Face to Face with Alun Michael MP

Cardiff East caught up with Labour MP Alun Michael, Cardiff South and Penarth, in Grangetown.

Alun Michael MP. Photo: KP Jones

This interview was carried by the Guardian Cardiff

Guardian Cardiff homepage can be found here

Guardian Cardiff is on Twitter here

It’s a humid Saturday morning and one of Cardiff’s most well known political faces is standing in Taff Embankment talking to a Grangetown resident about her concerns regarding the state of the alley way that backs on to her property. Alun Michael, the former First Secretary of Wales, is conducting a street surgery. This is the grassroots politics that Alun Michael clearly enjoys. As he takes notes of his constituent’s comments in his notebook he is greeted with shouts of ‘Hello Alun’ and waves from passing motorists who recognise Cardiff’s longest serving MP.

Michael has recently been elected Chair of an important All-Party Committee in Parliament, namely the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (PITCOM).

Michael first elected to parliament in 1987 and was re-elected as MP in this year’s election with another landslide majority. His interest in internet related issues is a manifestation of his continuing interest in people.

I am a youth worker by background. It’s recognising that this is something that profoundly effects people’s lives. That is where I come from.  Social communities online now play an important role in many people’s lives. You can see this in the popularity of social media like Facebook and Twitter. For many people now e-mail is an indispensable way in how they communicate.”

The MP of twenty three years spent part of his career as a journalist on the South Wales Echo so he has taken a particular interest in the online coverage of Cardiff through Guardian Cardiff.

Journalism is having to do things in a different way to the past. What I like about the Guardian’s approach is that it is opening up the opportunity for communities to talk about things that are important to them. In my constituency there is the defence that is being mounted for Rumney Rec, which is a village green as soon as you look at it. It is something that is important to people in that community.”

Michael is adamant that the work of the Guardian Cardiff and can have a really positive impact on the lives of Cardiff’s communities.

If they can see that it is something that is reported on and engaged on by online journalism then it becomes relevant to their lives. I think that this initiative is enormously important and I hope it works and succeeds and get lots of support.”

Alun Michael MP on the banks of the River Taff. Photo: KP Jones

It has been another busy week in Westminster for Michael. He asked a question to Prime Minister Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions and Chaired the Nominet Internet Awards 2010. It is an annual competition ‘…which is aimed at UK individuals and organisations who are helping to make the Internet a secure, open, accessible, or diverse experience for everybody who uses it.’

We set up the best practice awards supported by Nominet, the UK domain name company, which is a not-for profit company. The fascinating thing is that over the four years that we have been doing these awards is the variety of winners that we have had. The awards this year have illustrated the amount of talent that we have within the UK.”

As Chair of PITCOM Michael is aware that there are many Britons being left behind in what some commentators have called the digital divide.

Government is going to have to make use of the internet more for financial reasons. Therefore there is going to be a very big challenge looking after those who are not on the internet. There are two ways of doing that. One is to provide seperate support systems which is very expensive. The other way is to overcome the difficulties of digital inclusion and to encourage people to have the knowledge and expertise. Perhaps most important above all we have to build people of all ages’ confidence to go online and to use systems online.”

Alun Michael is clearly very fond of his constituency that covers communities as far apart as Sully in the Vale of Glamorgan and St. Mellons in the very east of Cardiff. As Chair of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (PITCOM) Michael is keen to promote the ‘Make it happy’ competition run for primary schools. Winners are those schools that have helped their community learn about the exciting possibilities of the internet.

A school in my constituency was third in the United Kingdom and they were the winners in Wales. That was Trowbridge Junior school. Actually in this constituency we have the highest number of entrants this year at the moment. It is about building up the confidence of children and of individual schools that the internet is not just something for the geeks and bright people. It a resource for all. The competition this year is all about engaging the community around the school in using the internet.”

As we finish our conversation Michael is off to see another resident who has put a poster in their window to alert the MP that they would like the chance to chat. It is noticeable how approachable one of Cardiff’s biggest political personalities is. In the shadow of the Millennium Stadium, on the banks of the River Taff, from a distance you can see  a Cardiff MP is serving his constituents with the minimum of fuss.

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