The general election war of words is starting to heat up in North Devon as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats set out their stalls
The snap general election announced for June 8 has come as a surprise to many but the party battle buses are already rumbling into action.
After two years as North Devon’s Conservative MP Peter Heaton-Jones is preparing to defend his seat from Nick Harvey of the Liberal Democrats, who is returning to try and take back the constituency he held for 23 years.
In Torridge, Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox currently holds a large majority, but at the time of going to press it appears no other parties have yet chosen their candidates.
Ricky Knight is standing again for the Green Party in North Devon but UKIP and Labour have yet to declare a candidate.
‘Strong deal for Brexit’
In 2015, Mr Heaton-Jones overturned Mr Harvey’s 5,000 majority and won by 7,000 votes and the campaign this time is already heating up.
Mr Heaton-Jones told the Gazette he was proud of his two years to date and said the best way to get a strong deal for the UK over Brexit was to vote Conservative.
He said: “I will spend the next six weeks looking forward, and asking North Devon to support Theresa May’s vision of strong leadership, secure government and the best possible Brexit.”
He accused the Liberal Democrats of ‘ignoring Brexit’ and added: “North Devon rejected the Lib Dems just two years ago, choosing instead to have an MP who has direct access to the decision-makers and can influence government for our area. Why would we go back to shouting from the sidelines?”
‘Turmoil, crisis and closure’
But Nick Harvey said the election was not just about Brexit, he said: “North Devon has a Conservative MP, government and councillors at district and county level and what have we got to show for it?
“Vital hospital services are threatened, school budgets are in turmoil, social care is in crisis and Chivenor is closing.”
In relation to Brexit, he said issues such as UK workers abroad, EU workers coming here and the best deals for local manufacturers were all still very much to play for.
He added: “The question for North Devon is what sort of MP do you want? Someone who is going to make up the numbers or someone who will kick up a fuss, make a noise and be troublesome?”
Election is unwelcome to some
The news of a general election has not been met with great enthusiasm from other parties locally. Ricky Knight of the Green Party said it was not welcome. He added: “It’s not just the public who have had enough of ‘politics’ (that has probably always been the case), I suspect most grass roots activists have as well. Not to mention the MPs themselves.
“This is a cynical, opportunistic move by a novice, ‘unelected’ Prime Minister who, unbelievably, seems to be calling into account the right of opposition parties and the House of Lords to even criticise her intended course to negotiate a Hard Brexit.”
North Devon Labour parliamentary candidate Mark Cann said called it ‘opportunist, but said: “Now it’s been called, and I expect Parliament to vote for it tomorrow, I welcome this election as it will be our chance to pose a clear alternative to the Tories - it will not be just about Brexit. We will be campaigning on defending the NHS, giving fair funding to our schools, putting forward our alternative economic strategy including plans for a £10 minimum wage and investing in our local communities.”