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, Helen Poon interviews the Conservative Party’s Harvey Morgan.
First of all, would you be able to summarise your local constituency-specific manifesto in one minute?
One minute, let’s go. So, we’re looking at a six-point plan; for the constituency, the first point of the plan is addressing the reason we’re all here in the election, that is, voting for the withdrawal bill if we’re got to get a Conservative majority to get Brexit done and move the conversation on to [other] things; like [as] Conservatives we all need to get a handle on. Point 2, we’re going to look at increasing police numbers, nationally we’re saying 20,000, here in Durham that’s going to be about 200 over the next 3 years, extra officers in the Durham Constabulary.
Point 3 is something close to me, it’s about enhancing what we’ve got here in the NHS, specifically Dryburn and Lanchester Road Hospital as well. Point 4 is about standing up and providing real scrutiny, real challenge to the Labour council in some of their poor town-planning decisions that we’ve had in Durham. Conscious that I’m standing inside the Student Union but there is a lot of university development going on that isn’t particularly popular with the locals so I’m having a look at that particular issue. We want to level up school funding as well, so primary and secondary schools in the city; the schools that are less well-off than some of the other areas in County Durham. I’m looking to change that so that we get equal funding for our schools here in the city.
Our final point is to look at infrastructure and investment into the villages so that it is on par with the amount of expansion that is going on in the city, that is where I’ll like to see more money spent. That’s probably a bit over a minute, but those are the six points I want to look at in the City of Durham.
We need to look at the expansion of the university and doing that in a manageable way.
Issues surrounding student housing have been a real growing concern for both Durham students and local residents in recent years. Although some work has already been done to resolve these issues, housing remains an unnecessarily major cause of stress amongst students here. What do you propose to do to deal with this issue further?
Well one of the issues that I hear more often from students is around the value of money for their experience here at Durham and I think certainly what I’ll like to do is have a much more cohesive direction between the local community, the local government and the university themselves. We need to make sure that landlords are meeting and aiming to exceed the minimum standards in terms of their accommodation but also challenge those landlords that don’t meet the minimum requirements.
I’ve got friends that own student properties in Durham and they all do a really good job and pride themselves on providing a good standard of accommodation. We need to do that across the board. I think what we also need to look at is the expansion of the university; doing that in a manageable way so that we can provide good accommodation for students, so that then it’s not just all crammed in the city centre and renovating properties, so on and so on. I think I certainly won’t be the one with all the answers, but all the answers are here in the city and that’s what I’m hoping to bring out here after the election, if I’m elected.
I’ve got friends that own student properties in Durham and they all do a really good job
Let’s turn to broader national topics now. It’s three and a half years since we voted to leave the EU, and yet we still haven’t left. If you are elected as MP, how would you and your party work to get us out of this crisis?
Well, the easy one I guess, you’re absolutely right that we’ve had 3 years of utter chaos and gridlock in Parliament and it’s been awful to watch. It’s one of the reasons why I’m standing. As the Conservative Party candidate, to stand, I’ve had to pledge my support for the withdrawal bill as it stands. If we get a Conservative majority and I’m one of those Conservative MPs, that Withdrawal Bill will come back to the floor before Christmas and we will look at voting on it in January. When Boris says we’ll get Brexit done by the 31st of January it literally means that we’re all ready to support the withdrawal bill then we can move the conversation on and start healing this country. I’m personally a bit tired of listening to people who are Leavers or Remainers. We are all citizens of the UK, and I’d like 2020 to be one where we look up with more optimism and we pull together a bit more. Getting Brexit done, to coin the phrase, is a big step towards that.
We’ve had 3 years of utter chaos and gridlock in Parliament and it’s been awful to watch. It’s one of the reasons why I’m standing
Another issue is that the NHS is under immense and unprecedented strain at the moment. What would the Conservatives do to alleviate some of the pressures that the NHS and its staff are under?
Okay, so this is as I say, something really close to my heart, because I spent over ten years of my working life in the NHS. I was a mental health nurse, my wife works in the NHS, she’s a mental health nurse as well. We use it, it’s a big part of the city here, particularly Dryburn and Lanchester Road; so it’s something that I’m very, very passionate about. What we’re going to do as a party is give the NHS its biggest ever cash boost – 34 million pounds extra going to the health service. Part of that will be record funding, I’m pleased to say, for mental health, so of that £34 billion, £12.3 billion [will be going] to mental health, so I’m delighted about that.
We are going to ensure that we get 50,000 more nurses in the NHS, part of that will be through better retention, so nurses that would otherwise have left the profession, we want to keep them. We’re going to train more nurses, and I’m delighted that we’ve brought back the nursing bursary, that’s something that I benefited from when I was a student nurse so I’m really pleased we’re bringing that back, incentivising people to come into the profession and part of that will also be through recruitment, overseas as well, allowing nurses to come in and practice.
On top of that one of the big issues I hear and I heard quite a bit on the doorstep this morning, funny enough, is that getting a GP appointment isn’t necessarily the easiest thing, so more funding will go into primary care. We’re pledging funding for 6,000 more primary care practitioners, more than we’ve had before. On top of what we’ve already pledged, we’re looking at increasing the number of GP appointments available for the population as well so what we’re aiming for is 50 million more GP appointments a year as we move into this next parliament, and that’s ensuring that we’re training more doctors, and keeping more doctors in primary care.
