Alex Chooses… who?

Three weeks ago, I sent an email to the five candidates who are seeking to election to Westminster as MP for Swindon North on May 7th.

Here are a few thoughts on the responses in reverse order in which their replies were received.

UKIP – The Candidate

At the time of writing this I haven’t received a response from James Faulkner. A week after I sent the initial email I received a flyer through the door that stated a different email address to the one I sent the questions to, so in his defence, he has had a week less to respond.

On the flip side of that the original email address was what was listed on the UKIP website at the time, and all of the other candidates responded within two weeks.

UKIP – The Party

As much as I argued that it is important to vote for your local MP, it is still important to consider the party on the national stage.

Regarding UKIP, while they do say some sensible things, for example their preference for building on brownfield sites, they do speak an awful lot of nonsense. Farage brings everything back to immigration where he can, and a large amount of his party have said some truly terrible things.

They offer a very uncertain future, a referendum on Europe, for example would have lasting repercussions, because a decision to leave would spark another referendum in Scotland, one that this time would almost certainly result in Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom

Here’s a newsflash, you can dislike the immigration policy of the UK, you can even be a little bit racist if you want, but you can’t deny the importance of our relationships with other countries. We need them.

Labour – The Candidate

You can read Mark Dempsey’s reply here.

My first thought on Dempsey’s response was that he didn’t specifically answer each of the questions, but rather gave one reply that encompassed the questions. Regarding the culture, he focuses on the regeneration of the town centre as being key as well as a Northern Link road.

I’m in a part of Swindon North that isn’t very north, but there is a part of it, fairly new that is some way from the centre of town. With a lot of new builds, there are a lot of young families, young people living in this part of town. Those who might be more inclined to spend are too far away from where they might be spending.

The road they mention intrigues me but I’m not entirely sure where it would go – there isn’t a great swathe of empty land waiting to be tarmacked.

He has plans for a university in Swindon – such a thing has been mooted since what feels like the dawn of time. It was certainly being talked about thirteen years ago when I was still in school. What would a university in Swindon offer that Oxford and Bath can’t? I’m not sure, but a business and management course based in the town would certainly benefit from the local businesses in the area, and vice versa. Perhaps more concentration should be put on the local colleges, rather than the into the status symbol of a university?

Regarding railways – he refers to Labour’s plans to put a cap on fare increases. I can’t begin to tell you how wrong this answer is. The fares are already too high for the service that is provided. Right now, a single ticket from Swindon to London tomorrow morning would cost me £62, while Swindon to Cardiff, approximately the same distance, would cost me £25.30 at the same time.

I understand the rules of supply and demand, but that is insulting, and it actually discourages businesses basing themselves in Swindon. If it didn’t cost as much to get to London, maybe a few more people might move away from it?

Labour – The Party

Increasingly the views of Labour are becoming blurred. It is hard to make a distinction between them and the Conservatives. They are part of a political elite that is, frankly, out of touch with the rest of the country.

Ed Milliband as a Prime Minister? Maybe acceptable within the confines of the country, but alongside Angela Merkel and Barack Obama? Well, he seems like a bit of a joke.

Liberal Democrat – The Candidate

You can read what Janet Ellard had to say here.

Frankly, they are the answers of somebody who doesn’t want my vote. Based on those answers alone, which seem to be copied and pasted from some “MPs for Dummies” handbook, I know nothing more about what she stands for.

She put the responsibility of town’s regeneration and reputation on the Borough council’s shoulders, she quoted party policy for the question on transport. With business, the answers could have come from a piece of GCSE coursework.

I’m really disappointed.

Liberal Democrats – The Party

I have a confession to make. I voted for the Liberal Democrats last time. I wasn’t seduced by the charm of Clegg, or by their promise of a reduction in tuition fees, but more by their promise of electoral reform.

We didn’t quite get that, instead we got a compromise, a referendum on proportional representation.

I actually agree with what the party did at the time. It’s important to remember the Liberal Democrats were not voted into power, and a coalition with Labour would not have given a majority, or a stable government, which is important for a country trying to get out of recession.

