Interview: Craig Fletcher, Liberal Democrat Candidate, Romsey And Southampton North

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Who would you describe as the average or typical Liberal Democrat voter?

Is there such a thing? We’re a broad church party. We espouse liberal values, equality of opportunity, making sure no one is disadvantaged by where they were born. We have a broad range of support across the population. A lot of people in our party are pro-Europe. Our problem has often been that we’ve been cerebral and not emotive enough. We’re very tolerant – of all people and backgrounds, genders, sexualities. Ultimately our key message is to stay in the EU.

What is the biggest issue in this General Election?

It depends what lens you’re looking at it through. If you’re looking at it as the biggest issue for the economy and the political landscape, then it’s Brexit. The biggest issue facing humanity is climate change. That’s not getting the attention it should. Whilst this Brexit debacle is going on we’re not fixing the real issues the country is facing such as the NHS, social care, the crumbling education system and the climate crisis. I often say on the door to people, there’s no point arguing about which political club we’re part of when London is 10 metres underwater. We need to take urgent action, but we’re not going to make much of an inroad whilst Brexit is dividing the country, consuming all the political oxygen.

What steps have you taken to combat climate change?

I drive an electric vehicle with zero emissions. I’ve yet to convince the wife to put solar panels on the roof but I’m working on that. We recycle heavily, we try not to buy any single-use plastics. In the last few years, we’ve tried to eat less meat. I don’t think I’m going to go vegetarian but if we cut down at least one or two meals a week, that’s a significant reduction of our CO2 footprint. I try to offset my emissions if I can, especially if I’m flying. My energy comes from renewables as I’m with Bulb.

Recently there have been protests against the expansion of Southampton Airport. Would you vote for airport expansions?

We need to have the economy growing but we also need to have the environmental impact assessed. It’s difficult to say whether I would vote for or against it when I don’t have the detail. I know it’s typical trying to avoid answering the question but I don’t know what the outcome is. Are they going to do less flights with bigger aeroplanes which would lead to less overall pollution and disruption to the local population? That might be an argument to do it. The country needs to fly less. There are some interesting technologies coming out at the prototype stage that produce hydrocarbon fuel that can be used in a jet engine. I accept there is a need for Southampton to grow the economy and how many trips it saves up to Heathrow and Gatwick.

According to Vince Cable, revoking Article 50 is a distraction, as the Liberal Democrats aren’t going to enter government on their own.

When that policy came in we were riding mid-20s in the polls and there was a very real chance that we could get 100 plus MPs. That’s before the Farage-Johnson pact happened that meant that every seat became at least 10% harder. The Brexit Party vote is almost entirely going to the Conservatives. The revoke Article 50 policy was misunderstood and sensationally reported. Our policy has always been and still is to get a People’s Vote on any deal, with an option to Remain. We’ve added 17 amendments, 7 of which have gone to a vote and all of those were blocked by the major parties. We are committed to a second referendum. The revoke position was to deal with the possibility we get elected by a majority and have to send Jo Swinson off to negotiate a deal. Just because we would revoke Article 50 doesn’t mean that in five years’ time someone can’t re-enact it.

Would you support any other party into government?

We are open to anyone that will give us a People’s Vote. I very much doubt we will go into coalition because that was a very painful lesson that we learned from 2010-2015. The electorate judges us far more harshly than historians will. The coalition did a lot of good that we don’t seem to get any credit for. I cannot see us supporting either of the current leaders in a coalition. A confidence and supply arrangement might be possible.

Why should students trust you after your party broke the tuition fees promise?

On behalf of the party, I would like to apologise to students, that was something we absolutely got wrong. But we were the junior partners in coalition and could not stop the Tories from doing it. Coalition is a compromise. You don’t have a mandate to deliver your whole manifesto. We’re a very different party now. I’m not a politician, I’m only just going into it. I’m a businessman. Most people who know me from my professional life tell me I’m very genuine and honest. I would never vote to increase or expand tuition fees at all. With our plans for higher and further education, we don’t plan on touching that live rail any time soon.

How would the Liberal Democrats resolve the student mental health crisis?

As a tech entrepreneur, I know only too well the impacts that technology has on young people’s minds. We have an epidemic of mental health in no small part due to things like social media being used in teenage years. We want mental health to be treated the same way as physical health on a level peg.  I signed the mental health first aid pledge. We should not only have first aiders, but mental health first aiders can also be trained to spot these signs as nipping mental health early is important. Our key pledge is a penny on income tax to fund over £7 billion a year into the NHS and social care. £11 million will be ringfenced for mental health for five years. It is time we stopped the stigma and deal with the issue.

More articles in General Election 2019
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  2. Southampton Itchen: A Highly Contested Seat
  3. Interview: Stephen Galton: Conservative Candidate, Southampton Test
  4. Interview: Craig Fletcher, Liberal Democrat Candidate, Romsey And Southampton North
  5. How Can We Trust You?: Problems Of A Student Voter
  6. The Liberal Democrat Manifesto Simplified
  7. Jeremy Corbyn Signs Southampton UCU Petition
  8. Southampton Hustings: All You Need to Know
  9. Conservative Manifesto 2019: A Summary
  10. General Election 2019: Southampton & Winchester’s Constituencies
  11. Labour Manifesto 2019 – We Went Through It So You Don’t Have To
  12. Reasons (Not) to Vote
  13. SUSU Hustings: Southampton Test – Liveblog
  14. SUSU Hustings: Romsey and Southampton North – Liveblog
  15. Key Dates for Upcoming General Election 2019
  16. Wessex Scene Launches General Election 2019 Survey
  17. Southampton Debating Union General Election Student Debate: Liveblog
  18. Johnson vs Corbyn: BBC General Election Debate Liveblog
  19. SUSU Hustings: Southampton Itchen – Liveblog
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  21. Johnson vs Corbyn: ITV General Election Debate 2019 Liveblog
  22. Over 75 University of Southampton Students Turned Away From Polling Stations
  23. General Election 2019 Results – All-Nighter Liveblog
  24. General Election Student Attitudes Survey: The Results
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Politics Editor 2019/20 Studying Politics & International Relations

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