Category Archives: Politics

In Conversation with: Johnny Mercer MP

By Mitch Gregory

At the end of last month I had the opportunity to interview the MP for Plymouth Moor View and newly-appointed minister, Johnny Mercer. I met Mr. Mercer – whom every other Plymouthian attending the surgery that morning dubbed ‘Johnny’ – after what looked to have been a busy morning. I was greeted in the reception by Johnny Mercer himself, shaking my hand and jovially leading me to his conference room. I could already tell that the usual Tory-stuffiness didn’t apply to this man and come the start of the interview the tables had already turned when Mercer asked me about my degree and about Generation Plymouth’s recent conception.

Getting onto the questions, I asked Mercer a few questions on the state of politics at the moment, and how he felt about it all.

“What is the Conservative Party doing to help young people, and, if you were on the campaign trail, as you may well be soon, how would you convince someone like me to vote Conservative?”

Mercer acknowledges that policies for young people “Have been done badly in the past – in a kind of patronising way” and that this problem still exists in both parties. Throughout his answer he keeps coming back to the idea that the best way to have won his vote before he became an MP was to enact policies that were “going to change my life”. Mercer admitted that he rarely voted before getting into his political career. At this point he refers to a Conservative policy wherein they attempted to win over young voters with Nando vouchers, denouncing such things as examples of this “patronising” approach to young people.

He accepts that housing is a massive issue for young people, anecdotally telling me that he was only able to buy his own home after he became an MP in 2015. He reaffirms his belief that tuition fees are right and that “people should pay for higher education”, although he adds that the way the interest is calculated on student debt is “incorrect” and that he would prefer a more means-tested system. These sorts of policies, Mercer argues, are the sorts of ones he would happily campaign on. He firmly believes that young people “are not stupid and they just want something to vote for.” An example of which is how Labour’s 2017 manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees has started an “awakening amongst students” who’ve “had a smell of the Jeremy Corbyn stuff and realised it’s a pack of lies, so they’re looking for something else.” He does also add that “they’re not naturally Conservative voters, I’d say, but they’re not stupid” reiterating the need to focus on policies to attract young people.

I followed up the question asking him for examples of policies that the Conservatives are implementing to help young people. Returning to housing he praises the Help To Buy scheme, but believes it could go further. And of course he adds that we need to build more homes and make planning permission easier. He wants a grown-up conversation about housing. A grown-up conversation would be quite the triumph in these times.

Much of politics and the Parliamentary arithmetic nowadays is about Party – we tend to vote Labour or Conservative, rather than for the specific candidate. So do you consider yourself foremost as a Conservative MP, or as the representative for Plymouth Moor View?

“I’m Plymouth’s member of Parliament, right? For me it’s very, very clear in terms of my priorities. And one of the things I was frustrated about when I came into this was how people seemed to say ‘I’m going to do everything for Plymouth’ and then get in and completely change their mind.” The example he uses for this broken trust is, of course, Brexit. He argues that Plymouth voted to Leave and that vote should be respected. He targets other politicians in Plymouth, saying that they will do whatever they can to frustrate the result. He admits he voted Remain, but says that should a second referendum come about, he’d probably vote to Leave. He thinks that if he were to campaign to Remain now he’d be breaking the trust the people of Plymouth Moor View put in him.

Further on what you were saying about being the representative for Plymouth, rather than just adhering to the Party whip, do you believe it was right to expel the group of 21 independent conservative MPs?

“It’s a really, really difficult issue. I don’t want to expel anybody – well, I say that…I do want to expel some people. You know, those who particularly have unpleasant characteristics in the Conservative Party.” He adds that every Party, being mass-membership organisations, need to abide by rules of decency. He returns to the question and reaffirms that he doesn’t want to see any colleagues expelled, however people like Mercer have been “crying out for leadership for the last three years. This country is in a very specific place, a very contested place, a very angry place, and Boris Johnson has a very clear method to lead us through this particularly turbulent time, and to be honest I support him one-hundred percent.” He says the sadness of seeing his colleagues leave the Party must be put after the state of the country.

Do you believe the prorogation of Parliament was the most sensible thing to do? In terms of supporting the country through this, as you say, contested time?

“I think it’s been quite significantly overblown”, he says confidently, “actually it’s four days extra that we would usually be in session because of the Party Conferences.” But he surprises me when he denounces “inflammatory politics” and adds that if it were him making the decision he’d have laid out his reasons for prorogation far clearer. He praises Johnson’s leadership once again.

Do you believe he [Johnson] will get a deal?

“Yes. I do believe he will get a deal.” No ambiguity there then. As soon as I begin to mention the possibility of an extension he shuts down the question and reaffirms that we will be leaving the European Union on October 31st. He says it’s a matter of trust with his constituents.

Moving onto other issues, there are climate strikes going on across the world at the moment. The Conservative Party policy is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, however UN projections have predicted that by 2050 there will be 200 million climate refugees and a further billion people in vulnerable conditions as a result of climate change. Do you think the Government is doing enough?

