The Badger interviews Clarence Mitchell, the Conservative Party’s PPC for Brighton Pavilion in the 2015 General Election.
The 2015 general election will introduce a new generation of voters, many of whom have been affected by the raise in university tuition fees. Do you fear a loss in support for the Conservative party as a result?
As a result of the tuition fees issue specifically? No we don’t. We feel that the basic principle at stake here is one of fairness. If the state helps you to get a good degree through your education, then it is only fair that you give something back in the form of repaying the loan when you are in a position to do so. No one is saying that people will be bankrupted in the first instance by this, this is about giving your fair share back to society via the tax system via payments.
If your degree helps you to get a good job and a good salary at the end of the day then we don’t feel that it is unfair to ask for a small contribution back in the form of the repayments. And we don’t feel consequently that our support will be damaged.
Your ‘Improving Living Standards Campaign’ states that you wish to deliver “better living standards for all in Brighton”. Caroline Lucas has a similar campaign, #decenthomes, and has launched a promising Housing Charter. How can you compare to this?
Of course, there should be more affordable homes in Brighton, and we would always support developers where they want to particularly build student accommodation. There’s a lot in Brighton already, but there’s not enough with the university’s own plans for expansion.
We also need to see better quality of housing too. Rouge landlords need to be dealt with. And, it’s a basic human right that everybody, should have decent living standards.
We don’t believe rent controls are the way forward, in the past they haven’t worked, they have actually caused the market to become depressed many landlords simply take their houses off the market all together leaving the poorest quality ones there, and it can actually damage the housing stock.
What are you thoughts on the Affordable Homes Bill that hopes to abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ which labour and SNP have deemed to be unfair?
“Well, first of all it’s not the ‘bedroom tax’, that is a term that has been given by Labour, and it has stuck. People who are on benefits and are receiving their rent and their support from the state should be paid as much as they need to be comfortable, but not more than is necessary.
We feel that it’s a pejorative term to call it a ‘bedroom tax’. Those who are receiving more assistance from the state than they actually need will have it adjusted. We also feel that it will help to encourage people to go out to look for work. There have been blatant cases where people have been sitting on benefits, receiving state help, and it’s been a disincentive for them to go out to find work. We are removing that element where it is not required. But we are protecting those that would be adversely affected by it otherwise.
Nigel Farage has stated that UKIP will become a major force in Parliament at next year’s election. The Rochester and Strood by-election saw UKIP gain almost 3000 more votes than the Conservatives. Do you consider UKIP a threat to your overall majority at the next general election?
UKIP have made some inroads, there’s no doubt about it. They are simply though, a protest vote. They are in no position to deliver on any of the policies that they might have, including their central reason for existence it appears which is their opposition to the EU.
Mr Farage and UKIP generally are playing to peoples’ worst fears. The whole argument about immigration is playing to people’s basest fears.
Farage, I’m afraid, is smoke and mirrors. There is no substance behind him, and some of the other policies that they espouse their attitude towards women, their attitude towards the LGBT community, some of it is quite horrific. People need to understand that. As an insurgent party, they are benefitting from a sense disillusionment generally with politics.
What are your thoughts on the EU after former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has called for Britain to leave it?
Clearly Europe is a divisive issue within the party it has been for many years and will continue to be so. This is the balancing act that Mr Cameron as the Prime Minister has to perform constantly. Personally I feel that we should stay in a renegotiated European Union, and I’m not saying that simply because I’m a candidate and that’s the official party line at the moment I believe it, it’s true.
“For the moment I think that we are better off in Europe; business will tell you that we are better off in Europe for the sake of our economy. But if we were to come out at the end of the day, the world would not end over night as some people would have you believe either.”
Was David Cameron’s promise to hold a vote on Europe in 2017 a pressured attempt to halt the rise of UKIP?
No, we were considering it anyway. As I said before, it has always been a major debating hinge within the party. So no, a referendum would have been part of the package quite apart from UKIP’s rise we were not panicked into it. It’s easy to portray it as such given UKIP’s growing popularity. But, by doing it, we are the only party who are giving British people the right to decide.
The NHS does not seem to be considered on your campaign page. Both the Greens and Labour are campaigning to save the NHS, with Caroline Lucas demanding a return to free prescriptions, and a new hospital for Brighton & Hove. At the moment there is a lot of concern that the US-EU transatlantic trade and investment partnership would see parts of the NHS to private American healthcare companies. Do you think there’s any danger to this?
“The reason that there is nothing directly about the NHS on my campaign page is because we don’t feel that we need to save it. The whole question about saving and defending the NHS accepts in that statement that there is a threat to it.
“We are the one government that has ring fenced spending on the NHS. The Health and Social Care Act that has been brought in has produced some fundamental changes.
“Of course there are going to be inefficiencies, and individual managements will be better in certain places. A&E waiting times need to be improved, we’re not saying that it’s perfect by any means, but we are reforming it and making changes for the better. So I simply do not accept this idea that it needs to be saved from my own party. We believe that we are the ones that are doing the saving.
“Interms of TTIP,there is a small,private element within the NHS already marketisation is not a dirty word. We don’t see anything wrong with services, equipment, and expertise being delivered if it help to save someone’s life. As long as it remains free at the point of use, and the basic ethos of the NHS remains the same, then frankly, the patient doesn’t care. There are cutting edge cancer treatments being delivered in London on NHS contracts as an example which are run by the American hospitals that you mention. We offer hospitals with the ability to deliver these services it is saving people’s lives.
“So as far as we’re concerned, a private element, be it in the NHS or other government services, is not wrong. We believe in the market: It raises standards, increases competition, and the patient, I repeat, will not suffer at the end of the day. It is scaremongering to suggest TTIP and other means that will enable a degree of marketisation for the benefit of patients is going to destroy the whole system.”