Yes, tuition fees went up, they conceded that point to the Conservatives. It was more important for them to change the way that our government was chosen. It seems they were an election ahead of their time on this issue, as I think it’s a viewpoint that would probably gain more traction this time around. Interestingly, none of the parties have even mentioned it so far.

The record of Clegg and the party in power have not lost me as a supporter. Janet Ellard has.

The Green Party – The Candidate

You can read Poppy Hebden-Leeder’s responses here

She responds in the same way as the Liberal Democrat candidate, refuting the claim that Swindon isn’t a very nice place to live, and then lists all of the attractions there are, some of which I had forgotten about. On what may be an ill-advised response, though, she does list roundabouts as being a benefit.

She wants to encourage the residents of Swindon to do more to shout about the good bits of Swindon. She doesn’t go into detail how that might happen, other then suggesting a water slide, like the one in Bristol last year.

It’s not new, but it is still fresh.

Once again, on the subject of transport, party policy is quoted, but it’s an interesting one. The Green party wish to invest more in the railways, because they’re greener than the roads. I hadn’t considered this before, but public transport is expensive, inconvenient and unreliable. I am not a passion save the world type hippy, but I do want to reduce my carbon footprint where possible, because why wouldn’t I? Having said that I am guilty of getting in a car for only short distances.

I’d like to review the numbers and the feasibility a bit more, but I like their idea of diverting funds away from roads and into the railway network.

She talks about a university for Swindon, but she also raises the idea of office space, citing that many of our existing buildings are not fit for purpose. She’s not wrong about that. There is a lot of building happening on the edges of Swindon, but there are many areas in the centre that are empty or inefficient. Some of those are privately owned.

The Greens – The Party

I worry about the Green party. I like their general approach, they feel much fresher and much more progressive than any of the other parties, but I worry that their numbers don’t add up. Hebden-Leeder quotes an £8bn reduction in spending on the roads, to prop up the railways. That’s over a 50% reduction in the planned spend – so what’s going to miss out? Are we going to become a country of potholes? Is it worse than that – are our roads going to become less safe?

If voting for the Conservatives and Labour party feels like voting for an 80 year old man, out of touch with the modern world, then voting for the Green Party feels a bit like voting for an 8 year old – idealistic, good intentioned, but inexperienced.

The Conservatives – The Candidate

You can read what Justin Tomlinson had to say here

I was impressed with Tomlinson, he answered within four hours. This is a man who wants to keep his job – and, judging by the polls, likely will.

His answers, however, focus mostly on what he has already achieved. And I can’t deny, the stuff that has gone on under his tenure as MP for Swindon North, has been incredible for the town.

The old college building in the town centre, which has been empty since I left the college in 2003, has finally been torn down and redeveloped. It is now the home of the town’s third cinema, a supermarket and several new eateries, including the town’s first Nandos.

This is part of the cultural redevelopment that has been needed. Some of the old buildings in the town centre and outside of it as well are also being rebuilt and reimagined. I’m not foolish enough to believe this is all down to him, but it has happened under his watch.

He doesn’t talk about his plans for the future, and while he doesn’t talk about the price of tickets on the railways, he does talk about improving them. If I have to pay the same amount, then I want the 15 minute per journey saving that he talks about. Interestingly he mentions the Tories have capped fare increases – something which the Labour candidate is promising to introduce…

His passion for business is clear, and I can’t help but admire it, although again, he talks about his record, and not his future.

A good track record is great, but a plan is still needed.

The Conservatives – The Party

I don’t trust them.

Personally, I will probably be better off under the Conservative party. I earn a decent amount of money, I own my own property and I work for a big business.

Life in the UK hasn’t been THAT bad for most of us over the last five years, and while for some it has got worse – much worse – there is an argument that, like they can’t claim credit for all the good bits, they can’t be blamed for all the bad bits either.

My Verdict

So who am I voting for?

If I’m honest, I surprised myself a little bit. I had never intended to vote for the Green Party or UKIP. I was unlikely to vote for Labour. I was probably going to vote Lib Dem, but I reckoned I could be persuaded to vote Tory.

The Lib Dems lost my vote – that’s down to the candidate.