“People like me already want to be in a world with net-zero carbon emissions […] we are acutely aware of the effects of climate change and we are living through them.” His tone at this point is very sincere, he’s a man of 38, born into a generation, like ours, who understand the dangers of climate change. Yet he plays it safe, saying that “When a country is trying to realign its economy, there are lots of factors at stake”. He acknowledges that the world as a whole have not taken climate change seriously enough for too long, but “Greenpeace have said that this is the greenest government they have ever seen in the UK.” He wants things to move faster, of course, and he supports the school-children strikes, however he denounces Extinction Rebellion for closing down roads in London and “breaking the law”. A balance is vital for all of these things, according to Johnny.

On the state of the natural world he says he spends “half my life in the sea!” and that fellow Plymouth MP, Luke Pollard’s, work on creating a protected marine reserve in Plymouth is good, adding that he “supports anything great about Plymouth.” He tempers his praise with advice that these things need to “mean something” for the people living in Ernesettle and areas outside of Plymouth Sound. He doesn’t have time for “press releases and bluster”.

I conclude the interview by asking Mercer about his new role as a minister, tasked with setting up a new Office for Veteran’s Affairs, which is his driving force as a former serviceman in the British Army. He hopes it will bring together all areas of government and the third sector to create “world class veterans care to those who served in this country and their families.” I thank him for his time and he responds, in his incredibly enthusiastic, casual manner, “Great! Cheers bud.”

Plymouth Enters Government

By Tobias Chalcraft

After decades of being confined to either the backbenches or the shadow cabinet, Plymouth has now found itself with elected representation working on the government frontbenches.

Johnny Mercer, MP for Plymouth Moor View, has spent some of the last few months supporting Boris Johnson’s campaign for Conservative party leader and Prime Minister, which saw his preferred candidate secure a victory with two-thirds of the votes.

Following royal ascent to the role, the PM splashed the front pages with his new cabinet, as he replaced a significant portion of ministers from Theresa May’s government with MPs that voted for Brexit in 2016 or, like Mercer, supported his leadership bid.

The extensive media coverage and Twitter trends are hardly surprising, with the new cabinet being one of the most diverse and featuring head-turning politicians like Priti Patel, who has been put in charge of keeping our country secure through her promotion to Home Secretary, after being sacked by Theresa May nearly two years ago for holding unofficial talks with the Israeli government.

However, there is another appointment which hasn’t made as many headlines. The Prime Minister has very recently created a government office for ‘Veterans Affairs’. This comes after pressure from the man who will be leading this department, Johnny Mercer, and his collaboration with the Sun newspaper which resulted in both leadership contenders, Mr Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, promising to create a new department which prioritised our Veterans.

Regardless of if you support him or not, Mr Mercer’s role as ‘Minister for Defence People and Veterans’ is the first time that an MP representing a Plymouth constituency has entered government in decades.

After the announcement of his appointment, the Plymouth MP said on Twitter that he “looks forward” to his role, whilst also pointing out that “It’s taken four years, but we finally have an Office for Veterans Affairs in the UK”. He also offered his gratitude to Tom Newton Dunn, the political editor of the Sun, for supporting the campaign to establish this new office.

Some of his supporters will also be quick to point out that being an ex-serviceman and possessing a clear passion on this topic, as demonstrated through his declaration to stop supporting Theresa May’s government until the prosecution of Northern Ireland veterans were halted, will provide the Plymouth MP with the qualifications to excel in this role.

Critics of the new government may see this appointment as offering some comfort, with Mercer having previously said that he wishes to see a more centre-leaning Conservative party which reaches out to more young voters.

Meanwhile, Mr Mercer’s opponents may argue that by joining Boris Johnson’s government, and thus accepting the government’s aim to leave the UK with or without a deal, he has abandoned his goal to reach out to younger voters which predominantly voted to remain in the EU.

Overall, will Johnny Mercer keep his centre-leaning position and, more importantly, will he be able to bring Boris with him? Or has the offer of a government position moved his values towards those of his government colleagues?

Plymouth’s Three Musketeers: Who Represents Plymouth in Westminster?

By Tobias Chalcraft

Lacking in knowledge on Plymouth’s elected representatives in Westminster? If so, look no further than Generation Plymouth to give you a quick, non-biased summary of Plymouth’s three musketeers.

Plymouth is split into three different constituencies: Sutton & Devonport, Moor View & South West Devon. Plymouth Moor View covers the North of the city, South West Devon covers some of the East and Plymouth Sutton & Devonport covers the rest of Plymouth, including the city centre. Unlike cities such as Manchester or Bournemouth, which have been run by a single party for decades, our city likes to keep a more open mind when it comes to its politics.

Since 1997 the Conservatives and Labour parties have frequently struggled to hold Plymouth city council for longer than 3 years before being voted out of office, with the Tories’ tenure between 2007-2012 being the sole exception. This division is also represented in our MPs.

