HAVING BEEN born in Paignton, educated at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School and living and working for most of my adult life in the bay it was a great honour to be elected to represent my home area in Parliament – even if it was by just 12 votes!
That election in 1997 ended 73 years of the seat being held by the Conservatives and interestingly the Conservative Party has never formed a majority Government at Westminster without a Conservative MP being elected from Torbay.
This next election will be as close as the first one I won. The polls indicate this, our canvassing confirms it, and the bookies who know a thing or two predict a dead-heat with Labour, UKIP and the Greens all out of the race.
So I think it is safe to predict either the Conservative Party Candidate or myself will be elected on 7th May to represent your interests in the next Parliament, and your vote could be the one that determines which one of us it will be.
I’VE BEEN chatting so some of the people who voted for me last time and asked them to predict what my majority might have been had I been able to claim back then the success for securing the funding for the Kingskerswell by-pass, a £150 South West Water rebate and super-fast broadband coverage for much of the Bay ahead of many other areas.
We waited over 50 years under majority Tory and Labour Governments for the Treasury to come up with the funding for the by-pass.
In the 1980’s the Conservatives privatised the water industry that led to us having to pay the highest charges in the country as the cost of cleaning up 30 per cent of the nation’s coastline fell on just 3 per cent of the nation’s population. Labour did nothing during their 13 years in power to ease this burden.
Whereas under past Governments Torbay had to wait for technological improvements whether new TV channels, digital radio or mobile phone coverage, I helped obtain over £50 million from the Treasury to bring forward our broadband coverage giving Torbay a competitive advantage.
But there’s more – in this Parliament I’ve helped secure the return of Assisted Area Status that was taken away 15 years ago, and is now back supporting businesses to grow and to support entrepreneurial activity in the constituency.
Promoting Vince Cable’s apprenticeship crusade has seen close to 6,000 created in Torbay.
Successful bids to the Coastal Communities Fund have obtained funding to help local business expansion and employment.
I visited Brussels to lobby EU Commissioners and MEPs for a continuation of EU funding that in the past has helped infrastructure improvements across the bay, and over £100 Million was secured for the county with Torbay eligible for a share.
Ensuring Torbay was linked into the Plymouth and south-west peninsula city deal was a great example of areas working together for mutual benefit. This has brought the mentoring scheme to Torbay for young people who have been unemployed for a long time.
Many of these funds and designations springboard us forward and enhance our ability to access lottery funding, which historically we have not done as well as other areas in obtaining.
So while others talk about their plans and what they would do, I have a track record of success championing my home town in Parliament.
And the Future
BUT THERE’S much more that needs to be done. We need to diversify our economy away from its overdependence on low value, insecure employment and for that we need three things; A skilled and motivated workforce, good physical and digital connections with the rest of the world, and decent affordable housing for working people.
We have excellent schools – helped enormously thanks to the Lib Dem pupil premium that has rewarded schools with high numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals that we have in large numbers in Torbay due to our low wage economy, and an outstanding college.
We have improved our links with the by-pass that will open later this year, seen improved rail services and super-fast digital links.
But we must do more to provide the housing local people need and halt the loss of skilled and motivated people moving out because decent housing for rent is simply not available locally.
Protecting health and social care services will be the challenge of the next Parliament. As someone diagnosed with Type One Diabetes a quarter of a century ago my life depends on our NHS so I won’t be doing anything to undermine it.
I have stood up for what I believe in against great pressure on occasions. I kept my pledge to vote against tuition fees and in favour of an in/out referenda on the EU. I also voted against unfair changes to the welfare system and against the Government wanting to weaken environmental protection around fracking.
Tom Watson, the Labour MP and author of ‘Dial M for Murdoch’ described me as “the un-sung hero of the press phone-hacking enquiry”, while Dr Brian May, Queen guitarist and founder of the Badger Trust has called me “a real champion for animal welfare issues particularly when he followed the evidence to speak out against the Badger Cull.”
The only thing any candidate can offer the electorate is their judgment. That is all I have ever offered, along with a promise to keep in touch and be an accessible MP holding advice surgeries every week in the constituency.
I have always viewed the job as representing you in Parliament, not representing Parliament to you. I hope you will allow me to continue.