Round up of Bexhill and Battle candidates

9th December

Huw Merriman is campaigning to retain his seat. He currently has a substantial majority of 22,000, although Labour did increase their share by 10% last 2017 election. UKIP is missing from the Ballot this time around so there will be a question to be asked about where their supporters will vote this time. Both the Greens and The LibDems had declining votes last election but, with newly reinvigorated messages from the LibDems and the climate emergency, it is possible there will be a shift in their direction.

We spoke to all of the candidates and here follows a round up of what they had to say on the key topics. We tried to focus them on (with some success) – Local issues, Brexit, Environment, Policing, Social Care (in particular the elderly), rural infrastructure and the suitability of their leader and themselves as a candidate. Some times we didn’t cover all of the above and the thoughts below are the interviewer’s precis of what was said.

Huw Merriman – CONSERVATIVE

One of the comments I hear regularly around Heathfield is “Huw seems like a great guy, but isn’t he in the wrong party?” I mentioned this to him and he was clearly familiar with this observation. In fact, the more you talk to him, if it wasn’t for his belief in market forces delivering social solutions, you could be mistaken for thinking he came from another party. He is certainly at odds with his colleague over the border in Wealden on several counts. His surprising view of Boris as sunshine, his dislike of the ‘Westminster Village’ and his criticism of the local council of Wealden made for a lively discussion. Even if I did feel a bit confused at the end of it.

As for why we should vote for him, he cited unstinting support for the community and his efforts to represent the voice of the community – whether it be a local school, or traders under threat from a road closure.

Huw on local and broader topics.

Broad Oak School proposed closure – Huw was clear that he has supported their campaign with advice on how best to get their voice heard and how to structure their approach to the ESCC; but with a 10% shortfall on pupils attending the Heathfield cluster of schools, he acknowledged that something needed to be done to redress this.

He also confirmed his support for the farming community and also for the Tottingworth Farm abattoir, a target recently for animal rights activists. He is in favour of supporting farmers who are growing food and using the land for local agricultural production.

Local transport – Huw supported the idea that local authorities should be allowed to operate services in a deregulated environment for buses – stating that he would push for increased subsidy for local bus services.

Anti-social behaviour and policing – he has a background in working with young people and expressed frsutration with Wealden’s rejection of the Heathfield Park development that had the potential to include something for young people like a sports and leisure centre complex. He highlighted the recently promised extra PCSOs, although could not confirm that there will be a new presence in Heathfield.

Supports carbon zero by 2050

Brexit – although a remain voter, Huw wants to see the outcome honoured and considers that Boris Johnson is the ‘flag waver’ to do it.

On social care he believes in a German-style model with a charge on top of income tax to fund it – and he is also in favour of making people sell assets like their homes to fund their care. He pointed out that it would then reduce the burden on council tax payers particularly in an area like Heathfield with 30% of the population over 65. This is at odds with key policy messages coming from the Conservative manifesto currently.

He feels that Johnson is the best option for Prime Minister referencing Johnson’s time as Mayor of London and his record in that role as to why he would be good in the PM role.

Martin Saunders campaigning

Martin Saunders – LIBERAL DEMOCRAT

Martin has a legal background and is resident in Etchingham. He is standing for the Liberal Democrats. As for why you should vote for him – he says he is a hard-working, legal professional, used to working effectively in a team and across communities. Quite simply, he believes the Liberal Democrats have the better manifesto.

Martin on local and broader topics.

He supports the Broad Oak school campaign and highlighted the fact that the LibDem Councillor Kathryn Field has been supportive of the campaign. He said that, as a LibDem, he would be in favour of keeping the school open even if it is undersubscribed as part of a wider offer of schools for the area.

Farming and the environment is part of a national Lib Dem policy that aims to protect the environment, so that farmers are paid to look after natural habitat as well as produce food. He wanted a reform to subsidies to cover this, and also wanted to see support for small-scale farming such as vegetable farmers. He felt that planning is not working and the LibDems would overhaul the system of planning and prevent land banking. Martin was keen to promote another policy which would scrap business rates and introduce a new landowner levy to discourage landlords from leaving commercial buildings unoccupied.

Social care would be funded via a 1p in the £ on income tax to fund an integrated NHS/Social care upgrade to the system.

Transport – there are policies to improve bus links and increased investment. Martin reinterated that the LibDems have realistic, fully costed proposals and that those who can most afford it will have to accept that some extra costs will be levied to ensure a fairer society.

Anti-social behaviour – increases in policing will again have to be funded to bring levels back up from the austerity cuts which started in 2015. This is part of core policy for the LibDems.

