In the series of local Parliamentary candidate interviews this week, I had the chance to interview Sandra James, representing UKIP for Romsey and Southampton North. I asked some very thorough questions!
Disclaimer: Any views represented in this interview may not be reflective of my own, or of Wessex Scene, and belong to Sandra James!
Rebecca Lake: What will be your first priority if you are elected?
Sandra James: When you become an MP, you have the ability to ask your main question in the Houses of Parliament, one of the things I am manifestly concerned about is the infrastructure that exists across the area. It is associated with the NHS, and it means the reality of social care in the community. We are talking about people’s illnesses and diseases that they’re having to manage, that is what I would like to see attended to.
RL: What can you offer to students if you are elected?
SJ: The student community should know that the key policy for students from UKIP is to offer free tuition fees for STEM subjects, I’d like it personally to be extended throughout, but there is only so much in terms of balancing books, but we have identified as part of our manifesto, which is the only manifesto that has been independently audited, by consultants who are not party affiliated, so it is completely independent. It is the only manifesto which has got that accreditation.
Within that, the savings that we have identified would be used to provide free tuition for STEM; that is Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine and Maths students. That’s is what we would like to do for students. There is a shortage of engineers which are out looked for 800,000 through to 2020. That for me is important because I’m very keen to see our manufacturing base extended and improved.
We don’t believe there should be this automatic passage into university if the person doesn’t want to go that route, so we’re very keen to see vocational training and apprenticeships and how we’re going to support people in that way. I did an apprenticeship, and that was a really important feature of how I got to know what it’s about being in business, so I am a great fan of apprenticeships. The reason that the STEM subjects are there is because of the shortages that exist, and the issues associated with the NHS and the deficiencies that we have in terms of GPs and nurses. It is supply and demand, therefore if we can get more of the supply going and getting STEM people through then we can extend to meet demand.
RL: Could this be quite limiting though? To focus just on STEM subjects, when other types of degrees have value in their own way, especially with the clause in the manifesto that they only have free tuition if they practice in the UK 5 years after graduation?
SJ: We don’t want it to be that you just have to go to university, particularly with vocational side. We have set our markers out there for the shortage areas, and I think we had a time when students were going into subjects that might not easily get them a job. People I know could not get anything from their degree and actually changed because they were unable to get a job. What I say to my children that the end product of study has to lead you to something, it has to be wanted and meet demand. You don’t necessarily have to do a degree in engineering, you could be an apprentice and get into engineering through that. What I don’t want to see is students that we desperately want being deterred because of the cost of a very large cost of study.
RL: What are the rest of the party’s thoughts on what Nigel Farage’s comments about HIV patients in the television debate? Does this represent the views of the rest of the party?
SJ: Let me make it absolutely straight that HIV is an awful disease, and if I had enough money, and the UK had enough money, there would be an argument to provide these anti-viral drugs, which are £27,000 per year. Let me explain why I think Nigel said this – I think he was testing the audience and testing public opinion, raising nonetheless an important issue and that issue is about funding.
It’s all about what we can afford as a country. It is not an International Health Service, it’s a National Health Service. There are people who have paid into that National Health Service who cannot get cancer drugs, particularly in post code incidences where people who need breast cancer drugs cannot have them because they are not being given out by NICE. We need to make sure that we are doing the right thing for the people who have paid into the system. Nigel was pointing out as part of that example he gave, which was provocative, but I think it was right to say these things. If you give people who are coming into the country who have not paid their way but expect to be able to immediately go onto anti-viral drugs which cost £27,000 a year – this is far above the minimum wage. We have to have that reasoned debate that says is it affordable, is it right. Our policy is if you come into the country you should have insurance which protects you for five years before you can become part of the NHS.
RL: Why did he choose that example? Could he not have chosen an example that was less controversial and scaremongering? There are lots of other examples he could have used.
SJ: I think he picked it because the BBC has been found to be biased towards its EU coverage. The MP scrutiny committee reported this, not UKIP. When you have instances where UKIP are being prevented from getting certain things over in the media, I think it’s important that people also take that on board. The HIV issue may be a stance he took to expose that particular issue, but he could have used other instances. We shouldn’t shy away from these subjects, HIV is out there, it affects people and that’s the way it is. HIV for me is a success story, because 20 years ago it was almost a death sentence but now it is not. That was the point he was probably trying to convey. The reason it’s not a death sentence now is because of the success of these drugs, but those drugs come with a huge cost. If we put to one side the HIV issue, if we just concentrate on the cost side of things, as an accountant myself let’s look at the hard facts and let’s look at the other areas that we can ill afford to fund currently on the NHS.
RL: What made you want to represent UKIP?
