On the last day of my visit to Grimsby, I shared a pizza with Marc Jones, who was selected as the Conservative candidate for Grimsby only that week. Marc is Chairman of the Lincolnshire Conservative Association, and is a Lincolnshire County Councillor. We talked about selection processes, UKIP, and trying to win the seat where he was born after nearly 70 years of it being represented by Labour. The pizza was Hawaiian in case you were wondering…
I know you were selected really recently so we should talk about that first. Could you give me a general overview of the selection process?
I only applied for Grimsby, which is unusual for a candidate. Generally speaking, they [candidates] will have a regional view, or go anywhere nationally. But I specifically said that this was the seat that I wanted. So that in itself made it all to play for.
Why did you only want to apply for Grimsby?
I was born in Grimsby. The one thing I feel is that you have got to have an affinity with the place that you want to represent. If you don’t have that, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. Arguably, I would have an affinity to Lincoln. I am the Chairman there, and we have a great MP there now and I support him. The only other place for me was here- it was a lot of eggs in that basket. As it turns out- I had two figures, 14 and 17, of the number of people who applied for the seat- and they [the association] sifted that down to four for interview. Us four were put in a very small room together, and one by one we were called up and grilled by the association members. Roughly that process takes half an hour or so, and each person is interviewed. The members then hold a secret ballot, and pick a winner.
In terms of selection processes, there has been a lot of national press about the selection for the Labour candidate. I was wondering what your views on all female short lists were?
I think that they do nobody any good, least of all the candidate who is selected. Under no circumstances can anyone then say that that person was genuinely the best for that seat. I think that undermines the efforts that candidates put in. Whether you are male or female, you work really hard to even get to the point when you’re on the shortlist, and so to have that undermined by having that always hanging over you, that you were only chosen from 50% of the population, I think is unreasonable for that candidate.
There was a huge swing to the Conservatives in Grimsby at the last election. Why do you think that was?
Well historically these things do happen in Grimsby from time to time. It’s not the first time that’s happened. I think largely it would have to be acknowledged that Gordon Brown was not the brand that Labour would have hoped would lead them into the last election. That definitely had an impact. I also think that it was genuinely fought hard on the ground by our then candidate [Victoria Ayling] who is now the candidate for UKIP. Without question, she got across the positive Conservative message on the doorstep. I think what’s interesting is that now she’s on the doorstep with a different message, where I will still be there with the positive Conservative message which did her so well last time.
And with her switching across to UKIP, how concerned are you about UKIP eating into Conservative votes?
I’ll be honest, I’m less worried about that than I am that it’s a short time frame that I’ve got to knock on as many doors as possible and tell people what I’m about, what my motivation for being here is, and what I want for the town. That concerns me much, much more, that I get to as many people as possible, with the genuine message of saying what I’ll do for them if they vote for me. I think that is ultimately more important.
Well let’s go into that: what is the message that you want to bring to the town and its people?
It’s absolutely clear by what’s happened throughout time that having a Labour MP for such a long time – three MPs over 70 years – has that delivered the change to the town that they would want? The general difference – and this is being very general – tends to be that from council level upwards, we get a Labour council that is much more saying how bad an area is and that we want more money to support that from Government. A Conservative view would be much more about what we can do to change it, how do we make things change, rather than relying on running the area down and keeping the status quo and asking for more money. There isn’t more money and we have got to get away from thinking there is.
But I honestly think that we need to up-skill our workforce, we need to promote business growth in the area, and the other thing we need to do is provide youth opportunities so that people are growing up and want to stay in the area. And I think we should have a bit of pride of our heritage in the area. They’re really important things that I’ll be working on; speaking to big businesses, small businesses. You can’t go into a business office in this area without seeing a Grimsby Town signed shirt in a frame on the wall. And it’s building on that pride to show the country to say that you don’t realise how much of our national economy is driven by regional powerhouses like ours. And we need to do more with the docks.
And I appreciate that you were born here, but do you think that will be a difficult message to put across living in Lincoln?
I don’t think so. I think once people start speaking to you and realise that you are genuine and that you really want to be part of the community and that you believe what you are saying, and that I think it is the right message. I think that will get across. Ultimately people have a very simple choice, outside of the local issues. Who do you want in Number 10? Who do you want running our economy? Who do you want in charge of the army? Who do you want in charge of the NHS? I don’t think the answer to those questions is Nigel Farage. I equally don’t believe that they will want to go back to risking the economy, so that only leaves them with a solid choice. I think when you throw into the mix, a very important issue locally, which is ‘Do you want a referendum on the EU, yes or no?’ then it’s without question that it’s to UKIP’s advantage if we don’t win this election because they know that that puts Labour in charge. If Labour is in charge then more people will want to vote UKIP because they will want to be out of the EU.
If the referendum happens in 2017, or before or after, will you vote yes or no?
To be clear – the referendum will be in 2017, that’s not a case of when. As things stand, I do not think that Britain’s interests are best served by being an EU member. It doesn’t mean to say that I don’t think Europe does good things for us. For an example, speaking to the people that run ports around this area, I asked them directly that they get over 80-90% of their business from main land Europe, how would an EU exit affect your business? The answer I got was: not at all.
Finally, Grimsby is now becoming a close three way marginal between Labour, UKIP, and you. How do you see yourself fighting the opposition on both sides?
There are different ways of approaching a campaign. You either fight each other, or you tell the public what you genuinely will deliver. In a positive way you say, this is what I’ll do, and this is why you should vote for me. I will focus a lot more on that than what other people are doing.