With campaigning for EU elections and local Council elections now well under way, Eastleigh’s Conservatives were pleased to welcome the Minister for Government Policy today, the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, to the new Lowford Centre in Bursledon.
Also present at the reception, was one of the Conservative MEP candidates for the South East Region, Richard Robinson, and local Conservative candidate Frair Burgess, who is currently standing for election to the Bursledon & Old Netley ward of Eastleigh Borough Council.
The Minister was clearly very impressed with new Lowford Centre, not just the extensive ‘Green’ technology that has been installed there but also the nature of the collaborative project which has seen the Community Centre, a brand new Library, the Parish Council Offices, and a GP’s Surgery brought together under the same roof.
In his speech, Oliver Letwin MP said;
“I think it’s an absolutely wonderful thing that you’ve done here.”
“I saw a similar sort of thing in Chippenham just recently. More & more its going to be the way of getting these things to work properly.”
“What’s wonderful here, is that its all so voluntary.”
“This is exactly the sort of thing that the ‘Big Society’ is all about. It’s not about inventing brilliant new ideas. It’s really about doing ‘common sense’ things that people have always done, but trying to make sure that we do them as an idiom, and that they substitute for services that otherwise we wouldn’t have, as we’ve run out of money.”
“Everybody needs to find ways of making things work at a local level, without having to spend huge amounts of money.”
“My experience is very often that’s a much more efficient way of doing things.”
The meeting took place in front of a relatively small audience of 16 local Conservatives and their supporters, using the Willow Room at the Lowford Centre. It was thus an intimate meeting between like-minded Conservative’s, with little risk of disruption from members of the public or the opposition. Plenty of coffee was drunk, with Letwin later reporting it to be excellent.
Despite the nature of this meeting, the Press had been invited so Eastleigh News were there listening and observing. We can report that a lot of interesting things were said, on a number of topics. We were also given the opportunity to speak directly with Oliver Letwin and the candidates at the end of the meeting. I’ll report as much as we can here, in the interests of getting it into the public domain, though I will have to do this over a couple of stories.
On the subject of the local elections, Oliver Letwin MP started by referring to the Lowford Centre as a good example, saying;
“This is exactly the reason why we need to make sure that the local elections return people who will make things of this sort happen.”
“There’s a terrible tendency to think that the local elections are a national referendum. They’re not. They’re actually about the people who are going to be making all sorts of important decisions about very local matters. We need to get that message across.”
“Getting our candidates to be local Councillors really does matter if we’re going to make sure that the sensible things are done.”
Letwin then observed that the EU elections were happening at the same time as the local elections, with polling due to take place on 22nd May, observing that;
“The EU elections were the opposite end of the spectrum, with 6.5 million constituents.”
At this point, there was some audience interaction and much laughter, as the constituency sizes were compared and contrasted. Letwin declared Frair Burgess’s 5,500 constituents to be
“A sensible number”
And added that 6.5 million was ;
“really quite an ask…”
Letwin went on to say;
“The truth is of course, that the European elections do also matter, but very few of our fellow citizens will bother to vote in them, if we judge by previous elections.”
“The European Parliament, for better or worse…
…. you can take a view about whether it should have as much power as it does, but nevertheless ….
…. it does have an awful lot of power over our lives.
I find it constantly in my own job in Westminster.
I’m battling it, for example in the ‘Red Tape’ challenge. We’re trying to get rid of a large amount of the regulation that makes it so difficult for many of our business and social enterprises to do what they’re there to do.
We’ve made a very, very considerable difference in the last few years, at getting rid of many of the regulations that have been introduced domestically in the UK.
But, unfortunately, I keep on coming across cases where there’s a limit on what we can do domestically, because the EU has got its rules and we’re operating in many cases within those rules.
Agriculture is a classic case and the Habitats Directive is a very interesting example.
We are massively improving the guidance on the Habitats Directive, but you’ll be interested to know that at the moment there are 40 pages of specific guidance on how to handle Doormice. Whilst we can much contract this and make it more sensible, we can’t do anything beyond a certain point because the Habitats Directive is actually decided by the EU.
Therefore the people who are actually there [in the EU, as MEPs] regardless of their general ideaology, make a huge difference.
If they are the kind of people who try to prune them down and make them sensible, which is what Conservative people do, it really matters whether those people are really there or not…
I’m sure that if you walked out of this front door here, walked down the street, starting talking to people and asked whether they realised how important it is what the people in the European Parliament are going to do over the next four years, on the whole they would stare at you as if you were completely mad. They just don’t have any sense of this organisation being as important as it really is.
So that’s why we need to get this chap [Richard Robinson] in.
That’s my reason for being out there trying to maximise the vote. It isn’t going to be easy because of UKIP and because we’re still in the middle of a Parliament. We’ve yet to get through the last period, but things are coming right. Its a difficult moment, but we have to do our best to get the right people into the EU.
Oliver Letwin then started to wind down his main address, by playing for a laugh [which he got], by saying;
“Actually, I’m here because the Prime Minister forces us all out…!”
Concluding with ;
“I am delighted to be able, at the same time, to put in a word for the excellent local candidates. May I say how pleasant it has been and how great the coffee is…!”
Richard Robinson, one of the Conservatives MEP candidates for the South East Region, then spoke about the EU. I’ll cover that properly in another posting on Eastleigh News, to follow later.
After the presentation and the photo-call, Oliver Letwin and Richard Robinson spoke exclusively to Eastleigh News, giving us some remarkably straight answers to my straight questions. I greatly appreciated their openness, but I will save that interview for my next posting.
There are four candidate in the Borough election for the Bursledon and Old Netley ward of Eastleigh Borough Council, to be held on 22nd May 2014. They are;
- Diane Andrewes – Labour
- Frair Burgess – Conservative
- Denise Evans – UKIP
- Jane Rich – Lib Dem