GE2017: The Candidate Interviews

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by Dave_S via Flickr

Robin Long

“The Liberal Democrats are the only major party committed to ending this drive for a hard Brexit,” says Liberal Democrat candidate, Robin Long. “We know that Brexit is going to have a huge effect on our Universities – we’re already seeing investment disappear from that.”

A second EU Referendum is a staple manifesto promise for the Liberal Democrats. Long says that the Conservative Party is “asking people to vote Conservative … without telling them what they’re going to try and achieve” – he calls this an “affront to democracy”. Long said: “I want to see that people get a second chance to have a look at what the government is proposing. At the minute, with Brexit, the Conservatives aren’t giving any details and they’re claiming they need it so they have a strong negotiating position.”

But it’s not all about Brexit. Long, a physics Research Associate at Lancaster University, says his priorities include a properly funded NHS and Education System – and he’s open to how those priorities are met: “I want to see a properly funded NHS, a properly funded education system, people having the final say on Brexit. Now how that comes – I’m open to that. Obviously a Liberal Democrat majority would be the best but anything that can deliver those three things funded properly I’d be happy with.”

Long says he joined the Liberal Democrats in 2010, but acknowledges that the reputation the party gained in that election has taken a bit of a hit: “I think the effect of the coalition – certain policies – meant that it’s taken a big hit and it’s going to take some time to return to that level.”

“I wish we’d fought a little bit harder on some things. We got in some good policies. We got equal marriage through, we got changes to various other bits of the system, some policies were tweaked – but there weren’t those big changes coming through the counter those big destructive policies that the Tories were bringing through.”

Long says what will make him best for the constituency is that: “I’m not wedded to party ideology. I believe strongly in Liberalism and many of the values but I’m not going to let that direct how I vote on every single policy. I’m not just going to vote on party lines – I won’t be committed to something because it fits with an ideology. I’m only interested in things when they’re going to have a benefit to people. Rational politics, common sense politics. “

Long concludes that: “It’s going to be a hard election with a lot of hard decisions to make for people. They’re torn again in a marginal constituency where they’ve got to decide what’s best. I admit it’s going to be a hard decision but I think if you’re opposed to Brexit and you want people to have a second choice on that then there are only two parties in this constituency giving you that option. If you always want to give people the choice and always want decisions to be made locally then the Liberal Democrats are the party that will deliver that.”

Rebecca Novell

“With this election it’s really important that students vote with their heart as well as their heads,” says Green candidate, Rebecca Novell. “For too long now politics has gone back and forth – same old. We’re in a cyclical process now and it’s going nowhere so I think if you really want some change and if you want a socialist agenda with an environmental heart then that’s the Green Party.”

On Brexit, Novell explains that after the “shambolic” Referendum she was “heartbroken” at the leave result. Novell says that she supports the Green policy of a ‘ratification referendum’ – whereby the population can vote on the terms of Brexit.

Novell has been a Lancaster City Councillor for two years, and in that time her proudest achievement relates to her work with asylum seekers and refugees: “ I was elected in May, and in September I put forward a motion to accept and welcome refugees and asylum seekers into the district. It was the summer where Alan Kurdi [the three year old Syrian boy whose tragic death made headlines] was washed up on the shore, you just sit at home and feel so useless when you’re watching that.”

“It’s that feeling that so many people in Lancaster and Morecambe obviously have because the minute I put a call out saying ‘who wants to make Lancaster and Morecambe a City of Sanctuary?’ I was just overwhelmed with response and still am to this day.”

Novell says that realistically, she is expecting to see the Tories return with “quite a big majority.”

“Obviously I would love to see a socialist left-wing government get in. I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is the Messiah, I don’t think he’s representative of Labour. I think Jeremy Corbyn has got a lot of good ideas and so has Cat Smith but I think they’re very rare in their Neo-Liberal Labour. So the most I can hope for is another Green MP.”

In such a crucial election, Novell – and the Green Party as a whole – have been accused of stealing votes from the Labour Party. “I don’t lose sleep over that at all,” says Novell, “Just because we’re standing a Green candidate does not mean you cannot vote Labour. We’re not taking away anything from anyone, we’re just adding more choice.”

Calling the Green Party “so far ahead” – Novell acknowledges that she is “unashamedly” on the further left-wing end of the party: “So many people are socially isolated and we can’t keep carrying on with this cruel benefits system when people are dying so I think Universal Basic Income is essential really and I think we have the means to do it.”

“Radical things like – not subsidising fossil fuels, not subsidising failing banks and things like that. My priorities are people and the planet and I think it’s a good aspect that drags the political debate back to the left – away from UKIP.”

