Copeland constituency was modified a few years ago to include Keswick and the surrounding Allerdale council wards which made this a marginal seat. Majorities of under 4,000 regularly change hands up and down the country. A poll last week for the News and Star put me and Labour neck and neck, so yes, it really does make a difference if you go out and vote Conservative on May 7th.
In 2010 when we had lots of leaders debates, all the election focused on how the three leaders did and even what ties they wore. It wasn't what was important. This time the Prime Minister did the 7-way debate and then has been and will be grilled again by journalists and audience members. I think compared to 2010, in my experience out every day, people are more focused on the big national and important local issues than they were 5 years ago. It was the right decision.
The last five years have been, sometimes, difficult. The Conservative-led government has taken a lot of tough decisions to right the nation's finances. The experts predicted that we would see unemployment rise, but we have not 2 million more jobs than in 2010, more than ever seen before. At the same time we've cut taxes for the lowest paid, invested in skills and education and taken action to make sure school standards are high, in the face of opposition. We have a growing economy and a bright future, but we need another 5 years to make this stick. We can't afford to change course from the long tern economic plan now.
I disagree that it is definitely going to be a hung parliament. The polls have had the Conservatives on 39% and rising with over 2 weeks to go. If we are short of an overall majority, I don't think UKIP will have enough MPs to make a difference anyway. I would personally prefer not to do any deals with anyone, UKIP in particular, but the party leader's decisions are way above my pay grade!
On the underground repository, I was disappointed not to go forward to detailed geological investigations. We needed that information to make an informed decision as a community about whether the repository was safe and whether we were willing to bear the impacts of its construction and operation. We need to go forward again and see what the geology is like. Either way, whether we take part or we don't, Copeland is going to be one of the most affected communities, because if the repository is somewhere else the waste will have to leave by our roads and our railways in the constituency. What ever happens, we have to be at the heart of the process.
The local NHS has been through some tough times. Labour's disastrous PFI hospital at Carlisle has been dragging the trust down, financially and in terms of missed targets. This government has given the trust more than £100 million in the past year in extra funding to deal with the PFI debt and buy new equipment. The West Cumberland has suffered from a poor decision 15 years ago. I understand why now some services are 'temporarily' moved to Carlisle, because we can't get the high quality staff at the West Cumberland, but we don't see from the trust a credible plan to reassure how and when these services will be brought back. The plan currently on the table with the University of Central Lancashire to turn the new West Cumberland into a fully fledged university teaching hospital is exciting and I believe that is the key to overcoming the recruitment challenge and start to bring back the services we deserve. We have a wonderful new hospital, one of the most advanced of its kind in the country, and the trust need to see it as an opportunity, not a problem to be solved. Carlisle is full, and the burden of travel to access services shouldn't all fall on us down west. I'll be fighting to get our teaching hospital off the ground and get the services back.
I was on Mirehouse yesterday morning at St Andrews church at a lovely double baptism service and chatting to people over coffee afterwards. My good friend and our candidate for elected Mayor of Copeland, Chris Whiteside, was knocking on doors in Mirehouse recently too. There's still 17 more days to go, don't worry, I'll be back!
I've had meeting with government ministers about this, and what they want is for the county council (it's their road for the most part) need to work with the Highways Agency to do a fully costed feasibility study and go to government with shovel ready projects that can be funded as part of the wider plan for road sin the North West. We can only make these kinds of improvements when we have a strong and growing economy, though, so it's vital to get me elected and a majority Conservative government to continue with our plan which has sen our economy grow faster than any other major world economy. I'll be continuing to work with ministers to get our road improved before Moorside, and hopefully we can learn from the successes and failures at Hinkley Point before that.
If it's affordable, I'll be beating a path to the Department of Health to ask them for just that. Sometimes the contracts were written so badly that it can cost more to buy them out early from the private company, like for Copeland Council's offices in Whitehaven.
I think we need some younger voices in parliament. I've been a councillor for four years for the ward I grew up in, Hillcrest in Whitehaven, and it's that experience which has given me the confidence that I'd make a good MP. It's not the age that matters - Mrs Thatcher entered parliament around 30 years of age - but the determination and skills you bring.
Crime is falling and it continues to fall - in that context it's hard to justify the police not sharing the burden of fixing our public finances. Crime has changed, and policing the sorts of cyber-crime which is on the rise needs a new kind of approach to policing which is less about police stations and so on and more about highly skilled experts working nationally. We had a worse financial situation that we dared fear to fix, and we're nearly there.
