes for the 18th century set Amazon Prime series, Outlander.
Discussing her move into industry, Clements explained it was the craft of costume design that appealed to her.
“Anyone can be a designer, but not everyone can make. It’s the craft and the skill I admire.
“And I think we’ve lost that, we don’t appreciate skills… we don’t appreciate how much training it takes to learn a craft like that.”
“How is this allowed to happen in a democracy?”
But of course politics is a craft of a completely different kind and our talk soon moves onto what inspired this Thirsk native to run as a candidate for Middlesbrough.
“My dad’s from Middlesbrough, half my family live here, my Granddad had a business on Linthorpe road, one of me Uncle’s ran a taxi firm” Clements explains.
“I used to go to Boro matches… you know, I wasn’t born here, but half my roots are here.”
We digress briefly to discuss the pain of being a “long suffering Boro supporter” whilst reminiscing of past glory days including Middlesbrough’s 2004 League Cup win at the Millennium Stadium.
“I was there when they won the cup” says Clements before quipping “it was on a leap day, so we can only celebrate it every four years!”
But what about politics and her decision to stand for the Brexit Party?
“I’ve always been interested in politics, I’ve been Euro-sceptic since I was a teenager.
“It’s not something I’ve suddenly cottoned onto in the last few years. I can remember when I was 17 had having discussions with my fellow students about Europe.
“After what happened and we didn’t leave I was just that bereft.
“I felt so powerless when it didn’t happen, and just distraught at what was happening to the country. That I’d voted and all these other people had voted, the 17.4 million, and they just weren’t going to do it.
“And I thought, how is this allowed to happen in a democracy?”
With those words speaking for themselves, the feeling of political betrayal that ran deep within Clements would become even clearer with the comments that followed.
“We’ve had 800 years of Magna Carta. We’re famous for distributing and promoting democracy all over the world. We’re famous for our democratic system.
“We go around the world dictating to other countries how they should run their affairs and change their political setups and be more democratic – and then we behave like this. Our politicians do this.
“That’s not right. It’s seriously not right in this country.
“This opportunity came up with the Brexit and I thought I can’t just sit and do nothing.
“You know, a lot of people feel that way, it’s not just me.”
“I don’t know another politician like him”
But whilst that passion and desire to, borrow another political leaders phrase, “get Brexit done” is widely shared across Middlesbrough – 66.1% of the town voted leave in 2016 – events within the Brexit party of late appear to have conspired against their chances in this election.
Having agreed to stand down candidates against the 317 Conservative MP’s who are fighting for re-election, our meeting had coincided with the news that four of the parties MEP’s, including Annunziata Rees Mogg, had defected and pledged their support to the Tories.
Asked on whether these events had deflated the parties own push for seats, Clements was noncommittal.
“What it was, Nigel wanted to avoid at all costs the possibility of having a second referendum.
“If we did stand in those seats, it would split the vote.
“We were always told that it might happen, we were told months ago it might happen and that we’d put country before party and that’s what we did.
“We’re never going to win it, but its about getting as many Brexiteers on the Green benches as possible so we can put as much pressure on Boris as possible and make sure that Brexit is delivered properly.”
Noticing the name of the man who, love him or loth him, has changed the face of modern politics had been mentioned, it felt rude not to ask Clements of her person experiences of the Nigel Farage.
“Yeah, I’ve met him a couple of times.
“Very nice, very chatty, very friendly. He came forward and shook my hand and said hello to me.”
” You know, he’s a trailblazer. I don’t know where he gets his energy from.
“I can’t get over how hard he’s worked all these years to do what he does. Yeah people slag him off, which fair enough ok, if you don’t agree with him. But I am never ceased to be amazed at his drive and his passion… to what he believes in.
“I don’t know another politician like him.”
“They’ve just taken everybody’s votes and wiped their backsides with it!”
With discussions flowing and Clements demeanour appearing to lift, I then cruelly decide to take the topic back to what instigated this interview – the events of Wednesday evening.
“We should all expect a basic amount of mutual respect for each other” begins Clements, as frustration sets back in.
“Like… it was literally the first question!”
Describing the experience as like being hit by a “wall of noise”, Clements, who stands at 4ft 11′ high, continued;
“All the other candidates were shown a bit of respect before me. It came to me and I was only thirty seconds in and all the heckling and jeering started and I wasn’t even allowed to finish what I was saying.”
And discussing the atmosphere of that night, Clements view was it was “not a true reflection of how people are feeling in the town.”
“The amount of people I’ve spoken to that are so angry with what’s happened” she continued, “so angry with Andy McDonald, because they feel utterly betrayed.
“He stood on a manifesto in 2017 that they would honour the result and they’ve just thrown that in the bin. They’ve just taken everybody’s votes and wiped their backsides with it!”
“There’s a lots of people saying they’re just not going to vote, which is a tragedy.
“What does that say about our democracy?
“That people don’t feel able to vote, they’ve got the right, but they don’t feel able because what’s the point.
“Because they’ll vote and they’ll do nothing, or they’ll just do what they want, or there’s no-one for me, no-one I can vote for, or I have to vote tactically because if I vote for so and so, that won’t count, which means so and so will get in.”
“If you don’t agree with them then fine, but then debate them”
Suggesting that the reaction may be a symptom of the emotion now present in politics, I offer Clements the chance to fully make the point she was looking to on the night about how to improve the NHS.
“There is too much emotion. You know I’m emotional about the NHS, we all are, it’s been in our lives forever” agrees Clements, before posing.
“But sometimes, we need to take off the rose tinted spectacles and accept we don’t have the best system in the world and that it’s not shameful to think, actually, we’re not doing too well here, maybe we should see how other people do it and do it better.
“Because the truth is, there are certain countries in Europe, the Swiss and the Dutch, who run their system a hell of lot better than us.”
That both of the two countries mention have systems that involve some form of compulsory private health insurance element, with Switzerland having no free state-provided health services, will no doubt raise some eyebrows, whilst the argument on whether they run a better health care system will depend on what measures you use to judge those comparative systems.
But with that point made and people able to make up their own minds on that, my thoughts then turn to our TUXtra audience and what Clements’ message would be to the numerous student voters that will help decide who will ultimately be elected MP for Middlesbrough on December 12th.
“The thing about higher education in this country in terms of politics, it’s dominated by voices on the left” Clements replies.
“What I would encourage students to do is to be more open to opposite views. We’ve seen in certain universities, this whole thing of de-platforming if they don’t agree with people, which I think is just wrong.”
Clements then goes on to reference the importance of freedom of speech, before continuing to press her case on opening the minds of students.
“If you don’t agree with them then fine, but then debate them, challenge them, put your point to them as to why you don’t agree with them.
“I do worry a little bit, if you’ve been in that atmosphere, this bubble at university, what happens once you leave and you’re faced with people who do have these opposing views?
“How are you going to manage that, how are you going to get on in life, if you’re response is to de-platform someone or shoot someone down because you don’t agree with them?
“Once you leave education and you’re in the big wide world and you have to face people who have different views, how do you respond to that? You can’t just shutdown people in life.
“Defeat them with your argument, don’t just try and stop them.
And with that, Clements had made her own argument to you as students on why you should vote for her and the Brexit Party at this election. But whether it’s one that lead her to securing your vote remains to be seen.
List of candidates for the Middlesbrough constituency
Hugh Alberti – The Green Party
Ruth Ellen Betson – The Conservative Party
Faye Clements – The Brexit Party
Thomas Crawford – The Liberal Democrats
Antony High – Independent
Andy McDonald – The Labour Party