10:21 Friday 6th June 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[A]NDIE HARPER: The Conservatives secured their seat in Newark last night with a majority of more than seven thousand. The resignation of their former Conservative MP Patrick Mercer had raised expectations in UKIP that they could cause a major upset by winning their first Westminster seat. But the Conservatives flooded the seat with MPs and activists in the run up to polling day, with David Cameron visiting the Nottinghamshire market town four times, this in their bid to retain what was in theory a safe seat. So, is it a victory to celebrate, or are the parties terrified, as Paul Bullen has .. suggested? Let’s talk now to Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough. Stewart, good morning to you.
STEWART JACKSON: Good morning Andie.
ANDIE HARPER: You had a very late night, but here you are bright and early. And was it something to celebrate?
STEWART JACKSON: Yes I think it was, because it was an endorsement of the Government’s policies on the economy and jobs, and it was a repudiation for UKIP, in a sense, because they did start off, a month or so ago, saying they were realistically believing they could win the seat. Their vote actually didn’t do that well. It was less good as a performance than in Eastleigh. They’ve also gone backwards since the local elections last year with the local elections this year. So it’s not so much an earthquake, but a little tremor. And to win by seven thousand votes, the first time a Conservative has held a by-election seat in Government since William Hague in 1989. I went there four times. I could sense on the ground that things were reasonable for us, and we had a good local candidate, so I’m obviously naturally very pleased.
ANDIE HARPER: Did you go four times because you wanted to, or because you had to?
STEWART JACKSON: Well a bit of both. I’m a pretty independent-minded individual, and I just happen to believe though that it was a very important crucial by-election for my party. And much as I like to believe people in Peterborough vote for me for my baby blue eyes and sparkling wit, they also vote for me because I’ve got the words “Conservative Party candidate” near my name. And therefore I owed it to my party to support our candidate. But also it’s actually a really lovely place. I was out campaigning yesterday in a chocolate-box village straight out of Midsomer Murders. Really nice, and of course Newark-on-Trent is a very pleasant town as well. So yes, we all mucked in. It was a good team effort. And it makes a change to win a by-election when you’re a Conservative.
ANDIE HARPER: Now, as I said, the Prime Minister went four times. You along with many many other MPs went four times. And if the newspapers are to be believed, the Conservatives flooded the town and the area with young activists, tempting them along to .. well basically some of the newspapers suggested all sorts of extra activities after they’d been campaigning all day. Now this can’t happen at the General Election, can it?
STEWART JACKSON: No it can’t. But I think the circumstances Andie will be significantly different. And that’s because in the European elections, and to a certain extent the local elections, people felt it was a cost-free vote that they could make against the Government or against their normal party. The General Election is an entirely separate issue. They will be asking UKIP for instance ,what are your policies on health and pensions, on schools, on transport. They won’t just be focusing on immigration and the EU, even though those of course are important issues, and I’ve spoken many times on those issues. And ultimately will be a very clear binary choice between Labour and the Conservatives, because effectively they’re the only parties who will provide the Prime Minister and the administration. So in that respect the General Election is an entirely different ball game, and I think the United Kingdom Independence Party will be put under some pressure to come up with a coherent policy platform. And I think they will fail in that respect. So yes, we did put a lot of effort into it, and won’t be able to do it in seats across the country. But of course this was a very important by-election, and we needed to prick the UKIP bubble.
ANDIE HARPER: The perception was that a fortnight ago, when people went to the polls and voted in the local government elections and in the European election, that immigration was the big issue, and that is why the United Kingdon Independence Party did so well. But do you think that when it comes back to parliamentary seats, it’s the economy wot won it?
STEWART JACKSON: Inevitably every election is won on what they call pocket book issues. I met normal Conservative voters who vote normally for the party yesterday in Newark who said that they were going to cast a protest vote. I went to a house with a big union flag in the front garden, and they said we’ll never vote Labour, we don’t trust the Labour Party with the economy. But we’re going to make a protest this time. And I think, as people focus more on their pensions, their salaries, their businesses, their jobs, they will find Labour wanting. And I’m bound to say that, but it will be difficult. Now of course Labour people will be motivated as well to get their people out, and I think it will be a very interesting General Election, here in Peterborough and across the country. But ultimately it is about not just your record in government, but the future prospectus. And I think in that respect there’s only one game in the town, and that’s Labour versus Conservative. And ultimately it’s up to the voters to decide what vision they prefer.
ANDIE HARPER: Last night UKIP’s Pete Reeve, who you’ll be very familiar with, tweeted that Tory MPs in Cambridgeshire were told they’d be deselected if they didn’t go to Newark and campaign. Was there any veiled threat?
STEWART JACKSON: Absolutely not. That’s absolutely fictitious nonsense. I get on very well with my Whip. I was campaigning with my Whip, who is the MP for Milton Keynes North Mark Lancaster yesterday. That’s just a conspiracy theory from UKIP. They’re getting terribly excited. Jim Paice for instance who’s a Cambridgeshire MP, I think you’ve had him on this morning. He’s not worried about deselection, because he’s retiring. None of us are the sort of people that would take those sorts of threat seriously. In any event it’s completely untrue. I think UKIP are just a little bit sore that they transgressed a number one rule in politics Andie, which is don’t believe your own publicity. And this earthquake, this people’s Army, all this hype, it didn’t materialise in Newark. People voted for a good local candidate, and I think chose the right candidate. So UKIP have got to start thinking about what contribution they’re going to make to the future. Are they going draw votes away from people who normally vote Conservative and help elect a Labour government, or are they going to be doing something a bit more useful and practical?
ANDIE HARPER: Was there an alliance between the three main parties, as we’ve always described them? Because I did read that the Conservatives had tried to encourage Labour and LibDem voters to vote for them this time round, to keep UKIP out.
STEWART JACKSON: I think there was a certain degree of that. There wasn’t any organisation from the Conservative Party, but I certainly came across Labour supporters who were horrified at the prospect of Roger Helmer being the MP for Newark. And I do think there was a feeling that they would vote whatever they needed to vote to stop UKIP. The thing about UKIP is they obviously believe that they’re at the front of a People’s Crusade, but there are an awful lot of people who are very hostile to them. I saw signs on the door saying, no election literature please, especially from UKIP. There is that push back from some people to UKIP. It’s not all going they’re way. And I do think there was an element of that, Liberal Democrat voters and Labour voters did vote tactically,to an extent, to stop Roger Helmer and UKIP winning the seat.
ANDIE HARPER: Just finally, on a more general point, you mentioned Jim Paice and there’s you yourself, and all parties are guilty of this. Shouldn’t really people who are selected to represent constituencies come from the area? That was the point that Nigel Farage made when he didn’t stand. That may or may not have been his real reason. But do you think it’s better if people from the area, from Cambridgeshire, from Nottinghamshire or wherever, are selected to stand?
STEWART JACKSON: I think in an ideal world it’s good to have really strong local roots. But you shouldn’t really rule out the people who have something to contribute to public life, wherever they come from. We always say in politics it’s not where you come from, it’s where you’re going to and what you’re offering. Some people will be local, some people will come from a different part of the country. It’s not like in the United States. Obviously if you’re from Oregon you can’t end up as a Senator from Florida. It doesn’t work like that. But in this country, we’re a relatively small country, I think anyone who’s talented, who wants to give a contribution to public service, should be taken seriously across all parties.
ANDIE HARPER: Always good to talk to you Stewart. Thanks for joining us this morning.
STEWART JACKSON: Thanks Andie.
ANDIE HARPER: Cheers. That’s Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough.