Palatinate and Purple Radio have interviewed all 5 candidates for the City of Durham constituency in the 2019 General Election. We asked each candidate the same key questions on local and national issues, as well as three questions directed more specifically at issues within their own parties. Here, Max Kendix interviews Lesley Wright, who is running for the Brexit Party.
Would you be able to summarise your local constituency specific manifesto in a minute?
Local-wise I’ve been out and about speaking to people about their issues and I’ve said to them and pledged on my manifesto leaflet [that] I want to be a strong voice for Durham and Westminster, and not just Westminster’s voice in Durham. So it’s important that we’re running to be elected and would be representing their views and not my own and not other people’s – it’s about the constituents. The same issues tend to be coming up over and over again really, the NHS is a big one obviously. People are concerned about waiting times, and the state and pressures of the NHS, staffing, all the usual worries and concerns.
Another big one and a big issue is the impact of the expanding local student housing, local houses being bought up as soon as they go on sale. A lot of residents have told me that this has had high negative impacts on them and their communities. They appreciate the positive things that the students bring to Durham in terms of the economics etc. The city has a nice buzz to it when you students are here in term time. But then you go home and it all becomes very quiet and they feel sort of abandoned.
They would like to see the University taking more responsibility for your housing. The students have apparently taken up an awful lot of houses that come up for sale, houses of multiple occupancy, with all of the issues that that brings with it. They are concerned about that. They would actually like to see the University using their own land to build student accommodation. When I’ve spoken to students, they have their own issues with that because they say that for the first year they must live on campus and the rent is rather extortionate. So they want me, if I were to be elected, to deal with that. Issues on both sides really.
Our aim is to get enough MPs into Parliament to hold any government’s feet to the fire.
We were just about to ask about housing because obviously it is a big concern for students and for locals. So your impression of the University is that they’re sort of a mechanism to do that as an MP?
Well I think really what local residents are telling me is that the local council doesn’t listen to their concerns so it’s really about making sure that any MP is working closely with the local council and holding their feet to the fire. It is about getting the two parties – the university and the local council – to negotiate and talk to one another. This is having a high impact on residents and students alike and I think both have a duty of care to the students, to the local residents. They need to be talking to one another and planning accordingly.
Turning to broader national issues which affect this constituency and the country. It’s been 3 and a half years since we voted to leave the EU, we still haven’t left. If you were elected as an MP, how would you and your party work to get us out of this crisis?
Well, obviously the Brexit Party is not going to be forming a government. We are very young, we never expected that we would be. Our aim is to get enough MPs into Parliament to hold any government’s feet to the fire. To hold them accountable. This was the biggest democratic vote in our history, and what we’ve seen over the last 3 and a half years are politicians who are prepared to ignore democracy. We can’t allow that to happen. Men, women fought and died so that you and I could have the right to vote. The vote lies with the people. Sovereignty should be returned to the people. The Brexit Party is all about making sure that the people get what they asked for. That’s democracy. So, as I said, let’s hope and pray that we get enough MPs in there to ensure that the people’s rights are upheld.
We would be lobbying to ensure that our NHS, which we all want to preserve, is not abused.
That’s the priority for the Brexit Party, it’s in the name. You did mention broader issues that are very applicable to everyone across the country, the NHS you mentioned. It’s under immense, unprecedented stress at the moment coming up to the winter. What would be something that your party could do to alleviate the pressures that the NHS and the staff are under?
We are all about maintaining our NHS. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Dr David Bull; he is one of our candidates. He is very high up in the NHS and knows it inside out. One of his greatest concerns is the waste, the resourcing, the pharmaceutical companies that held the NHS to ransom with vastly exorbitant prices for their drugs. We would want to be working to make sure that the NHS is respected and not just a cash cow. We do need to go elsewhere for our pharmaceuticals, we can’t make them all here – that is true. That is not to say that we don’t have to pay vastly exorbitant prices for them, there has to be a fairness to it. I think because the NHS is seen as a huge organisation, people think that there is a bottomless pit of money – there isn’t. It’s vastly wasteful in almost every department. There are five levels of management, when really only one or two will do. We would be looking at that.
When I was younger and two or three of my friends became nurses they had one layer of management above them and the hospital ran perfectly well. Now we are talking about five layers with very, very expensive people at the top. You have to ask yourself why is it necessary that there are all these layers of management? One or two would do – that would save an awful lot of money. As would holding the pharmaceutical companies to account.
In other ways, we have to look at ways of managing waste. There are all sorts of other issues – health tourism, that’s one that comes up time and time again on the doorsteps. Why are people who don’t pay allowed contact free service at the point of contact. We can be compassionate, but we also have to be realistic. This is a national health service and the Brexit Party wouldn’t be in government, but we would be lobbying to ensure that our NHS, which we all want to preserve, is not abused.
When you talk about the NHS most of the time you are talking about savings, under austerity known as efficiency savings, a euphemism for cuts many will say. Party promise on the NHS are often about promising more and more. Are you saying that the Brexit Party focuses more on efficiency savings and not investing?
