10 Minutes with Wera Hobhouse

Wera Hobhouse is the new Liberal Democrat MP for Bath. For some Wera seems to have come from nowhere but, in fact, she’s been active in politics for most of her adult life and has lived in Bath for some years. She has a strong understanding of business as her husband William set up his own textile manufacturing company in 1993. Today Wera is getting to grips with the job she was elected to do back in June. 

What do you think of Bath?

I love the vibrancy and diversity it has to offer. We moved to the city in 2014 and bought our own property a year later after selling our previous home. There is a great sense of community here, our home is near the Riverside, near Homebase, so we are very central and we absolutely love it. I also know the wider area as I did stand as the parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats previously in North East Somerset covering towns like Radstock and Midsomer Norton. So I feel I’m really getting to know the city and the area very well and am happy to call it home. I don’t believe as an MP you can represent an area and not live there.

What did you do before?

I supported my husband William in his business. It’s a textile business reasonably close to Manchester and I helped him to start taking the business into Europe. This was alongside my political dreams of becoming an MP. Also for many years I was a councillor in the North West.

Prior to that I was a modern languages teacher in German and French as German is my first language. I also was raising our four children who are now grown up.

When did your interest in politics start?

Very early on in my childhood. I was born in Germany, I’m 57, was born in 1960 into those early years of the legacy of Nazi Germany and it had an effect on me.

I grew up overwhelmed by the abyss of the Holocaust, by the feeling of ‘how could this have happened?’ and from very early on wanted to campaign for democracy and be a freedom fighter.

At university I campaigned for participation and for standing up for our rights. I believed – and still do – in empowering those who feel they have no voice. Even if it takes a long time, we have to stand up for what we believe in. Even today when people dismiss extreme right wing views as ‘niche’ or ‘not to be taken seriously’ I remember that everyone should ‘beware beginnings’.

How did the Holocaust affect your family? 

My mother was quarter Jewish and many of her relatives had to flee – I still have family in Norway today as a result of that flight. Some of those relatives lost their family members to the concentration camps and persecution.

My mother lived with the impact her whole life and I would never want to see anything like that again. My mother was not allowed to go to university as she was not seen as ‘pure of race’ even though she was a quarter Jewish. Even later, when socialising she would call someone out on racist views – even if the rest of the group was embarrassed – if they were ‘closet’ racists she would say so and highlight their unreasonable views.

My father wasn’t Jewish and wasn’t involved with the Nazis but by the early 1930s it was very dangerous for anyone to show open resistance. You had to try to survive in a terrible climate as a German citizen.

Today when I visit countries such as Poland & Lithuania and see the reality of what was done to millions of people I know I must do my bit to never let that happen again.

Why did you choose the Liberal Democrats as your political party of choice?

I’m a passionate pro-European because of my background and so is my husband. So for me the Liberal Democrats represented what I believed in – Europe and also the environment.

The health and future of our planet is very important to me and is, in my view, the most pressing issue we have to face. I personally believed that within Europe we have done good things for our environment and we need to be mindful of what happens now.

I don’t want to see us starting to pollute our beaches or rivers as we pull out of Europe – thinking we are not bound by legislation which has done great things for how we live and the world we live in.

How do you feel about small business?

I have felt both the joy and challenge of running your own business. The energy and sacrifice required and the 24/7 commitment required because I saw my husband do it. It’s exciting and it brings challenges and opportunities.

It’s also a community with many different points of view. The challenge then becomes being able to speak with one voice. A manufacturing business has very different needs to an IT business or a tourism company.

What are the challenges being faced by businesses in Bath- in your experience?

One of the major problems is the ability to find the right premises to build and grow a business. As a World Heritage site this can bring challenges.

There is also the problem of extremely high property prices which lead to extremely high rents. Currently we have too many empty shops in central Bath, probably for this reason. It’s not just a question of business rates. It’s rent costs and high property prices that also affects ordinary people trying to find somewhere to live locally.

Corporation tax avoidance is an issue. I don’t really accept the argument about keeping it to a low level. It is a tax on profit but we have to stop big companies getting away with tax avoidance.

However I do believe in Bath – and other places – the cost of renting business space or extending business premises needs to be addressed. The effect is that some businesses will move out of the city to afford to expand.

Another issue is broadband speed and the monopoly one provider seems to have over the city. This must be addressed as it’s now business critical to offer better speeds and hopefully more choice.

What are your top three priorities in representing Bath at a government level?

1. Brexit – getting this as right as it can be is vital for us all.

I’m pro-European, I’m not ashamed of that but we have to do our best with what is going to happen. This will focus about 80 per cent of the Government’s attention in my view. It will affect business of that there is no doubt.

2. Climate Change – as we move away from Europe we
must not become de-regulated around our commitments to our environment. We must protect our planet both locally, nationally and globally.

3. Grenfell – the fall-out from this disaster will be felt for

years to come. Housing and fire safety will now become

priorities and as I’ve been given the shadow role for

communities & local government within the Lib Dem MPs , it’s something which I will be looking at closely.

Follow Wera on Twitter: @Wera_Hobhouse