I think the last thing I want to say on health is that successive governments have not got to grips with social care, and that is something that is a huge part of the issue in terms of the jamming up of the system and people not being able to get onto social care. We do need to fund it we’re going to put an extra billion pounds into funding and freeing up some of the log jam in primary care, we want to ensure that people don’t have to sell their houses in order to pay for that care. But what we really want to do and this is where ‘Getting Brexit done’ and bringing the other people in the population back together, is we’re cross-party, and with other groups like King’s Fund to get a grips and a real cross-party consensus on how we tackle the issue of social care because this is one of the biggest issues we’ve got moving forward.
The NHS really close to my heart, because I spent over ten years of my working life as a mental health nurse
A report by the Health Foundation found that the number of EU nurse registrations dropped 87% from 6,400 in 2016/17 to just 800 in 2017/18. Furthermore, austerity imposed by the Conservatives since 2010 have had deeply damaging effects on waiting times and nurse numbers. Considering you have worked as a mental health nurse in the past and seen the damage that Conservative governments have done to the NHS, how can you stand as a Conservative candidate?
So in the years in the coalition government we’ve had to make really hard decisions on bringing the public finances back into balance. We were left with a monumental deficit and we’ve all seen it from the chancery about the fact that there’s no money left in the part, and you know, we haven’t invested as much as we’d like because we’ve had to make those really hard decisions in terms of austerity. Where we are now is a very different place.
The economy has grown by nearly 20% since we came into office in 2010, we are in a position now where we can invest, we can move forward from this period of austerity and repay the hard work of the British people over the last 10 years. I think when I look at it, the thing that really draws me to Conservatism is the fact that the money’s there, we’re going to paying, day by day spending is going to be covered by taxation, yes, there’s going to be some borrowing, we’re going to borrow affordable amounts to pay for those investments so that they are sustainable investments that we can make into our health service and move the conversation on.
Another national issue is that a major UN report last year stated that we have until 2030 to avoid irreversible damage to the planet due to climate change. How does your party propose we deal with this climate emergency?
Well we’ve got various things, various policies when it comes to the environment. Obviously I’m very proud that we were the first advanced economy to legally commit to being carbon neutral. We’ve made that commitment to be done by 2050, we chose 2050 rather than any earlier as that is what seems to be achievable. When we look at pledges to plant more trees, we’re looking at planting 70,000 more trees and we’re already planting [them]. It takes 15 years to start absorbing carbon, the species that are sort of natural to the UK. So, our idea is to make this an achievable plan. We’re going to look at pumping money into infrastructure for charging points for electric cars so no one’s going to be more than 30 miles away from a charging point. More money for research and development is going to go into renewable energy resources. We’ve got 400,000 ‘green’ collar jobs that are created by this government and we’re going to increase this further in the next parliament so we’ve got people actively working in the green energy thing.
Boris is a nice guy, he is far more liberal than I think people give him credit for
Bringing that back locally, I think we have an opportunity in terms of looking at energy with our university here and one thing I’ll love to do as part of my drive to make Durham a bit more of a cohesive community is looking at if we can joint business that’s going to provide jobs for a lot of the students who come here. We’ve got amazing intellectual capital in the city that tends to leave after 3 years of their studies and I would love to change that. I would love to keep a lot more of that intellectual capital. Certainly renewable energy is an area [where] we can work on that.
Let’s finally turn a bit more to the Conservative Party itself. Your leader Boris Johnson has compared women wearing burqas to letterboxes, said investigating historic child abuse was ‘spaffing money up the wall’, and replied ‘humbug’ when female MPs were talking about their experiences of abuse and death threats. How is a man who makes such statements, and then refuses to apologise for them, fit to be our Prime Minister?
Well I think when you look at the comments that were made, particularly in his writing there, there are terms that I wouldn’t associate myself with, they are terms I would not use. I think, Boris has apologised for any offense that he may has caused, but if you look at the wider issue of the articles he had written – he was making a case, and people may not agree with how he made that case but he certainly was making the case – very liberal case about people’s rights to express themselves in terms of their faith, their other beliefs, in a free way.
I met Boris a number of times, he is a nice guy, he is far more liberal than I think people give him credit for. I think a good example of that is a couple of weeks ago it was the anniversary of repealing section 28 of the Education Act, so teaching about LGBTQ+ issues in school. I think if you look at his voting record, Boris is one of the very few conservative MPs at the time that voted for the repeal, and interestingly in contrast, Jeremy Corbyn is one of the few Labour MPs that voted against repealing that. So I think Boris is more liberal, I take your point in that sometimes the word he uses are not necessarily, I would, but his points at the very core, is quite liberal, and I’d give him more credit for that.
In his writing there are words I wouldn’t associate myself with
Boris Johnson famously refused to be interviewed by Andrew Neil for the BBC, even after all the other major political party leaders have. Do you share the concerns of many people that your party leader refuses to submit to scrutiny?
I don’t accept that he refuses to submit to scrutiny; you know, he’s done well over a 100 interviews and TV debates. He did one with the head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn the other night which I thought he did really well and he certainly came across far more Prime Ministerial than Jeremy Corbyn. Look, I’d love to see him do the Andrew Neil interview, you know Andrew Neil’s a good interviewer, I don’t think he’s necessarily refused, I know that they were working together to try and get the dates sorted, and for me, Boris has submitted himself to scrutiny, he’s been out there, he’s a brilliant campaigner, he works tirelessly, knocking on doors and visiting different areas across the UK.
I’d love to see him do the Andrew Neil interview
And let’s not forget he’s Prime Minister, he’s still running the country, so I’m sure he’ll love to do all the interviews, but unfortunately, sometimes you have to be able to say ‘look, something’s got to give’. So, I don’t accept that he hasn’t submitted himself to scrutiny, and I think when he has done, he’s performed well and looked very Prime Ministerial.
Image by Jack Parker