UKIP never had it, never will.

So who’s left?

I liked the answers from The Green Party and the Conservative candidates. The Labour candidate also seems to have a grip on what’s going on, and what needs to be done.

Of the three, only two of them have any real chance of being a majority government. But the political landscape is changing in this country and while the Green Party won’t likely get in, a vote for them is not wasted. We have a chance to send a message, not just to the MPs, but to the rest of the voters in our constituents as well.

The more the majorities go down, the more politically engaged our society will be, because it will feel like that our voices have more chance of being heard.

We are unlikely to change the political system of this country in one general election, but we can start to move towards change, and that is by voting for what we truly believe in.

Don’t vote tactically. Vote for the candidate or the party that you think will speak for you. Whatever it is that you are most worried about, vote for someone who’s going to do something about it. That way, you can look back on your vote, and know that you did the right thing.

You can’t trust a politician. Too many people regretted voting Lib Dem at the last general election, because they voted for them tactically to keep out the Conservative party.

Morally, you have to be able to stand up and argue that you voted for the right party, the one that agreed with you on the important issues, otherwise you have as much right to complain as the people who don’t vote at all.

For me, I’ve known for the last week who I’m voting for. It boils down to one simple issue – like it did at the last election – but this is something I hadn’t considered until it came up in the debate between the opposition leaders.

Trident.

We are pouring billions of pounds into this nuclear deterrent, one that we so-say need in order to be safe.

When the public finances are in the state that they are in, when the use of food banks is sky rocketing, when people are struggling to live a decent life this cannot be justified.

Some people will have you believe that without them we wouldn’t be safe.

There are only eight countries in the world known to have nuclear weapons. What’s keeping all the other countries safe? Why is Australia, or Sweden, or Finland, or Canada, or Japan any less than we are?

Ask yourself this – at what point is it ok to press the big red button and launch nuclear weapons at another country? When is it ok to detonate an indiscriminate widespread nuclear attack on another country?

You won’t just kill the bad guys, you’ll kill thousands upon thousands of ordinary people like you and me.

Will the UK ever instigate a nuclear war? If we did, we’d be seen as the aggressors. That is an incredibly aggressive act and one that we can’t come back from.

If Russia, or France, or China or the US instigate nuclear war on us by detonating on our land, it may well be too late for us to even press the button to retaliate – whether we would want to or not.

So… how can we justify spending THAT much money on something we can never use? We can’t.

So, morally, I have to vote for the Green party. It’s actually that simple.

Swindon Chooses… The Green Party?

Last week I sent the same email to the 5 parliamentary candidates for Swindon with 4 questions – basically asking them directly what they’re going to do for Swindon. See here

The Green Party candidate Poppy Hebden-Leeder was the second candidate to respond – 9 days after the email was sent.

Here are her answers, presented in full:

Question 1: Culture.

Swindon is in a prime location along the M4 corridor, with easy access to London, Reading, Bristol and Cardiff, and is surrounded by some beautiful countryside. This is often the only response I can give to associates who ask me about the benefits of living in Swindon – that it’s close to lots of nice places! What can you do to make Swindon itself a nicer place to visit, and what will you do to change the image of the town?

Personally I think people are far too hard on Swindon and forget just how much we have here – having lived in another part of the country that was really lacking in a lot of what we’ve got, Swindon is very well equipped. The answer to give to anyone relies upon what they’re interested in seeing/doing. I’ve only touched on a few things here.
Swindon has some fantastic outdoor spaces, nature reserves and walks; Lydiard Park and Coate Water to name a few.
For the more active, we also have the fantastic Mountain Bike trail at Croft., this can be combined with cycle routes around Swindon (many special routes devised by local cyclists in collaboration with the council) or entry onto the Ridgeway nearby..
There are far more cultural events than I ever get to go along to; Swindon Mela and the literary festival and various museums  – we’ve got the best 20th century Art collection outside of London. And stately homes, and gardens in the National Garden Scheme.
In terms of leisure it would hard to be bored in Swindon with the swimming pools, leisure centres, outdoor parks, climbing wall and various clubs and activities from Archery to Salsa.
People often knock the look of Swindon, but architecturally we have some world famous buildings (the former Renault building) and roundabouts, as well as the lesser known but unique to Swindon. Yes there is some pretty horrible looking stuff – but there is everywhere, but we also have some wonderful buildings too.
This is just a snap shot of what’s here – and we need to shout about it a bit more. Swindon suffers from people who have never been here passing negative comments which is a shame. I’d love to see Swindonians have more pride in our town and start to promote it better as somewhere to come to, rather than being apologetic and explaining that it is a great place to reach other places. Its low hanging fruit, but if we have pride in Swindon I think other people will start to see it more postively too.
Maybe we need a street slide down Victoria Hill like the one they had in Bristol last year… (actually that might be scarily steep?)

