With the Snap General Election drawing ever closer, Wessex Scene sat down with Southampton Test’s Conservative Candidate, Paul Holmes to find out what he has to offer for Southampton Test constituents if he was elected as MP and his views on national issues such as Brexit.
So Paul, I think the first thing to ask is why did you get involved in politics and why you are running as the Conservative MP for Southampton Test?
Growing up, I became very passionate about the direction that the country was heading. I grew up in quite a deprived part of London, saw what was going on there and did not necessarily like the direction from which Tony Blair was taking the country. You hear a lot from politicians about getting involved for public service but for me it genuinely was that. I stood in quite a deprived part of Southampton in 2008 for the Southampton City Council elections while I was a student and won that seat and worked to improve the area. I want to improve an area I love and have an affinity with.
I am running in Southampton Test because I have spent most of my working life in the constituency. I served in the Council for four years and have an affinity with the area. In accordance with my records for elections, I only stand in areas where I have an affinity and where I care about. I only applied for Southampton Test as a seat on the national list and gave up my job for it.
So did you ever run for office in London where you were from and first motivated to get involved in politics?
I ran for Mitcham and Morden in 2015, and you can tell by the fact that I am sat here today that I did not win. But London has similar issues to Southampton with huge pockets of deprivation, under-performing schools and infrastructure issues. I think my background gives me a fresh set of eyes and a new impetus into making sure that the area gets better.
I think our readers will want to know what your stance on University tuition fees is and whether you agree with them rising with inflation?
This is a difficult one, because you’ll probably say that the Labour party have pledged to scrap tuition fees. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have tuition fees as Labour like to play on with their pledge to scrap them. Unfortunately, however, we do not live in an ideal world and we face a lot of challenges over the next five years. Labour’s manifesto has £58 billion of blackholes and in an ideal world you would not have tuition fees. I was in the first year of students to start paying tuition fees for instance. We need to make sure that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, like myself, are not deprived of access to University.
With regards to rising with inflation, I think that is a sensible thing to do. Inflation is quite low at the minute and there does need to be some kind of benchmark. If we want a University system that is among the best class in the world then we have to pay for it. I think it’s irresponsible for Labour to promise things that they cannot afford.
So you said that you got involved in politics through your own dislike towards Blair’s policies, was the introduction of tuition fees a factor that got you involved in politics?
It wasn’t a big factor for me to get involved in politics. I do, however, remember at the time that it was a genuine worry coming from a council estate in London with £3000 a year as a loan for University tuition. But with the maintenance loans we were supported and actually people who took £3000 loans pay more of their monthly income back into these loans than those who took £9000 loans.
You talked about the importance of maintenance loans for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, what is your stance on the Government scrapping the maintenance grant?
It’s a tricky one, in an ideal world the maintenance grant was a good thing, but what has been put in place with the maintenance loans is a decent support structure. It is not ideal and I accept that many of your readers will think that it is not ideal but there are still mechanisms to which people can access University education.
I am aware that there are 15,000 students in my constituency and that this is an important issue and if elected I will expect that this will be at the top of my inbox and something that I will be working with the Students’ Union and the students on.
Do you agree with Theresa May’s approach of a ‘hard Brexit’ and how will this ensure the economic prosperity of the United Kingdom?
I would challenge the fact that Theresa May is following a hard Brexit. At no point since triggering Article 50 or since becoming Prime Minister has Theresa May said that she wants a hard Brexit. I don’t actually recognise the term ‘hard Brexit’, she has said that she wants to get the best deal for the United Kingdom and a deal for everyone. The reasons for calling this election were clear. Firstly, Brexit was being thwarted by the other parties, the referendum result was clear and we do need to get on with it. Secondly, we need to secure the best deal for Britain and get it through Parliament.
In terms of guaranteeing economic prosperity, again what the Prime Minister has said is clear: she wants to get the best deal for Britain. The Prime Minister said in an Echo interview when she visited Southampton that she aspires to allow European citizens to stay in Britain, but we can’t make that pledge as long as British citizens do not have that right in European countries. We shouldn’t forget the opportunity that this vote, speaking as someone who voted leave, has given us.
Do you not see the idea to leave the single market and EEA as a hard Brexit?
I don’t recognise it as this is in the beginning of the negotiating strategy. Labour have, I think, pledged to remain in the single market which is something we cannot guarantee before starting negotiations. Speaking for myself, I would like to stay in the single market but it is too early for us to say something on this until we have begun the negotiations. The Prime Minister has been very clear that she wants the best deal for this country which means that we can continue growing.
Why did you vote leave?
For me, growing up, it was nothing to do with immigration; I am pro-immigration. It was purely a sovereignty issue. I do not think that we should have stayed part of an organisation which we voted to join in 1975 as an economic trading bloc in which we slowly had the erosion of the sovereign basis to make our own laws. A majority of people who voted in 1975 did not vote for greater European interference and I think that culminated why I voted to leave.
