Saturday, 10 April 2010

East Devon Conservatives: "united in trying to get rid of this discredited Government."

The Conservative and Unionist Party, more commonly known as the Conservative Party, was founded in its present form during the early 19th century. It has since been the principal centre-right party in the UK, governing for two-thirds of the 20th century. Since losing the 1997 election to the Labour Party, as the second largest political party in terms of MPs, it has constituted the official opposition. The current party leader is David Cameron. It has more councillors in local government, British members of the European Parliament and members of the London Assembly than any other party.

The party's principal aims, summarised in six points on its website http://www.conservatives.com/ include dealing with the deficit more quickly than Labour so that mortgage rates stay lower for longer; cutting corporation tax rates, abolishing taxes on the first ten jobs created by new businesses, promoting 'green' jobs, and getting people off welfare and into work; freezing council tax and raising the basic state pension, recognising marriage in the tax system, making the NHS work for patients not managers; giving teachers the power to restore discipline, and creating new smaller schools; reducing the number of MPs, cutting Whitehall and quangos by a third, and letting taxpayers see where their money is being spent.

Conservatives won in just under half the 11 parliamentary constituencies which make up the county of Devon in the 2005 General Election.

Hugo Swire MP
Picture credit: http://www.hugoswire.org.uk/

MP for East Devon since June 2001, Hugo Swire, 50, served in the Armed Forces after leaving St Andrews University. His background includes independent television, financial public relations, working for the National Gallery and for Sotheby’s, London. He served in David Cameron’s first Shadow Cabinet as the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Other posts that he has held include Opposition Whip (2003) and membership of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee (2002-5). He has been Chairman of the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art since 2001, and is also Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council, Chairman of the All Party United Arab Emirates Group and Treasurer of the All Party Oman Group. His outside interests include: Non-Executive Chairman of Photo Me International PLC and Non-Executive Director of Symphony Environmental PLC. Hugo Swire has raised millions of pounds for different charities as an auctioneer. He is married to Sasha, has two daughters and lives in East Devon and London.

1. What do you regard as your major achievements for the East Devon constituency since you were elected in June 2001?

Hugo Swire with constituent Stella Huyshe-Shires, a victim of Lyme disease
I deal with a multitude of problems raised by constituents on a daily basis and which largely remain out of the public eye. Sometimes my interventions can resolve a problem, be it medical, financial or personal and I get huge satisfaction from delivering a successful outcome. It shouldn’t take an MP to break a logjam often created by an over-bureaucratic state but sometimes it does and I am more than happy to do it.

2. On 17 February 2010 you suggested that Exmouth’s Rolle College should be turned into a tourism and hospitality training institute because 26 million people visit the region each year, contributing around £8 billion to the economy. What progress have you made on this good idea?

Good progress. I have had a series of meetings with Bob Cotton, Chief Executive of the British Hospitality Association who also happens to chair the National Skills Academy for Hospitality. I have also met with Sir Harry Studholme, Chairman of the South West Regional Development Agency and John Chapman of the National Skills Academy for Hospitality who is currently preparing the business plan which should be ready by the end of April. This project is gathering support from local councillors and business leaders and I believe it would be of great benefit not only to Exmouth and the surrounding area but to the South West as a whole. I believe that it represents the best bet for the Rolle College campus but it would be good to see greater cooperation and support from Plymouth University who own the site.

3. Apart from its beautiful landscape, what do you see as the strengths of the East Devon constituency and how do you think these should be developed?

The start of the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site is marked by the Geoneedle obelisk pictured here
One of the greatest challenges we have is to grow the local economy and provide affordable housing but not build over the beautiful landscape which draws people here in the first place. As a trustee of the Jurassic Coast Trust I am acutely aware of the opportunities and problems created by our coastline being awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site, but as a local MP for the past ten years I have also been wrestling with the competing demands for development. Wherever we do develop we must ensure that what is built enhances and does not detract from our landscape.

4. How do you think that the MPs' expenses issue has affected your standing in the East Devon constituency?

Debate in the House of Commons
© Parliamentary copyright
Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

This entire episode is hugely regrettable and has undermined the public’s confidence in MPs at just the time people are feeling uneasy about the future and are looking to Parliament for leadership and reassurance. As for my own expenses, I think they have been pretty straightforward as I have always rented my home in the constituency. Having said that, as the incumbent MP, I’m sure I will come in for criticism during the campaign, not least from my political opponents.

Whilst of course I recognise the need for some fundamental changes I am concerned about new rules which sweep away the notion of MPs having a second home. In effect it means MPs will be without their families for most of the week. I hope this does not put good people off the idea of becoming politicians particularly women. I hope we have not thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

5. You were educated privately like the Conservative Party leader David Cameron. To defend the number of Old Etonians among Conservative MPs would it be right to say that Eton College has in fact produced many public-spirited men who have contributed to the country's well-being over the centuries?

The Quadrangle at Eton College, Hugo Swire's old school

Yes, Eton has always punched above its weight as regards former pupils entering public life. For example there are 25 Old Etonians currently serving as officers in Afghanistan. It would be both dishonest and disingenuous to deny the first class education that a school like Eton offers and I am of course extremely privileged to have gone there. Labour will no doubt construct a narrative around Tory wealth and privilege but there is a real flaw with this approach and it is this: after 12 years in power, somebody born into a poorer background is now less likely to earn a better wage than their parents than somebody born in 1958. If this is not a damning indictment of Labour’s failure I don’t know what is. This Government has been pledging to enhance social mobility since it was elected but since 1997 the number of young people not in education, employment or training has reached a record high. Even further education colleges and providers, surely a key part of any attempt to improve social mobility, has seen nearly 1.5 million adult education courses cut since 2005. Figures showed that almost four in ten children are leaving primary school without the Government’s expected levels in English and Maths exams and only 1 in 5 young people from average income backgrounds, and 1 in 8 young people from poorer backgrounds, currently aspires to be a professional.