I think we know Ed Milliband will do anything to get into power. We've seen a lot of Labour MPs like Ed Balls and Chuka Umuna say they'd trade away a continuous at sea nuclear deterrent by going down from 4 to 3 trident submarines. Who knows where it will go from there? I think they'd trade new build for a deal too. That would mean chaos for the whole country, and a lot more wind turbines for us in Copeland too.
I'm not scared of UKIP in Copeland. From my own canvassing, they aren't taking votes from any one party. More competition is no bad thing too in an area dominated by Labour for many years. Keeps us on our toes. If we want change in Coepland though, it has to be a vote for me and the Conservatives. UKIP can't win here, or most constituencies, and will only hand Ed Milliband the keys to 10 Downing Street.
I strongly favour an EU referendum. There's now an unarguable case for change in Europe, ad the core Eurozone countries have to further integrate their political systems to keep the single currency alive. Those of us not in the Euro need to negotiate a different, looser relationship with Brussels. If we don't get that from the EU, then perhaps it's time we looked outward to the world. Either way, the question of Europe isn't going away, we need to have the referendum and whatever the result at least put it to bed for another generation.
My top priority for Copeland is to control our own future, which means when we have problems like we see with roads and the NHS rather than having to always look to London for funding and decisions, let us control more of the money and decisions here. That means things like keeping business rates from new nuclear and other new business, and having more local democratic control over how it's spent. Manchester has been given these powers by the Chancellor, we need them too.
Five short priorities under that are: 1. Better healthcare, with services coming back to the West Cumberland, and better GPs surgeries too. 2. Get the county council to do a fully costed plan for upgrading our roads and get it funded by government. 3. Bring new business into our towns by working with the council to make parking free after 3pm and cut business rates to get shops back into use. 4. Fewer councils and councillors in Cumbria to save you money and make things simpler. 5. Be accessible to all, holding regular meetings in every town up and down the constituency so I know what matters to everyone.
Depends who the elected mayor is! Whoever wins I hope they'll be inclusive and have the right people in the right jobs, not just yes men from their own party. The Mayoral election has turned a spotlight on the failings of Copeland Council, and I hope too that those aren't ignored any longer and the council gets back to policies which improve the lives of council tax payers. A Conservative mayor would end rural lane-end bin collections, which are grossly unfair, make parking in council car parks free after 3pm to boost trade and look to cut business rates to get shops back into use.
I look to the changes in Manchester with envy and see it as the blueprint for the rest of the country to take control of the money and decisions in their areas. I want to see the same sort of changes from Manchester in Cumbria. We will all benefit from the improvements to infrastructure too, such as better trains and roads.
We need fewer councils - I've been arguing for that since being elected to Copeland Council in 2011. The number and boundary are up for discussion, but I think to achieve the savings we need, it would have to be one council for all Cumbria. That hasn't always been my view, but it's changed in the past year or so as I've got more familiar with the councils and how they work (or don't work). If it were two councils they'd have to share a lot of services, but as we see with Copeland, that doesn't work well in practice.
Difficult question. I think it would have to be Alex Salmond, who though I disagree with almost everything he stands for, has shown determination and unswerving dedication to a cause for over thirty years. We need more politicians who see it as a vocation and not a job, who have strong beliefs and defend them. That's the sort of politician I think we've lost too many of and it's why people think the parties are 'all the same' (though I assure you we aren't!).
I'd be delighted to serve my country or my party in either! I'd be happy to be a hard-working MP though, and perhaps at the end go back to academic life and write about my experiences for the benefit of others in the future.
Very! 6'7" without the shoes. I stand out from the crowd in more ways than my politics!
Our record in government has been to help create more jobs than at any time in history. 2 million more in the past 5 years. Unemployment in Copeland, and youth unemployment crucially, has fall over 40%. At the same time our raising the tax allowance has saved over £800 a year for the least well off. There have been 2 million apprenticeships funded, and we'll fund another 3 million if re-elected. We're creating a country where everyone who wants a job has one, and creating the conditions which let people get on in life and succeed. We can't afford to go back now to the dark days of Labour.
That's the end of today's session. Thanks very much to Stephen Haraldsen for taking the time to participate and to everyone for asking questions.
Don't forget, you can keep up to date with the latest election news in the News & Star and The Whitehaven News, both in paper and online.