SJ: Did I find UKIP or did UKIP find me? I think it is a meeting of thoughts and mind-sets, it’s about what matters to you, it is the fundamental thing for me to give people the right to vote on something; the EU. If I were to deny you the right to vote on the UK, you might not say it matters. Maybe, as you are younger than me, you haven’t seen the effects of that, particularly in running a business based on the EU regulations that exist. You haven’t had the insight into the global market place that I think that would have better prepared us for any downturn in the Eurozone when that crashed. I think we have not had debate over the global market place and our ability to trade with the emerging markets. We have a democratic right to give people those facts and for them to decide whether it’s right for us to continue as part of the EU, or whether we exit it, and I don’t think we have been given that choice.
RL: That seems like UKIP’s rise and popularity has grown out of the financial crises, and the people who support UKIP think that’s a result of being in the EU?
SJ: I don’t think that, I think it’s accentuated it. The fundamental issues before that was that these EU thousands of regulations have been about for years affecting businesses. It’s been accentuated by the recession, meaning that we have had much more immigration coming to the UK and the figures are enormous – 7 million. In post war years the net migration was 40,000-50,000. The analogy is that if you’re managing your home and you only have a set amount in the kitty, to be spent on feeding and clothing your children, and you suddenly grow your home disproportionately to what should be naturally occurring, something has to give. The pressure on housing and on infrastructure is enormous. It’s not right that the largest waiting time to see a GP in my constituency is 6 weeks. You have to ask what is generating that position, and it is undeniably factored in with the growth that we’ve had.
RL: Are there any UKIP policies that you personally disagree with, and if so what are they and why?
SJ: I’m not whipped as a UKIP county councillor. We have a policy on fracking, I do not want to see fracking, which endangers the community and people, and I need to see more information about that before I fully endorse it. However there is a caveat – I also see people in fuel poverty. We have to resource ourselves in terms of energy supply and not rely on Eastern European gas or Russian supplies, which by definition is going to be problematic. Fracking in the States has been through a process whereby it is being hailed as much safer, but I am not there yet with that argument. Therefore for me, fracking is an energy source, but only if it is proven to be sound and not affect communities.
UKIP has got a lot of mist around it. It is important that students reading your article should hear it straight from someone who is in the know. There are councillors who do have real experience in their field who do get the implications of policy, and I think it’s important to have that debate. I think there is a certain undercurrent of what UKIP is about.
RL: Can you understand why that is though? Do you appreciate that?
SJ: But that’s like saying the Lib Dems are all roaring paedophiles. Because they’ve got a pretty horrible track record on that.
RL: I think a lot of people have. There are various parties that have been in trouble for things over the years…
SJ: But I think if you look at the amount of Lib Dems like Jeremy Thorpe, and then the Rochdale guy… Get to know what we are about, the people who are standing, people who will actually determine policies. Get to know facts. Let’s talk about racial issues associated with UKIP, because there might be this view that we’re all racists, let me put that view entirely to bed. We believe that immigration should be controlled because we have 700,000 18-24 year old who are unemployed in the UK, 1.8 million people who are unemployed in total and last year net migration was 298,000 – this is the Office of National Statistics, not mine – and 104,000 of those came in with no job to go to. I think when you’re dealing with that sort of number it’s important that we are seen to be able to influence people who come into our country and who expect to have benefits when they haven’t paid into the system. We should have the ability to flag what jobs we need to fill and which we have shortages rather than having unskilled people come in and depress our wages to lower rates than they would ordinarily be.
RL: Do you think the EU is completely bad? I think there is a lot of good in being in the EU, such as being able to travel to and from these countries, ERASMUS programmes, co-operation in catching criminals who have fled to another country and free healthcare abroad with EHIC cards despite not being a resident. How can these benefits be looked past?
SJ: We pay an enormous amount for those entitlements and we’re a net contributor the EU. It costs us £55million per day to be a member of the EU. The small and medium sized businesses are inundated with regulations. We have been marked as anti-EU, but we’re not anti-Europe, that subtle difference is forgotten. We are pro-Europe, but we don’t believe we have to be part of this political union that controls everything about our country and affects our sovereignty. We can no longer make our own laws as they have to be made via the EU and this is restrictive on business operations. The salient point for me is the cost of that membership verses the benefits, which is I want to have that debate. The one thing that UKIP has brought already is an insight into that debate, and that has never happened before. Even Dison is anti-Europe because of the rules of German manufacturers which prevent him from producing new technology for his vacuuming business. We’re not saying we never want to trade or have anything to do with Europe, we want to be in a friendship group with Europe and to trade globally without those restrictions.
RL: Do you think that the average person would understand about being a member of the EU and what the pros and cons were?
SJ: No, and it’s been denied to them consistently. I’ve seen how people prevent you from getting your message over. I’ve had people that tell me in other constituencies that they have been prevented from being interviewed by the BBC where they’ve had Conservative, Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens. When UKIP has the most MEPs in the EU Parliament; that says what we are about as a political party. A political force if you will.
RL: If there was a referendum on EU membership, do you think many people would care about the EU enough to get clued up on it and vote?
SJ: I think that’s what politicians and professionals and the people having to contend with regulations on a business will find important and play their part in that debate, but I think at the moment it’s been one sided.
The full list of candidates running in Southampton are listed here.