Brexit – policy means it will be scapped and the £50 billion bonus which will be accrued over five years will be used to support public services. This is the predicted amount that will otherwise be lost in the economy if Brexit goes ahead.

Martin says: “This is a wonderful corner of England and we must preserve the beauty and character of this special place. We must also not forget that there are areas of deprivation here. Far more needs to be done to improve public services and invest in education and training.”

He described Jo Swinson as an energetic and hard-working leader who has already had experience of government.

Christine Bayliss LABOUR

Local Councillor and Bexhill resident Christine is standing again in the 12th of December election. Christine worked for the Department of Education and now runs her own education consultancy. More recently she was spotted in Heathfield canvassing outside Sainsbury’s and she also dropped in on the campaigners who are behind the Support Broad Oak School Campaign.

Christine would like you to vote for her because with her you will get someone who cares about the community and who will be a local voice in Westminster pushing for local needs. “Key is investment to restore services that were lost with the Tory cuts and restore policing levels back to 2010 levels. “

We caught up with her last weekend on local and broader topics.

Broad Oak School – Christine believes that the school should be kept open because of future needs and because it is well loved with strong care for SEN pupils. She feels the school is improving all the time and forcing families to travel – causing an increase in traffic and pollution – is a negative. She has written to Councillor Bob Standley to urge him to reconsider the options in favour of the school.

She would like to see a comprehensive consultation with the rural community and ‘rural proofing’ of policies with a focus on maintaining the high standards in agriculture post Brexit. The Labour party, she says, will ensure a free trade agreement with Europe to protect British exports.

Transport – privatisation hasn’t worked she feels and she would like to see funded bus services to help young people, the elderly and those without transport – enabling people to travel to employment.

Police – As an ex police officer herself Christine is only too aware of the importance of neighbourhood policing and the key importance of having a named officer attached to an area. She supports the reintroduction of PCSOs who were removed under Tory austerity starting back in 2015. She commented on the huge increase in crime for the town of Heathfield, which went from one reported incident to eight in a year. This trend was confirmed by the arrest of two youths last weekend on criminal charges. She is not in favour of vigilante action which was recently suggested on a Heathfield social media site.

Carbon Zero – a core Labour party policy is the support and creation of Green industries and better and free broadband which promotes the location of businesses in rural areas and limits unnecessary travel and pollution. Labour have a zero carbon target by 2030

Brexit – Christine found that many voters appreciated the idea of a second vote and the chance to have a new government in power to tackle all of the other issues aside from Brexit.

Social Care – she believes that social care should be fully funded from taxation and that at the moment – in some homes – council-funded places are being subsidised by the private ones which is an unequal system.

Leader – Jeremy Corbyn is a long-serving, consistent polician who brings people together. He encourages discussion, listens, and will be best placed to unite the country after the Brexit outcome – whichever way it goes.

Jonathan Kent – GREEN PARTY

Personally, he believes in working collectively for the common good and supports some yet untested ideas in England like a Basic Income of £89 per person per week and a minimum wage of £12. A vote for Jonathan is for someone who is committed to protecting the planet and animals and promoting social justice.

His position on Broad Oak School – he stated that he believes that the school should be kept open and people encouraged to attend a school close to where they live.

He says that farming is vital and a priority is to maintain the high standards that we have built up while in the EU. Wants to see green transport solutions for the rural community and encourage walking and cycling. He would like to see a land value tax that would raise money from those selling land for development and disincentives for commercial landlords who leave properties empty.

He would like to see reinstatement of the railways, which would help a rural community like Heathfield, but he did doubt it was possible.

Green issues which are top of mind. He believes we don’t have time, and that carbon neutral should be achieved by 2030 and that only the Greens have the policies to achieve this. Another positive of green energy will be removing the need to invade energy rich countries in wars over oil. He went on to say that it’s not going to fix itself and the £100 billion that’s needed will stimulate jobs and new industries, which is nothing compared to the £800 billion which was used to bail out the banks.

Brexit – He does not support leave and would like to see us being part of the EU which would give us the right to influence the rules, whereas leaving will mean we still have to adhere to the rules to enable us to trade but without influence.

Social Care – he does not believe in forcing people to sell of assets to fund care, rather a centrally funded solution. This would mean extra spending of £4.5 billion but he does not believe that people should have to sell off their homes to pay for it.

With the Greens he says you get two leaders and a more balanced approach. Both Sian and Jonathan are smart, genuine and respected politicians – was how he summarised the Greens’ Leadership.

Interviews were undertaken with all candidates and their answers have been paraphrased and interpreted to the best of our ability to ensure accuracy.