Eric Ollerenshaw

“Who leads us into those negotiations with 27 different countries is going to be critical whatever your politics,” says Conservative candidate Eric Ollerenshaw, “and it seems to me there’s only one leader – in terms of that – Theresa May has proved she can deal with that issue while at the same time protecting what is the second fasting growing economy in the Western world.”

The issue of Brexit negotiations are the biggest issue for the Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency – and for the UK as a whole: “a great country which has stood by on its own and can deal with this again, but it needs that strong leadership so this is an election … more than any other when that decision: how we get an agreement – is vital beyond anything else that matters.”

Ollerenshaw remarked on an omission from the literature distributed by Labour Candidate, Cat Smith: “I’m quite proud to say I’m supporting Theresa May and she’d make a good leader. My Labour opponent can’t even put Mr. Corbyn on her leaflets – this is the man she is asking people to vote for to become Prime Minister.”

“Why wouldn’t she put him on her literature? Why is he missing? Particularly as she was a principal supporter of Mr. Corbyn. Very unusual I would’ve thought.”

Ollerenshaw was MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood from 2010 to 2015. “My proudest achievement,” he says “was to be able to stand in Parliament and make sure they knew where this part of the North West was. And that therefore this deserves some terms of investment.”

Ollerenshaw says he stands on his 5-year record. He says that having an MP who is a member of the leading party gave him a “little more influence” than someone outside. And, he says, his time being “a Northerner in London” gave him a knowledge of how London operates.

On the topic of tuition fees – Ollerenshaw says “My stance is clear – in 2010 I was the only candidate for Parliament in 2010 that wouldn’t sign the student’s petition not to increase tuition fees.”

“The numbers going to University seem to be fine, the employment rate which is an important factor seems to fine. And the University Vice-Chancellors are happy that they can appoint the top level academics that they want to be able to compete in an international market.”

The seat was taken in 2015 by Cat Smith. Calling himself a “casualty of that election,” Ollerenshaw explained that: “The Government made some very, very difficult decisions between 2010 and 2015. Obviously student fees was one of them, obviously there had to be cut backs in all kinds of areas to try and get down what we inherited – which was the biggest national debt in the Western World – and we managed to get that down. We managed to get the deficit down, but in doing that difficult decisions were made and in that sense, being a marginal seat there were issues. And obviously I was affected at the time by a big rise in the UKIP vote.”

Cat Smith

“It was while I was at Lancaster University that I joined the Labour party,” says Labour candidate, Cat Smith: “and the reason that I did that was because I saw what was going on and I want to change the world around me. The idea that if you’re born poor, you’re more likely to die poor and if you’re born into a rich family you’re more likely to die into a rich family”

Smith says that Brexit isn’t an issue that has come up much while she’s out campaigning: “Different people raise different issues all the time, but people are more concerned about the state of the NHS, people are worried about school cuts in particular, I think that’s really big issue in Lancaster currently.”

“I think people want to talk about local issues because the national debate is happening on the tele and in the newspapers and I think when people get their local candidate on the doorstep they want to talk about traffic and potholes – and politics is local and it’s national.”

Smith was voted as the Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood in 2015 – taking the seat from Conservative MP Eric Ollerenshaw. In those two years, she said it is “hard to pick” just one achievement: “I think my achievement that will have the most lasting effect,” she explains, “would be the changes to teacher training to include autism. It used to be the case that if you trained to be a teacher there was an option that you could do where you could learn how to teach kids with autism, and it meant that not all teachers were trained in autism when they went into the classroom – but every teacher will teach a child with autism and now that’s trained so that when you do a teacher training course you will learn about autism, it’s not like an opt-in system and that will make a huge difference to a lot of families locally.”

Smith cites her experience as a Lancaster University student in shaping her political experience: “I suppose I’ve always been interested in what’s going on around me and trying to change it so when I was a student the best way to change the experience I was living was to get involved in LUSU to change the way, for instance, once a term we had LGBT night at the Sugarhouse and we wanted more – well you get involved if you want to change it.”

Explaining that “every vote counts,” Smith said that in the last election “if 700 people had voted differently in this constituency I potentially wouldn’t have been an MP for the past two years and in the 2010 General Election, the Conservative majority was just 333 votes. You’re living somewhere where every single vote counts, it’s a very diverse and varied constituency.”

The constituency traditionally produces close results, but Smith says she enjoys the campaigning: “and because I enjoy it it means I just kept doing it, so after I was elected two years ago I just kept campaigning I just kept knocking on doors and speaking to people.”