UKIP candidate Steve Crowther on issues facing North Devon and pushing Phillip Schofield into a lake
How long have you been in politics?
I joined UKIP in 2007. I had been in the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems briefly in the 1980s. In between, I was too busy building a career in business.
Why have you decided to stand for election?
I became active in UKIP in 2008 and have campaigned ever since for us to escape from the destructive out-dated EU, and reform politics in this country to make it more representative of the people. I stood in 2010 and came 3rd here, and this time I think that North Devon could be one of the places which will send the first group of UKIP MPs to Westminster in a General Election. It would be a privilege to fulfil that duty.
What are the major issues facing North Devon between 2015-20?
The biggest issue is the local economy. We have low wages and poor job prospects, especially for our young people, yet at the same time we have high property and energy prices. These things drive our young people out of the area. We don’t do enough to encourage businesses to locate here. Meanwhile, county budget cuts are causing real suffering, with the closure of care homes and youth facilities, lack of new infrastructure and services, deteriorating roads and the wrong type of housing development.
What would you like to see done to combat these?
We need urgent reform of the planning system to enable our local councils to specify the type of housing we need, and the additional facilities we need with it. Plus, we need to stop relying on just tourism and inward migration, mainly of retirees, as our economic drivers. We need to promote this amazing and unique area, with its incredible lifestyle, as a place where people create businesses, jobs and wealth – especially in the knowledge economy, where with the right infrastructure we can host world-class companies. North Devon already has some world-beating firms; it just doesn’t have nearly enough of them.
How would your party deliver on this for the people of North Devon?
UKIP want to raise our sights from the stultifying grip of the EU and re-stimulate our world trade; but this may not be in our power on Day One! In the meantime, we will work for better infrastructure for North Devon (communications and transport); work to save the industries we do have, such as farming and fishing, from being destroyed by EU regulation and government neglect; and reform the planning system to give local people the power to get the development they want and need. We will also campaign for cheaper energy bills by getting rid of the ridiculous Climate Change Act and government green tax/subsidy schemes, which place massive cost burdens on ordinary people, and benefit the rich.
How much pressure do you think local services will come under should spending cuts continue?
Can local authorities cope with these? Undoubtedly the spending cuts will continue to bite as the country tries to eliminate the budget deficit which is increasing the already huge debt we are leaving to our grandchildren. Local authorities have a tough task providing services on falling budgets; there is no easy answer. They need to cut costs imaginatively and work with the voluntary sector to ensure continuity of vital services. Communities may need to be more active in taking on voluntary tasks – all over the country, people are finding that for non-priority services the default position of ‘getting the council to pay for it’ is not viable.
Do you support or oppose further housing and renewable energy developments in the constituency? Why?
We must have new housing, but it should match what we need, not what the big developers’ balance sheets need. To make housing genuinely ‘affordable’ to the average household in North Devon we’d have to cut the price by about 40%. As people retire they want to downsize, and our young people want to start on the ladder, so we have enough family homes already. The planning vacuum that the government has engineered to give unfettered power to the developers means that we are powerless to get what we need. As for renewables, we need to stop ruining our primary asset, our unspoilt landscape, with uneconomic and inefficient turbines that make all our energy bills more expensive. Small scale, efficient renewables that reduce demand on the national grid are a good idea. Similarly, why hasn’t the government put any of the billions we provide into developing tidal and marine current power, which is abundant, regular and infinitely renewable?
How confident are you of a successful election campaign for your party, both locally and nationally?
There’s no doubt that UKIP will break through with new MPs at this election, and thus change the political landscape for the long term. In 2010 there were four places where UKIP came 3rd – Nigel Farage’s seat, and the three seats stretching down this coast from Porlock to Padstow. Polling tells us that we’re on around 23-25% here currently, with the incumbent – who’s had 23 years to get himself known – and the new Tory arrival who has advertised himself very hard for the past 18 months both around the 30% mark. Nick’s claim that this is a two-horse race is frankly nonsense. UKIP can win here, and when people see that, I think we will.
In one sentence, what would you pledge to offer to the people of North Devon should you be elected?
As the first North Devon born MP for the area for 150 years (technically Bideford, but that counts), I would work to bring new economic growth to the area, creating more jobs and better wages while preserving our rich lifestyle.
Why should people give you their vote?
Nick’s a nice guy, but he’s had a quarter of a century in the job and it’s time for a change. The new Tory is a pleasant enough chap too – but he and Nick represent the ‘old order’ which hasn’t done much for North Devon except ignore us, to be honest. I’m passionate about North Devon, I fight for it and I want to see it have a better future, with our traditional farming and fishing industries thriving, and new businesses bringing us more jobs and better wages.
What would you say to anyone thinking about not voting in May?
If you don’t vote you have no right to complain about the way things are run. People died for your right to vote, and it’s hardly a big effort. Vote for me, vote against me, but for goodness vote for someone.
Away from politics, give us a quirky fact about yourself?
I once threw Phillip Schofield into Lake Windermere. In a nice way.
Any other comments?
I’m not a career politician; I think politics is something you should do after you’ve done something else with your life. It would be a great privilege to work for my fellow North Devonians as their MP – and to be part of a movement that is really shaking up politics in this country for the first time in 100 years.