By Tobias Chalcraft
The Prime Minister has finally achieved his desired General Election, in an attempt to break this Brexit deadlock. Thursday 12th December will be our third national election in four years and political commenters will be glancing at Plymouth, a marginal city which has elected both Conservative and Labour MPs in the last two public ballots, as a potential indication of who will lead our next government. On the night of the dissolution of the 2017-2019 parliament, Generation Plymouth interviewed Rebecca Smith – the Conserative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) for Plymouth Sutton & Devonport.
As bonfire night fireworks went off in the sky, we picked up some festive-themed coffees and started to ask Rebecca some pressing questions.
“If you were elected as MP for Plymouth Sutton & Devonport, what would be your top three priorities?”
Rebecca highlights the NHS, Schools and Business as the backbone of her election campaign. She says that through canvassing she has found the NHS to be the issue most discussed amongst voters in Plymouth. Meanwhile, she would like to see further funding for Plymouth’s secondary schools – especially SEN and for students with Pupil Premium. Although proud of her Conservative values, Smith says that she would not seek to be a ‘Conservative mouthpiece’ because she hopes to press on issues that may not always grab the headlines in order to be a “voice for the voiceless”, on behalf of an often “forgotten city”.
“How would you, and potential Conservative government, champion Plymouth’s young people?”
The main theme in her response is the benefit of Plymouth having a young MP in parliament. After showing some respect to the statesmanship and parliamentary experience of Sir Gary Streeter ( MP for South West Devon), Rebecca argues that she could communicate with Plymouth’s youth at a more suitable level through creative events. For example, her Pizza and Policy nights have been invaluable for offering a space for young Plymothians, who aren’t necessarily politically active, to express their opinions on current affairs. It is these sorts of creative events that she would hope to host in future to gain a good understanding of what young people wish to see.
“My big thing is that I hate talking at people, I think politicians do that really quickly, they’ll go in and tell you what they think you want to hear”. Rebecca separates herself from our current political class by arguing that she would spend more time listening than telling constituents what they may want to hear in order to gain support.
There was also some rare frankness in her answer: “I’m not going to be a people pleaser”, she says, as she argues that its unrealistic for MPs to represent every single voice within their constituencies, but Rebecca goes on to say, “I will definitely make sure that I listen, engage and seek out opinions and views”.
As an MP, Rebecca hopes to prove that the Conservatives are better than they are portrayed to be on social media, arguing that today’s world sees people following too many like-minded politicians in order to create echo chambers and that she would seek to combat this by reaching out to people from across the political spectrum to display some of the positives of Conservative policies.
“Today [5th November] Parliament is dissolving, and it looks as though 1 in 10 MPs won’t be seeking re-election, with a substantial portion of those departing only having less than 10 years’ experience, like Heidi Allen, Justine Greening and Secretary of State Nicky Morgan. What is your reaction to this outcome of the 2017-2019 parliament?”
Rebecca starts with, “I think it’s really sad because they have all been excellent public servants and they’ve brought a real breadth of knowledge, interest and expertise”, however she goes on to dismiss the generalisation of these MPs’ motivations such as social media abuse or gender – arguing that there are a multitude of reasons for why MPs have chosen to stand down. Rebecca says she was unsurprised that MPs that sought to make a real change, but had become hindered by Brexit, had become disillusioned. Although, she hopes the 2019 election may allow for a clean slate of fresh MPs, like herself, to improve parliament’s public image at a time of significant dissatisfaction in our democratic institutions.
When asked how these resignations have affected her decision to run in this election, Rebecca responds with “I’m going in with my eyes open”, as she outlines her previous experiences in politics as providing some expectations as to what being an MP may entail. Rebecca adds, “Politics isn’t perfect, but it’s what I think my vocation is”, before she lists the different measures she has put into place to help guarantee her safety throughout this election campaign such as sharing her schedule with a strong support network and having colleagues attend events alongside her.
“With Plymouth University declaring a Climate Emergency and Plymouth’s Youth going on strike, do you think the Government has done enough to combat Climate Change?”
Rebecca spent longer answering this question than any other, reflecting on her envioronmentally focused work such as her environment-based speech at the Conservative Party Conference this year, or working as a Councillor on Plymouth City Council, in which she has frequently promoted the government’s work when speaking in climate debates and played a significant role in the Council’s declaration of a Climate Emergency earlier this year. She then goes on to offer some praise for climate campaigners, arguing that they have a “brilliant part to play”.
Rebecca points out the government’s recent decision to pause fracking as a key example of the government’s environmental credentials and offers the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) credit with their successful lobbying efforts. She is hopeful that this ban will be long term, saying that the government wouldn’t resume an activity that brings negative outcomes to their country. If elected, Rebecca hopes to be a mediator between Plymouth’s environmentally engaged young people and the government, whilst also being held to account on any eco-friendly legislation she votes on.
She then displays frustration at negative responses by media outlets: “one of the most frustrating things as a politician is where you take action and the first reaction is ‘it’s not good enough’”. She believes that change can’t be taken overnight and that the realistic steps that are required to make a positive change for our planet should be acknowledged. On the other hand, Rebecca contends the Extinction Rebellion protests in London as potentially diluting the green message, as they frustrate London commuters which may then lower public perception as a result. Plus, further resentment is displayed for the resources used to keep the London demonstrations organised, such as the use of Devon & Cornwall police in the capital instead of the counties they are designated for.
“Do you support Boris Johnson’s revised Brexit deal? How would it deliver for our City?”
Rebecca supports this deal as a way of delivering on Plymouth’s vote to leave in 2016, saying that MPs should be in-touch with their constituency’s views and that, with a Conservative majority in Parliament, this deal would be easily passed before January 2020, followed by a transition period for an undefined period of time.
She argues that Brexit will reduce the impact of some failing European economies on Plymouth and that she would rather “weather the storm of Brexit than face the climate change of a Corbyn economy”. Though, she compares those with a primary preference of a ‘clean break’ Brexit to somebody getting a divorce and expecting their former spouse to walk away with none of their property or belongings.
Having voted to Remain three years ago, if another referendum was to be called, Rebecca would now vote to Leave – claiming that if Remain had won in 2016, remainers would not have been treated in the contempt endured by those who supported leaving the trading bloc three years ago.
She concludes her response with “the bottom line is that we have to leave”.
We concluded this interview by asking a similar question to one we asked Johnny Mercer (Candidate for Plymouth Moor View) way before this election campaign:
“If you were elected, would you see yourself more as a Conservative MP or the MP for Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport?”
Initially, Rebecca outlines her pride in Plymouth, “Plymouth has always been my home. I was inspired by Nancy Astor – the first female MP – when I was a student, and the dream would be to serve in my home seat.”. She then returns to the reality of Westminster politics, “I would also be elected as the Conservative candidate and so there’s a balance to be made”.
She concludes by saying “my passion for politics and my passion for Plymouth connect. I would be the Conservative MP for Plymouth”. Her aim is to be driven by “tackling social issues and caring for the most vulnerable, whilst also promoting the economy, seeing business thrive and seeing people living fulfilled lives”, adding “It’s all about the people of Plymouth in the end”.