I caught up with Paul Scully, the Conservative candidate for Sutton and Cheam, in Sutton High Street to learn that in a Conservative/Liberal Democrat marginal, any reported bliss of coalition in Westminster does not transcend to local campaigns.
What do you think are the most important issues to Sutton & Cheam?
I have lived here for about 28 years and I have spent all of my adult life here so I think I have a reasonably good handle on what the local issues are. There are three things that I am majoring on. First is the hospital. We have St Helier Hospital and there has been a threat recently that the accident and emergency services and the maternity services will be moved to Tooting, which is about six miles away. It doesn’t sound a lot if you’re from a rural area but in London at rush hour it takes a long time to get there and in an emergency that’s no ideal.
We are short of school places to the point that we actually need to build two more schools. What I’m keen on doing is finding a site really quickly so that we can get on and build the school, rather than just talk about it.
And finally – the local economy, to make sure that the High Street that we are sitting in at the moment is as vibrant and thriving as it can be. There’s a good few empty shops around here and I want to have a more ambitious vision for Sutton.
Sutton and Cheam is a Conservative/Liberal Democrat marginal. How have you found campaigning against the Lib Dems seeing that you’re in coalition with them in Westminster?
I was the leader of the Conservatives on the Council here so actually I have been battling away at Lib Dems for all my political time. The coalition when it came together did a fantastic job on the economy but there are still a number of issues that we lock horns over. In terms of national issues that are concerning people, number one when I am going out and about on the streets is immigration, and education and local government which the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have different ideas about.
Seeing that immigration is such a prominent issue in the constituency, do you find that UKIP are doing well here?
It’s a mixed bag actually. They don’t do as well here as they have done in other parts of London and certainly not as well as they do in Kent and Surrey. But they are there to split the vote and disrupt. The local UKIP Chairman actually said after the local elections that in the area UKIP can’t make winners but can definitely make losers. I found that UKIP voters are disaffected with politics in general. And yes, there are Conservatives who are thinking about voting UKIP for any number of issues, but there is a sizeable minority of former Lib Dem supporters who voted for the party because they thought that they weren’t going to be in government. Now that the Lib Dems are in government they don’t like what they see and so they are voting for the next party that they don’t think are going to be in government.
And the National Health Action Party is standing in Sutton and Cheam as well, what impact do you think that will have?
I think it will have a minor impact. The man who is standing is a nice guy and if he’s making the point about saving St Helier then that’s fantastic (50for15’s interview with NHA Candidate Dave Ash is here). The NHA Party tend to go a little wider and talk about the privatisation of the NHS and the extent to which they talk about the NHS being privatised I don’t agree with but I think it will push the hospital further to the top of the agenda. But in terms of the result, I don’t think it will have that much of a difference.
So we’re 200 days away from the election, how is the campaigning going? You don’t have to give us all your secrets!
Well, I was selected in December 2012, so a long time ago, which is a typical tactic which parties use in Liberal Democrat-held seats because the party tends to use very local issues so it’s important to get selected early. Being local anyway it meant that I didn’t have to find my feet. It’s very much trying to raise my profile because the Lib Dem who represents here, Paul Burstow, has lived here all of his life, and has a good local profile for himself. I’m spending all my time speaking to as many people as I can. Because I work for myself Fridays tend to be attending events and meetings. Saturdays is about knocking as many doors and I must have had around 200,000 to 300,000 bits of paper go out. It’s a lot of intense work.
And with Paul Burstow being a former Health Minister, do you find that you are getting a lot of resentment towards him, or is frustration channelled more towards the Government?
With him being a former health minister, and the hospital closure being such a big item on the agenda, a good few people have said, “Well hold on a sec, he was health minister, and he wasn’t able to save the hospital, now he’s stepped down and he’s campaigning and not saving the hospital, what’s the point?”
Today we are asking people if they can differentiate between Lib Dem and Conservative policies and many people are struggling with the task. Does that surprise you?
Not really. I think if you have Conservative and Labour policies people will have a clearer view. Although I would love everyone to be voting for me personally, in reality it’s going to be David Cameron versus Ed Miliband. Lib Dem policies tend to vary wherever you are in the country. In the North where the Lib Dems are against Labour, they will be highlighting other issues than down here. There are a number of Lib Dems on the Council who I’m not convinced will vote Lib Dem nationally. I think their policies are a bit of a moveable feast shall we say.
How do you deal with that in your campaign?
A lot of the stuff I’ve been doing when knocking on doors is not just saying “Hi I’m Paul – who are you voting for?” It’s saying “What do you think is important for the country?” That rich data that I’m getting back from those conversations enables me to speak to voters about issues that interests them, rather than what interests me. There’s no point me waving a massive manifesto at them, let’s find out what interests them and what their priorities are and then we can concentrate on those sorts of things. And there was plenty of clear blue water between the Conservative and other parties on all those major issues: on education, on health, even on English Votes for English Laws.
And what do you think about English Votes for English Laws? Do you support it?
Very much so. I like David Cameron’s phrase the morning after the Scottish referendum result that as Scotland have had their voice, it’s important that English people have their voice too. It’s going to be difficult to work out, but what we don’t want is a huge layer of bureaucracy which would be expensive. But I think it’s important that only English MPs vote on English issues.
So how do you see your campaign progressing as we move into the last 200 days?
I want to see a majority Conservative government to put the national policies in place which will benefit Sutton and Cheam residents. The best way I can help that along is just to focus on my little corner here so that people understand what my background is and what my beliefs are. What I want to explain is that you can have a local hardworking MP who has the area at heart, but that you can also opt back into choosing who is Prime Minister. That is going back to the David Cameron versus Ed Miliband question, and with me you can help direct the answer a little bit more.