Most people have an extended period of time from deciding to run as a candidate in a seat to their successful selection as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. Not so for Craig Tracey, the Conservative candidate for North Warwickshire. Shortly after the resignation of the current Conservative MP, Dan Byles, Craig was chosen as the local party’s candidate. A fortnight later he got married, and a week after his wedding he was in Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference, where, after this “whirlwind” of events, it seemed only fair to meet him in a pub.
We chatted about the importance of the Party Conference for candidates in marginal seats, his reservations over HS2, and why he’ll be in the pub a whole lot more over the next few months…
What’s different about Conference when you’re based in such a marginal constituency?
It’s very different in terms of it being the one opportunity where we get a lot of activists together in the same place, where you get a lot of MPs together, and you can go and talk to them and get them on board to help your campaign. Politics is a people business, and if a MP connects with you, then they are more likely to send people from the safer seats to help you out. We have had quite a few offers of help which is fantastic. We are a small association, just over a hundred members, so having extra bodies on the ground is what is going to help us.
You were chairman of the North Warwickshire Conservative Association and now you’re the candidate. What’s the transition like?
As chairman, you have to make quite difficult decisions and things that you do are not universally popular. When you are the candidate you have to bring everybody together and have them all working for you, so it’s quite an interesting transformation. It’s been fun and people have been very supportive, which is great. I’ll probably know more in a week or two once there’s been more time to campaign! I have been really impressed with all the support and the emails coming through.
Your Labour opponent, Mike O’Brien, was the former MP – how does that pose a challenge to your campaign?
He was my MP! I think it actually helps us because he’s lost twice now, and he’s coming up again. It seems like Labour cannot come up with a better candidate for the seat. From my point of view, he’s somebody who has twice been rejected by voters and he’s supposedly the best they can find.
I’ve campaigned against him so I know how he works and operates. He is known in the area, but then there are things that he has done which aren’t popular. When I have been out on the doorstep speaking to people it’s evident that they haven’t forgotten the things that he has done. A more dynamic candidate coming in would have been a much bigger threat.
What are the key issues to voters in North Warwickshire?
The most emotive one from the national level is High Speed Rail, HS2. It affects a lot of the constituency. We also have the George Eliot Hospital which turned from a bad news story into a good news story, and has been performing so much better over the last 6 months. If you look at North Warwickshire, it’s such a diverse constituency. There are lots of rural areas, lots of market towns, lots of ex-mining areas, so there’s not really encompassing issue for the whole area, except for planning, which is a huge issue. The two borough councils that look after North Warwickshire have failed to have a credible housing plan.
My first campaign is on road safety which is something I am passionate about. My day job is as an insurance broker so I see the other side of the effects that things like speeding has so that was natural campaign for me but it is also an issue that has been raised lots on the doorstep, especially in rural communities.
What are your opinions on HS2?
I just cannot see the business case for it. I have campaigned with Dan Byles, and have campaigned on this issue over the years. It’s a very difficult project to justify.
So why do you think the leadership of the Conservative Party are supporting it?
They believe that it is a project which will develop long term economic benefits, of which the connectivity to the North is a key rationale. But for the people of North Warwickshire it doesn’t offer value for money. I would rather see the existing rail provision updated and made quicker. We know that there is going to be a problem with rail in terms of capacity, so there is going to have to be something done. The project has got cross-party support which makes it unlikely that we’re going to be able to stop it, but then it’s a case of getting the best mitigation for the people who will be affected.
One of the things you don’t hear about is that when HS2 is going through an area it affects house prices so we need to ensure that compensation packages are delivered quickly and are fair. Dan has been incredibly proactive as the voice against HS2 and I think he has gained a lot of respect for that. If you go out to meetings and talk to people everybody know how much he is doing and how much he has helped us.
So with six months to go, what are the key considerations of your campaign going to be?
When a new candidate is selected the most important thing is to get out and knock on doors. Leaflets are great, but the more people you can talk to the better. That is what I’ll be focusing on throughout the election but certainly while the evenings are longer. The campaign will be about getting out there and meeting as many people as possible and organising residents’ meetings.
We’re going to do some ‘In the Pub with Craig’ meetings. I organised similar meetings in the pub for Dan at the last election and they were really good way to engage voters who may not have been engaged in politics before. It’s a bit like learning – people learn in different ways and you have got to encapsulate different styles of learning and get our strong messages out because we have strong messages to tell.