Education has to be the single most important factor in increasing social mobility. Remember, that was the platform upon which Labour came to power, yet all we have seen is a tired and discredited approach towards improving the system. Conservatives believe that no child should face barriers to opportunity simply because they were born into poverty or that their talent should be suppressed because of a poor failing school. It is every child’s right to have a good education and I believe we are working on some very radical proposals to help make this happen.
6. I see that you visited the 'Sustainable Seaton a Transition Town' Skills Day in the Town Hall in October 2009. Are you a particularly 'green' person? How would you defend the Conservatives' policies on environmental matters to make them a better choice for voters than those of the Green Party?

Yes I think I am quite ‘Green’ but there is always room for improvement! I currently sit on the board of a company called Symphony that manufactures a product called d2w which, when included in the production of plastic, degrades and then bio-degrades the plastic. This outside interest, which takes up a small proportion of my time, has helped me to understand better the appalling problem created by plastic all over the world, not least to our sea and bird life. Conservatives believe that quality of life, environmental issues and sustainability must be at the heart of our politics. For example we believe in a broad ecosystem approach which will improve the landscape as a whole, helping reverse biodiversity decline by using innovative ideas such as conservation credits which would provide an incentive to invest in biodiversity and help communities raise new revenue to protect habitat when development takes place. We will also seek to link up habitats to help wildlife adapt to climate change. This is all good news for a place like East Devon.

We will take action to protect and enhance our natural environment by defending our protected areas, scrapping all regional planning, saving the Green Belt and reversing Government centralisation and giving rural communities a voice. And we will also work to ensure that farmers are provided with the right kind of incentives to produce high quality food to meet a growing global population in harmony with the environment. Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which fosters freer and fairer trade, and switches a greater amount of public expenditure on agriculture to climate change mitigation and habitat protection will also be a priority.
Our vision for our forests and woodlands is to increase tree planting and expand areas of sustainably managed woodland to provide greater opportunities for outdoor recreation and biodiversity at the same time as recognising the need for commercial activity and wherever possible promoting the role of trees in the fight against climate change.

We will work to ensure that our natural resources are used responsibly and efficiently and so will set out an ambitious zero waste policy and encourage local councils to adopt recycling schemes which offer incentives to households for recycling. Conservatives will also ensure a sustainable approach to water by encouraging consumers and companies to value more highly this precious resource. I believe that all these ideas are very positive and will resonate with all those who care about the environment and the legacy that we leave our children.

7. You are Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council, Chairman of the All Party United Arab Emirates Group and Treasurer of the All Party Oman Group. Would this suggest that you are pro-Arab rather than pro-Israeli? What thoughts do you have on how to resolve the ongoing Middle East problem?

Conservative Party leader David Cameron speaking at the Annual Gala Dinner of the Conservative Middle East Council, of which Hugo Swire is Chairman
I certainly do not see myself as being more pro-Arab than pro-Israeli. The Conservative Middle East Council arranges for Parliamentarians to visit all Middle East countries including Israel so they have a better understanding of the different issues. I have been there many times myself and had many meetings with Israeli politicians and lobbyists working on Israel’s behalf.

I am convinced however that we need a two-state solution if peace is ever to come to Palestine and Israel. Unfortunately, I do not believe the current Israeli Government is signed up to this, a view increasingly shared by the rest of the world and more interestingly America. This conflict seeps poison into the whole Middle East and radicalises Muslims not only around the world but also here in the UK. We must try and push Israel and Palestine into substantive peace talks before the crisis escalates even further. I do believe part of this will mean that Israel will have to stop building settlements on occupied land which is anyway against international law.

8. The East Devon Conservatives constituency office is at Woodbury Salterton, a little off the beaten track. Should it not be situated in somewhere like Exmouth, where there are easier public transport links?

The office of East Devon Conservatives was of course originally in Exmouth. The move to Woodbury Salterton came about because of the need to share resources with neighbouring constituencies. The office now serves the Tiverton and Honiton and Exeter constituencies as well as providing support to Newton Abbott.

I hold my surgeries (advice bureau) in different parts of the constituency so the actual location of the office should not be so important. However, I am always aware of those who need to rely on public transport and I always try to accommodate anyone who encounters transport difficulties.

9. What has given you most satisfaction in your career as an MP?

See question one.

10. To what extent has the Conservative Party gained or lost under the leadership of David Cameron as far as its traditional character is concerned?

I was an early supporter of David Cameron’s campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party and he is also a personal friend of mine. Not only is he a man of great integrity but I think he also has the stamina, intelligence and the leadership skills to make a great Prime Minister. I would say the party he inherited was in desperate need of modernisation and to a greater extent he achieved this; we will have a far greater diversity of candidates fighting this election than we ever had before thanks to his input. All political parties have to evolve and the Conservative Party has always done so. I am aware that this can create conflict with some more traditional members but ultimately we are all united in trying to get rid of this discredited Government.

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