Let me begin by saying how the recent MP expenses scandal shocked and outraged us all – and rightly so. However, this does not justify judging Charlotte Vere, Conservative candidate for Brighton Pavilion, for the crimes of others. It certainly does not justify abandoning all sensible views and giving support to extremist fringe groups.
I have met Charlotte a few times now, and she is that rare thing in politics – someone who is not only witty, charming and compassionate, but also a real person. What I mean is that, unlike many politicians, she has extensive experience in the private, public and voluntary sectors. She does not live in an ivory tower, she lives in the real world, and can draw on this experience to bring about real, tangible change.
For example, she was CEO of an online mental health group called Big White Wall – Brighton has a serious homelessness problem, and this problem is inextricably linked to mental health. She is desperate to use her expertise to start reversing the damage that 13 years of Labour mismanagement has caused.
This is in stark contrast to Caroline Lucas, whose CV would read something like “protesting, milking MEP expenses, more protesting”. The Greens put on this eco-warrior image in the hope that no-one will see just how weak their policies are. Caroline Lucas is heavily relying on the student vote – but if elected, taxes in Brighton would rise substantially in order to pay for her pie-in-the-sky promises. Because students do not pay council tax, and get a lot of income from student loans, we would be unaffected; it is the hardworking people of Brighton, and the businesses trying to recover from the recession, that would carry the burden. If that’s her idea of “fairness”, she can keep it.
The Conservatives have a lot to offer students: we have pledged to make sure students get their loans on time, 10,000 extra university places in 2010, a bonus for students who repay their student loans early, and to streamline the path into a career by offering 1, 200 skills scholarships a year to apprentices. Furthermore, we will give scholarships to the children of all soldiers killed on active duty, and create a website to aid students choose the degree course that is most likely to lead to graduate-level employment in the future.
More seriously, students in the UK are repeatedly at risk of crime – 1 in 3 of us become victims at some point during our studies. The Conservatives are committed to make the law work again by protecting the victim instead of the criminal, by scrapping unnecessary paperwork and by letting more police get back onto the streets to do their jobs. We have also pledged to fight sexual crime, by setting up 15 new rape crisis centres around the country, and funding those that already exist.
The Conservatives have placed the environment at the front line of their policies from day one. Strangely enough, we rather enjoy conserving things. We have a clear plan to move Britain towards a low carbon economy by giving every household the right to £6,500 worth of insulation, introducing ‘smart grid’ and ‘smart meter’ technology, as well as carbon capture-and-storage, expanding off-shore, biogas and marine power, placing more restrictions on nuclear and coal power, encouraging electric or hybrid cars and also high-speed rail.
We are the only party to take energy security seriously – it is totally irresponsible for us to continue drawing most of our energy from unstable, high-risk regions of the world – not to mention Russia. I myself was in Prague this time last year when Russia cut off the gas to most of Eastern Europe – it was a terrifying feeling. Bringing our dependency on imported fossil fuels to a minimum is not just an issue of climate change, but of national security also.
The University of Sussex is unique, as we are the only university in England to be situated within a recognised Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Charlotte Vere shares our determination to keep it that way, and will utilise these Conservative policies to make sure we leave the Sussex Downs in a condition fit for future generations to enjoy. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, she is absolutely against fox-hunting.
On Wednesday 27th Charlotte was kind enough to come into Sussex to have a Q and A session with any students that had a bee in their bonnet. The questions were mostly out of curiosity, but a few were clearly critical. She answered them all gracefully, often agreeing with the views of the students. On the few questions she could not answer adequately, she had the honesty to admit it and promised to write back to the questioner. Her replies on business, finance and mental health were particularly strong. I was pleased to hear that she disagreed with the selling of Preston Circus fire station and that this years Gay Pride parade has had their money-worries solved by the Conservative-majority council.
At the end of the day, we must all vote for who we think is the best for the job. All I am asking is for the student body not to let the current atmosphere of political pessimism obscure their judgement. The Green Party’s argument of “moderate politics has failed”, is exactly what the BNP are saying. We should solve old problems, not vote in new ones. We all know what it is we must do – examine the parties, the candidates and their policies and come to an informed decision. So please, go on Charlotte’s website and see what she has to offer.