I think you can throw billions of pounds at the NHS year in and year out but until you start managing it efficiently it’s going to be wasted money. There are vast levels of bureaucracy in the NHS which have to be addressed. People don’t like to talk about it. They don’t like to address it because the NHS is seen as this wonderful organisation, and yes it is. I have personal reason to thank the NHS; it saved my daughter’s life, so I want to preserve it, I want it to be the best in the world. But I’m a realist, I’m not an idealist. I realise that the NHS is vastly inefficient at the moment. It needs to be reformed. We need to be looking at ways to make sure that these billions of pounds of investment every year are used effectively, and at the moment this is not true.
We were one of the first to suggest planting millions of trees, which then other parties immediately jumped on. We have got plans afoot.
Moving onto an issue that is big for students here at the moment, a major UN report stated last year that we have until 2030 to avoid irreversible damage to the planet to avoid climate change. How does your party propose that we deal with this climate emergency?
We were one of the first to suggest planting millions of trees, which then other parties immediately jumped on. We have got plans afoot. We would also like to see this country effectively managing its own waste. We feel it to be amoral to be deporting tons and tons of waste abroad to be burned, dumped and buried in seas and countries elsewhere. We think that’s totally immoral. We want to see this country being responsible for its own waste. That’s two of our initiatives, we do feel that the time scale may be a little unrealistic and there are other organisations out there who agree with that. I think one of them said that 2045 is a more realistic time scale so it depends on who you are talking to and when. There clearly is an issue and it’s urgent.
We all need to take steps to ensure that we are reducing CO2. It’s about little things, it doesn’t have to be about bashing big business all the time. We can do things ourselves, looking at our own carbon footprints. From a personal point of view I check things to see if there’s palm oil in it. If there’s palm oil in it, I won’t buy it.
We need to be ensuring that deforestation is stopped, particularly in the Amazonian rainforests, I would like to see the war on plastics continue, that is a major scourge. If I can hark back to my childhood, which was a long time ago, we didn’t have the level of plastic now. My mother shopped with a reusable shopping bag made of canvas. We didn’t have plastic carrier bags. Our milk was delivered to our front door in glass bottles that we could recycle. There are things that we can do ourselves to help reduce. How many young people have TVs, computers, hair straighteners in their bedrooms and leave them switched on. It’s about the little things as well as the big things.
This is about democracy – people will vote with their conscience.
Let’s finally turn to the Brexit Party itself. Three Brexit Party MEPs including Annunziata Rees-Mogg resigned the party whip last week to urge us to vote Conservative in the election and to get Brexit done. Considering its own elected representatives are losing faith in the Brexit Party, why should voters have faith in you either?
I don’t think they were who they said they were. If they haven’t got the courage of their convictions than they are no great loss to the party. I value loyalty and they have been utterly disloyal. I’m waiting to see what nice things they are offered from the Tory Party. I will hedge my bets and say that in months to come we will see them in positions in the Tory Party. I think disappointment might be a word that some of us have used. A lot of us have just dismissed them as people that we don’t want around us if that’s their attitude. They are no great loss to the party, and I think we will survive without them.
The broader point here is that many Leave voters have expressed concern that Nigel Farage’s standing candidates like yourself in almost 300 constituencies across the UK because he risks splitting the Leave vote and preventing the very thing you’re fighting for. What is your response to that?
This is about democracy – people will vote with their conscience. If you’re a leave voter a vote for the Brexit Party ensures that you get what you voted for and that democracy is upheld. Splitting the vote? We could argue that it is a risk but we did stand down our candidates and constituents where we thought it would help the Tory Party, their arrogance in refusing to reciprocate may well be their downfall. If that’s what happens then they will only have themselves to blame. The Brexit Party is here to hold people’s feet to the fire. Those people who on their honour promised us that they would deliver us their vote and uphold their decision have for the last three and a half years colluded and plotted to thwart the biggest democratic mandate in this country’s history – it’s an outrage. They should all be ashamed of themselves.
But now the Conservatives are saying that they’ll solve all that, they will solve the three and a half years of chaos?
Well I don’t believe them. I don’t trust them. I don’t trust any of them. I don’t trust Boris Johnson any more than I don’t trust Jeremy Corbyn. They will tell you whatever they want you to hear in order to secure your vote. But I’ve lived long enough through both Tory and Labour governments year on year; they’ll promise you the moon and give you absolutely nothing.
I think Boris Johnson is deluding himself as well as the electorate.
Boris Johnson has got a Brexit deal and under his plans, if there is a majority, we are set to leave the EU on 31st January. But the Brexit Party is planning to change their name to the Reform Party if that is successful. Another party is doing exactly what the Brexit Party wants to happen.
No. No they’re not. Boris Johnson’s ‘treaty’ is Theresa May’s withdrawal of surrender minus the backstop. What it actually does is tie us in for a transition period of three years with no say and no veto. We won’t be able to take back control of anything. If he’s telling people that then I’m afraid he is misleading them because if you go and read it, we are committed to full regulatory alignment for at least the transition period. By 2021 all vetoes are being removed so we will be at the beck and call of the smaller states, we won’t have any say in what happens about anything at all. If he thinks he is going to get us out by the 31st January any more than he was going to get us out by Halloween then I think he is deluding himself as well as the electorate.
You can listen to our interview with Lesley Wright by searching ‘Purple Radio News Team’ on Spotify, or by visiting https://anchor.fm/purple-radio-news-team.
Image by Jack Parker