Question 2: Transport

The Swindon to London rail route is famous for being one of the most expensive £per mile rail journeys in the country – considering that this country is known to have one of the most expensive rail networks in Europe, that’s a pretty impressive penny. What will you do to ensure a fairer price for your constituents who work in – or wish to visit – the capital?

Green party policy is to bring the rail networks back into public ownership so that the service begins to run for society, rather than the shareholders of a few companies. I am committed to this and believe that the £4bn in public subsidies could be better reinvested back into our railways.  66% of  the members of public polled by YouGov agreed with the idea of bringing railways back into public ownership.
One commitment the Green Party has made that would be an immediate cost reduction for the travelling public is to use some of the £15bn allocated to the national major roads programme to achieve an average 10% fare reduction in public transport (ie on trains and buses) – this would cost about £8bn over the Parliament, but be of massive benefit to many people relying upon the rail network to get to their workplaces.
At a time when fuel prices are very low, but the benefits of this don’t seem to have been passed on the public transport users, it is clear we need to take a different view of transport in order to support increased use of public transport. This is especially pertinent right now following several days of very poor air quality levels caused by a combination of factors including air traffic pollution. I am keen to see more people use public transport as a way to reduce pollution and improving the service while also offering cheaper fares is an obvious way to do this.

Question 3: Business

There are quite a lot of corporations with their headquarters in Swindon: Nationwide, Intel and WH Smith to name just three. Considering that Swindon has a much cheaper way of life, but is less than an hour from the capital. What can you do to encourage companies who are looking to cut down their operational costs to relocate from London to Swindon – in the process, opening up a much more attractive job market in the town for it’s residents?

There are a few issues that once tackled would contribute to more organisations being willing/keen to relocate to Swindon. At a recent business hustings there seemed to be two key issues raised:
Availability of suitable office space:a lot of comments focused on the fact that while there is office space available it is not always suitable for companies. We have a number of industrial estates with buildings on them that are not fit for purpose. If we are serious about attracting more business we need to make sure the infrastructure is in place – this isn’t just about the buildings, but access to them through transport links too.
Skills: this was also an issue that came up at the business hustings, with some businesses saying they are unable to recruit staff locally because of a lack of skills.   I have personally encountered this problem at times in my job too while running recruitment rounds.  Swindon absolutely needs a University – too many of our young people leave to go  away to study, and then not returning. A university would be a way to tackle the shortage of skills that some local organisations experience.
Having benefited from a university education, I am very keen to see a university set up in Swindon and think there would be a wide range of benefits to the town – this is something I would push for very strongly if I were elected.

Bonus Question

What other priorities do you have for Swindon that you haven’t already mentioned? In short, why should the people of Swindon vote for you?

Hebden-Leeder didn’t directly respond to this question but did add to the email following the answer to the last question, the following:

The Green Party has a fully developed set of policies and we released our manifesto today – for those undecided who to vote for, a really useful website that is independent of all the political parties is voteforpolicies.org.uk  – very easy to use and allows you to compare policies easily.

She then asked the exact address of my blog, so presumably she’ll find this post – naturally, wanting to check I have quoted her properly! – so if you have any questions, perhaps add them into the comments?

I’ll send an email to the remaining three candidates (Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP) this weekend if I haven’t heard back from them.

You can read what the Conservative candidate Justin Tomlinson had to say here