So, who are these three MPs representing Plymouth constituencies in Westminster? Firstly, Luke Pollard is the Labour Co-operative MP that has represented Plymouth Sutton & Devonport for the last two years, taking the seat from the Conservatives in 2017. In July 2018 Pollard joined Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in a role shadowing the Conservative’s environmental policies; predominately flooding, coastal communities and fisheries. He has always voted against the government’s Brexit deal and argues the best solution to the Brexit deadlock is a second public vote, with remain as an option.

Pollard is a member of the transport select committee, which examines what the government gets up to in the Department of Transport. His current campaigns include making Plymouth Sound the first national marine park, extending the M5 further westwards and ensuring that the retired nuclear submarines in Devonport are recycled.

Representing Plymouth Moor View is Conservative backbencher Johnny Mercer, who has held the seat since the 2015 election, taking the seat off Labour. Earlier this year Mercer said he wouldn’t support the Conservative government until the prosecutions of Northern Ireland veterans are stopped. Since September 2017 Mercer has been a member of multiple defence committees and the Health & Social Care committee, which scrutinise both defence and health aspects of government actions respectively. His campaigns include persuading the government to have a newly commissioned navy fleet of type 26s based at Devonport and improving mental health services and veterans’ care.

Mercer voted against the government’s negotiated Brexit deal in the first parliamentary vote in January, but then switched to support the deal in the second and third ‘meaningful votes’. Furthermore, in the indicative votes that took place in March as a result of parliament seeking a solution to the Brexit deadlock that could receive a majority of MPs’ support, Mercer supported leaving the EU without a deal.

The third Plymothian musketeer is Sir Gary Streeter, Conservative backbencher MP for South West Devon. Streeter has held his seat since 1997, having held another Plymouth-based seat 1992-1997. Over his 27 years in parliament, Streeter has held multiple roles including shadowing Labour’s Secretary of State for International Development (1998-2001).

Sir Gary currently sits on the Panel of Chairs, committee of Privileges and committee on Standards, and has sat on Environment and Home Affairs committees in the past. Streeter supports leaving the EU with a deal, having supported the aforementioned deal in all three votes. Campaigns supported by the Devon MP include moving more troops to his constituency, increasing funding for local schools and improving rail links in the South West.

So, there we have it, a simple overview of the three Plymouth MPs. Although our three musketeers don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on most topics, our unique city is represented by people from somewhat differing backgrounds, political parties and even views on Brexit – would you believe it?

Do you know who your MP is? Head to https://www.theyworkforyou.com to find out who represents you and see their voting record to help you decide if they deserve your vote at the next election.

European Elections 2019 Opinion: Where do we go from here?

By Mitch Gregory

Last month a whole continent went to the polls in the second largest democratic process in the world. Considering these elections were never meant to take place in the United Kingdom, they sure did cause a stir.

Arguments over whether Leave or Remain won the elections, as if that matters, have been flown across newspapers an twitter alike; the casualties of this election have been significant: a Prime Minister, a Government, potentially two political parties, and the Leader of the Opposition.

So where do we go from here? This isn’t House of Cards, there is no big season finale which will nicely tie up loose ends and plot points will converge to resolution, no, it is seemingly increasingly more likely that the country will end this year more divided and angry than we entered it. Who knew that was possible.

If we look at the options we’ll likely face over the coming months, a solution doesn’t jump out. Firstly, a ‘People’s Vote’; seen by some as an attempt to overturn the 2016 referendum, seen by others as a way of breaking the impasse, and seen by most as a waste of time which will only divide the country further. Especially if Remain were to win. A second referendum would work to fix the country if Leave won again: who could argue with two victories? But if Remain were to win it’d be even. Would we need a third one to break the tie? The only way another vote could conclusively end is if the options were between Theresa May’s, albeit dead, deal or No-Deal, described recently by Tory leadership hopeful, Jeremy Hunt, as ‘political suicide’.

Secondly a General Election. If the Conservatives win we’re back to square one with nowhere to go. If Labour win we’ll certainly need to delay Brexit again and if one looks at the Labour Party’s policy on Brexit it doesn’t offer us much more clarity than we already have—so an election, while fun, probably isn’t the best way forward. Again, the only way an election would work is if there was some kind of SNP/Labour/Liberal Democrat/Green coalition wherein Labour were forced to adopt a second referendum. But then again, see above for why that isn’t as clean-cut.

For me, a mere observer, the answer must be compromise. Not a Theresa May style “Give me what I want or no” compromise, nor a Jeremy Corbyn “Let me stay on this fence” compromise. A real one, with the European Union. A Norway-style Brexit for instance, or something of that sort. That way we will be further away from the EU than we are at current, we won’t be out, yet, but we will be on our way to leaving. Sure, Brexiteers may find that hard to stomach but which would they put first: their political project, or the economic, social, political stability of the country. Unfortunately, the answer even to that is as clear as fog.