Given the recent global cyber-attack on the NHS, how will you work with the local NHS Trust to ensure improvements in their IT systems?
I’ll be meeting with all the relevant people in the NHS to make sure that their systems are secure. In my background, I worked in the Cabinet Office as a Special Advisor and part of my responsibility was in cyber security for infrastructure. It is clear from the increasing use of bots to shape views for instance that this is something that we need to look at. If you look at the Conservative Manifesto, it has pledged a minimum of an extra £8 billion into the NHS and there is no doubt that some of that will have to look at what systems we need to do.
It is important to emphasise that patient records and confidential material was not acquired as a result of this cyber-attack. But it does show that we need to be resilient to this. I have working relationships with a lot of the ministers from my background and can lobby the Government on this issue.
How will you work with the NHS Trust to ensure it keeps providing an efficient service?
Southampton has a unique set of challenges, during my time in the Council I saw the problems Southampton faces with social care. We need a more connected system through efficiency programs. We need to ensure that adult social care, children’s social care and acute services through A&E are all linked up through our efficiency programs. We are not quite there yet, I think there is a long way to go, but in order to ensure that quality of services are there is through linking these systems.
How do you hope to tackle issues of student housing in this country, with landlords charging extortionate rent for sometimes sub-standard properties? What do you think of Alan Whitehead’s idea for a ‘housing charter’?
I think that Alan Whitehead’s housing charter isn’t worth the paper it is written on because Alan Whitehead cannot deliver that. What we need is a practical solution. Being a student in this city, I know the ways to help improve this. I think the local authority do not take the problem seriously with irresponsible landlords. They do have an enforcement team, but from my experience working with this body, that the enforcement team do not work as hard as they should particularly with sub-standard housing which I have seen in my time here.
Lobbying the Government very hard for affordable housing for people who live here full time, affordable and quality housing for private renting are ways in which I can do this. It’s all well and good saying that we have a housing charter, fine. The concrete proposal behind this, however, don’t deliver much. What this area needs is an MP who can lobby the Government in improving housing.
Do you really believe that Theresa May can provide ‘strong and stable’ leadership during the Brexit negotiations?
I do, because if you look at the carnage at which Jeremy Corbyn has managed the Labour Party; I don’t think many people want him because of the way he has run his party. If you look at many Labour MPs like Alan Whitehead, who I am running against here, he has been in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, resigned from the Shadow Cabinet because he didn’t have confidence in Jeremy Corbyn being his leader, and then went back into the Shadow Cabinet. He is now asking the Southampton public to vote Jeremy Corbyn to be the leader of this country. I don’t think that anybody recognises that Jeremy Corbyn can deliver the stable leadership that this country needs.
Theresa May has already triggered Article 50 and set the parameters for negotiations and many have said that since triggering Article 50 the UK economy would fall off a cliff and since then that has not been the case. This country still has, I think, the strongest growing economy in the EU. Businesses are doing well, with Theresa May introducing policies to support smaller businesses such as the Business Relief. I do not see how anyone can say that Theresa May has not provided the strong and stable leadership that this country requires.
Clearly, she is not afraid to put her personal circumstance before the needs of this country through calling this election. She quite clearly said to the country that she needed more of a mandate for Brexit. There is only one party that can deliver Brexit and that is my party, the Conservatives. Jeremy Corbyn is not the man you want leading this country judging by the way he has managed his own party.
You talked a lot about Jeremy Corbyn, what about Tim Farron?
Well Tim Farron can provide a lot of promises but has no prospect of winning the General Election. The Liberal Democrats have a strong history of doing this. We had a referendum, leave won, and I think a second referendum is damaging and disruptive to what we now need to do in getting on with the negotiations. I think that he is pledging a second referendum because he is moving his party to a situation where he can exploit those votes that he will get from that. All he wants to do is delay so that his party can gain a few more votes in the general election.
Given the Prime Minister saying that not having a deal may be an option, do you think that not having a deal will be a good result from Brexit?
I think that it is too early to say. The negotiations have been going on for a brief time and have been stopped for this general election. I personally think that we will get a deal and that we will get a very good deal. But there is naturally a bit of posturing with the European Union at the moment with the Brexit bill issue, but I think that is why the Prime Minister is keeping options open for the interests of the British people. I do think that not having a deal will not be a good result, but I don’t think it will come down to that. It is as much in the EU’s interest to have a deal with us as it is for us to have a deal with them.
Finally, please give a closing statement as to why Southampton Test should vote for you, Paul Holmes, to be their Member for Parliament.
I think it is important to have an MP that has the backing of a strong leader of a party that has a vision for this country. An MP that can deliver on the interests of Southampton residents, including its student population, from day one. I am committed to increasing housing and increasing investment for hospitals and schools. I am not afraid to lobby our Government, even if it may be going against them. Southampton residents can be assured of is that they will have a local, hard-working and dedicated MP if I am lucky enough to win.