The Interview – Stefan Ryszewski, Welsh Conservatives
STEFAN Ryszewski is a 24-year-old Welsh speaking, single parent who lives on the Parc y Strade estate in Llanelli. He has also just been chosen as the Welsh Conservative candidate to fight the Llanelli seat at the Senedd elections in May 2021.
Stefan has been a member of the Conservative Party for 5 years. Originally, from Felinfoel he has worked as a senior communications officer for an MP. He worked on numerous campaigns including being agent to Llanelli General Election candidate Tamara Reay in 2019. He was campaign manager for Gower in 2017. Stefan stood as a Welsh assembly candidate in 2016 and at county elections for the Lliedi ward in 2017.
We asked if he was happy with his selection and what his chances were at the election. He responded:
“Yes. I am very happy. We go again as we did in 2016. We came second then. A Conservative in Llanelli is not that strange. We were just shy of 4,000 votes from Labour. The Conservative vote at that election was greater than the vote upon which Lee Waters was elected. We have a chance in Llanelli. The General Election was a Brexit election. We want to build on that. We see Labour running out of ideas repeatedly. Plaid Cymru are not the force they once were.”
We asked Stefan if he thought Welsh Labour has a good record in Llanelli? Has Lee Waters achieved what he said he would?
He replied: “I only judge people on what they say. In 2016, he (Lee Waters) gave us all a promise that he would not be there to be a lapdog and cause problems if needed. That sounded promising but where has he been? What has he done in Llanelli? What has he done on his watch? All he has done is focus on his own little ideas, which involve cycling. Do we really need that now when thousands of people are losing their jobs? I do not think he has lived up to expectations. I don’t like going down the personal route in politics. I will debate Lee on ideas but I will not be getting into personal attacks. We have seen what happens on social media.”
We asked if the Plaid Cymru administration were working well for Llanelli or if he saw a big divide between the way Carmarthen and Llanelli were treated? Has the Plaid Cymru administration differed greatly from the previous Labour led administration?
Stefan said: “Plaid is a busted flush in Llanelli. They do not stand up for the values the people of Llanelli hold. There is a trend that people are fed up of with this separatist movement, this move towards independence. Without the furlough scheme the UK Government funded we would have seen more job losses. Carmarthen always seems to be getting the investment. Llanelli seems to be the ugly sister of the county. There needs to be a change. We need investment desperately in the town centre. There is only so much crying you can do.”
We pointed out the historic mistrust of Conservatives in Wales and asked how he could break down those barriers? We also asked what his key priorities were.
Stefan said: “There is a misconception that they are not for the working man. We saw the red wall broken in the North West and North East. Look at me; I am a single dad from a council house bringing up a young child. We had good candidates in the past but we needed someone who lives and breaths Llanelli and knows what is going on. Not someone who has seen a safe seat for a party, someone who does not live in Llanelli. We need someone who wants to represent the town. We have to get over Covid and I would encourage everyone to sign up to a vaccine when it comes. We need to make sure we build back better to make sure people in west Wales are at the forefront of the rebuild. We are only 50 miles from Cardiff but it feels like a hell of a long way away at times.”
With the announcement by Carmarthenshire County Council of proposals to close more small schools, we asked Stefan if that fitted in with a drive to reduce carbon emissions and encourage safe routes, walking and cycling to school and supporting rural communities.
Stefan replied: “Small schools are important for communities. Welsh Government does not understand rural communities. I went to a small school in Felinfoel. We all knew each other, teachers knew us they had a relationship with the parents. We have seen repeatedly the Welsh Labour Government propped up with Plaid Cymru forgetting what got them into power. They got the votes and disregarded the voters when they got into power. Do we really want another five years of a Labour government? Education standards are falling the economy is struggling. We have seen higher unemployment rates. We are not getting what we deserve in Wales. People are waking up. People in these communities are asking what have they (Labour) done for us over the last 20 years. People need to ask that question and I think they will struggle to find an answer.”
We asked Stefan if he had concerns that the elections might be delayed, how he would approach the elections during a pandemic and if he had concerns about access to information for the elderly if it were all online.
“Covid is here and we have to work around that. We hope a vaccine comes in soon. Provisions have been put into place for the campaign. We will probably do a lot online. We have the option of mail. I myself will not be knocking on doors. I do not think it is the right time. It is important that democracy does happen. Even at the height of the pandemic in the US, they managed to work out how people could vote. I hope that happens here. That is what we want for the Senedd elections. If it means we have more postal voters so be it. People must have their say. Five years is a long time for a government to be in power. What we do not want is this zombie parliament with nothing upon which to legislate.”
We asked what and where Stefan would be targeting to achieve the swing needed to win the seat.
Stefan began by talking about the issue of pollution in Sandy Road. He said: “Sandy Road is a real issue. I live in the Parc y Strade estate so I know exactly what is going on. It is something that has been going on for too long. We saw suggestions from some politicians but they were not realistic. I think the long-term solution is a through road. I believe a landowner is willing to discuss the potential to get a through road but they have not had any response. They say they care about pollution. All they have to do is go and stand on Sandy Road for an hour and they will know what is going on. In terms of where I see the votes, I believe in telling people what my answer is to issues. I am a Llanelli Boy first and Conservative second. Are we getting the best now I do not think so. That is how we build up the vote because people are fed up with Labour. We will stand and we have to beat Labour. We will not give way to a Plaid candidate and I would not ask Helen Mary Jones to do that.”
We asked Stefan what he thought about the importance of the Senedd as a national institution responsible for the future of Wales. Was it as one senior Welsh politician described it, boring, out of touch, full of overpaid Cardiff-centric career politicians reading from hand held pieces of paper and a safe job at favoured companies when retired via a revolving door for lobbyists.
He said: “The Senedd is important. People have seen in the last few months the incapability of the Welsh Government. They have many powers. We saw the ridiculous situation where they were telling supermarkets what they could and could not sell. That is not a country we should be living in, that is not the way a country should be run and that is not what is going to tackle Covid-19. Some say they have too much power. I do not think they need any more power. The UK Government has funded the furlough schemes, the job retention schemes and grants. Do we really think an independent Wales would have been able to sustain that level of borrowing and investment? This union is historic, cultural, fiscal, saved jobs and will continue to invest in Llanelli. We have all had to adjust and work on how we live day-to-day. We must not forget that there are still other treatments needed and we cannot turn the NHS into a Covid service. We are going to have more deaths than Covid. That is the way the Welsh Government is going.”
We asked the candidate what life might be like after Covid and if we would have a new normal, a reset or would, we revert to type.
Stefan answered: “I think the pandemic has highlighted the inequalities in our infrastructure, our society and communities. We were out applauding NHS staff and rightly so. It is all well and good applauding but they deserve a pay rise and I have seen first hand the work they do. There are no words to describe the care and compassion and the unstinting commitment that they give. We need to see other sectors rewarded as well. There are so many ways we can change the way we do things, the way we think. There is a different mind-set to us now. Many people have been living on their own during the pandemic. I was helping a 70-year-old neighbour who was on her own. There is also a mental health crisis, which has been exasperated by Covid. Do we have a joined up approach at the moment? I don’t think so. I do not have a magic wand but we need someone who knows what is going on in the daily lives of the people of Llanelli, who knows and understands the situation in Llanelli and I believe that I am that candidate.”