The new Conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire Stephen Barclay talks to the BBC about what he expects from his time in office. Broadcast at 07:10 on Monday 6th September 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The presenter is Paul Stainton.
PS: Now the country’s MPs return to work today after their six week break for the summer holidays. And the next few weeks, of course, could be crucial for the Coalition Government, as it prepares to unveil its spending review, and with it more cuts. In fact the Institute for Fiscal Studies say the UK faces the worst cuts since Freddie Kruger walked down Elm Street and invaded people’s dreams. Or is that World War Two? Plenty then for the MP for North East Cambridgeshire Stephen Barclay to get his teeth stuck into when he gets to work this morning. He joins us now. Morning Stephen.
SB: Good morning.
PS: Are you looking forward to your first day back? Have you got your new suit on? Have you polished your shoes?
SB: (LAUGHS) Well it’s a lovely idea, but I’m in the office now. I was in the office all last week, the week before, the week before that. So it doesn’t really feel any different this morning. I think the only change will be around two thirty when the Chamber itself opens. And that will be a change in looking forward to getting some of the debates underway.
PS: Yeah. I slightly feel sorry for the MPs this summer, because you’ve only had six weeks.
SB: Well as I say the Chamber’s not been live for six weeks, but I don’t think most listeners think that we actually go away for six weeks. And if that’s the case, I’m afraid they’re mistaken.
PS: Yeah. What have you been up to?
SB: Well I’ve had a number of constituency engagements. All the correspondence keeps coming in. And as a new MP there’s also quite a lot of reading to get done. For example, I’m a member of the Public Accounts Select Committee, and we’ve got two reports that we’re hearing this week. So there’s quite a bit of work in terms of preparing for that as well.
PS: Yeah. How much have you got to learn when you get there as a new MP? I mean do you know what to expect?
SB: Not at all. And you’re very much learning on the job, and left to your own devices to a large extent. So each MP approaches it differently. And I think a lot of it depends on what experience you’ve had in the commercial world, or outside of politics before. And you try and bring any experience you have from that, and obviously each MP has a different background and approaches it in a different way.
PS: There’s no prefect going to show you around then, and show you the ropes.
SB: (LAUGHS) Well the Whips are always there to give you a friendly steer if you’re in need of that. But no, I think the key thing is that if you’ve spent quite a lot of time in the constituency on the ground, then obviously that gives a good framework in terms of what it is people in North East Cambridgeshire want. Clearly we’re an area that has been underfunded in recent years. We haven’t been getting our fair share. And so I had a very good steer in terms of my conversations over a number of years with people locally, as to the issues around transport, and around educational aspiration, the fact that we’ve secured Building Skills for the Future within Fenland. These were the sort of issues that people cared about, and were priorities for me.
PS: Yeah. And you’re straight into it today? Because MPs are due to debate the Government’s Bill on electoral reform today. That’s going to be a hottie, isn’t it?
SB: It is. I mean, the irony of it is that Labour had a committment to a vote on AV in their manifesto.
PS: Just explain what AV is to people.
SB: AV is the alternative vote. In effect it allows people to vote for a second preference as well, rather than have first past the post. In my view it’s not as good a system, because in effect, rather than voting for someone, you’re voting against. So you tend to get the person you least dislike, as opposed to the person you most like. But we gave a committment as part of the (INAUDIBLE) to have a referendum, and it’s right to honour that. But what is a bit odd is that Gordon Brown had a committment in their manifesto to give a referendum on this. And yet, having had that in their manifesto, the Labour Party are going to vote against it this evening.
PS: Yeah. Which is interesting. Nice point well scored. You’re getting the hang of this already, aren’t you? Now in just over a month’s time of course, we’ve got this spending review, which in brackets means cuts in capital letters, doesn’t it? It’s going to be a very very difficult time, isn’t it, to be a Coalition MP?
SB: It is. It is a very difficult time, and no-one comes into politics wanting to make cuts. And I think people that I chat to in the constituency are very aware that this is the result of misspending by the Labour Government. And these are Labour cuts, that unfortunately the Conservative and LibDem Coalition Government are the ones left holding the baby and having to implement. But it is going to be difficult, and I think the key there is to look at ensuring we spend money wisely. We stop, for example, some of the waste we’ve had in recent years. Any of your listeners for example going past Waterbeach, will see the Fire HQ that was built with over twenty million pounds, and is still standing empty today. It’s not used, because they can’t get the phone lines to work. So a lot of money has been wasted, and we do need to ensure that we spend taxpayers money more effectively than has been the case, but it is going to be tough, and we’re all aware of thst.
PS: Yeah. The odd cracks have already started to appear in the Coalition, a few tests, the William Hague furore, and a few others. And over the next month or so it’s going to be increasingly difficult to keep this coalition together. Do you expect it to last past Christmas?
SB: Oh very much so. I think actually, I think most independent observers have said the opposite, that the Coalition has been much more strong than they expected, and very decisive. And I think if you look across a whole range of issues, the new Government’s been very firm, very clear, and actually is doing the opposite of Tony Blair, who came in with a huge mandate in nineteen ninety seven, and I think by his own admission actually wasted it. Whereas actually the Coalition Government has a very clear agenda, and is pushing that through. And I think if you look at the personal chemistry at the top, and the way the Cabinet are working together in a very open and constructive way, I think the coalition’s very strong.
PS: Yeah. How are you going to achieve all of these cuts and keep your parishioners happy, do you thinK?
SB: Well I think we’ve just got to be open and honest with people. As I say I think people realise that the new Government’s only been in for four months. This massive debt isn’t of our doing. It’s a Labour debt. And we’re the ones actually trying to sort it out. And I think people also appreciate from their own personal experience. I think most households have had it tough for a number of years. They’ve had to cut back. I was chatting with a removal guy in my constituency last week who’s had his hours reduced from forty hours to twenty four hours a week. And that’s incredibly tough, you know, trying to make your bills in those circumstances. And I think it’s only fair to people in that sort of situation that we say we’re not going to put your tax up. We’re not going to put your bills up, if we can possibly help it. Instead we’re going to actually get this spending under control.
PS: Stephen what’s the one thing, just quickly, that you want to achieve in your four years in office, or five years in office? What’s the one thing you’d like to achieve ideally?
SB: Clarity as to when we’re going to get transport improvements in North East Cambridgeshire.
PS: Because of course as we all know there aren’t a lot of train lines knocking about are there?
SB: Well I’m glad to have a supporter .. (LAUGHS) .. of the need for us to do something on transport in North East Cambridgeshire. i think we’ve been underserved. We’re less than a hundred miles from London. We’ve got great local food, we’ve got an entrepreneurial business base, we’ve got a lot of small and medium sized privately owned businesses with expansion potential, and we’ve got to sort the transport infrastructure out. And we’ve got Wisbech the Capital of the Fens with no train line. It’s approached by a single-carriageway road. Chatteris, which is due to expand, has no train line. Sutton is under huge pressure in terms of the lorries going through it at the moment. So we do need to do something on that. And it’s going to be difficult, with the way the economy is. But that’s an area that I certainly will be speaking up on.
PS: Stephen, good luck. And enjoy your first day. Stephen Barclay, the new MP for North East Cambridgeshire.