Sunday, 4 December 2016

Initial Reactions and Observations from Sleaford and North Hykeham candidate interviews by The Lincolnite

It's quite exciting to have a by-election taking place in the constituency neighbouring mine. I'm pretty sure the spotlight shone on Sleaford and North Hykeham (NH) has never been so bright, mainly due to the shock by-election result that happened in Richmond Park on Thursday night (more on that in my next blogpost). I know the constituency pretty well. I went many times to North Hykeham as a young child to visit my grandparents who had a lovely bungalow at  that they lived in between 1966 (when newly built) and 1998. I've visited the Heckington Show, which happens to be the largest village show in England and which will (hopefully) celebrate its 150 anniversary next year. I've enjoyed buying craft materials from the National Centre for Craft and Design and enjoyed Lincolnshire sausage and bacon buns whilst at the Farmers Market in Sleaford, made from produce gathered from across the county. Metheringham, Ruskington, Eagle, North Scarle, Kyme, Billinghay, Bassingham...there are so many lovely villages to visit. RAF Cranwell falls within the constituency boundary and Lincolnshire residents are extremely supportive of our veterans and active RAF personnel stationed in the county. I care deeply about how all Lincolnshire residents are treated by the Government and the lack of funding for public services from our County Council is abysmal. It's important that an appropriate candidate is therefore chosen to represent Sleaford and NH. So I decided to have a listen to a series of Facebook interviews conducted by Stefan Pidluznyi, a journalist from the Lincolnshire Reporter (in connection with The Lincolnite) with the main candidates for the Sleaford and NH by-election. You can watch the interviews here: http://thelincolnite.co.uk/2016/12/watch-sleaford-north-hykeham-election-candidates-brexit-nhs-transport/

The thoughts I offer below are the initial reactions and observations made from having watched each candidate interview in turn. The main 4 candidates are discussed in slightly more detail.
Whilst not intended to be an attempt to influence voting intention, I hope it does spark some debate and most importantly, if you are a voter, encourage you to go to your local polling station on Thursday!

Victoria Ayling -UKIP.
Lincolnshire County Councillor, stood in Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Elections and took an active role in campaigning for Vote Leave in the East Midlands area in the EU Referendum.

Brexit/Immigration:
  • "Passionate, proven Brexiteer"...tough on crime.
  • Repeal European Communities Act rather than invoke Article 50.
  • Firm tone, authoritative...not sure describing Lincoln Christmas Market traffic as "interesting" is good considering how much money is brought into the local economy through accommodation/increased tourism figures and also for money for Small Business owners who have stalls at the market.
  • A bit spiel orientated in terms of immigration...can't reduce everything down to immigration. Targets missed by Government rightly highlighted. Why attack Remainers? Why do you HAVE to have a Brexiteer as an MP. People do want change...but can UKIP offer positive change for all constituents regardless of their EU vote? Ayling lives in Boston....Caroline lives in Sleaford. No mention of stats by Ayling on population figs; how  many Poles live in the Sleaford and NH constituency? According to ONS's Non UK Born Population Survey from 2014, only 7% of the population in North Kesteven and South Kesteven were born outside the UK, whereas the figure for Lincoln is 16%. Glad that Ayling agrees that Poles are hard-working. Poles angry about Romanians and Bulgarians...playing one Eastern European country off against others? Volume of immigrants is an issue yes but what will you do about it? Why only focus on EU immigration? There aren't many illegal immigrants in Lincolnshire. Health insurance? What about Brits abroad who use health systems for free...what about Brits in Spain? 
  • Unconvinced by Ayling's description of the effectiveness of Australian points system. Need more evidence to back up claims.
  • Stefan right to argue that farmers need freedom to move between UK and Eastern Europe due to seasonal nature of farming. Ayling replies that "If there is a need for unskilled labour...it'll be covered" but who'll do it? Do local people want to work in the fields? Job centre staff I've spoken to in Lincoln who live in NH have told me that NEETs (18-24 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training) would not be prepared to pay to travel to farms to work in the fields or live on site. My brother, who is unemployed, laughed at me when I suggested the possibility of doing agricultural work. EU seasonal workers won't automatically get the right to return to the UK after spending off season back in their home country. Ayling states that it would depend on market conditions...whether there is a genuine "shortage" and then re-apply to do that specific job, ensuring they meet some form of (currently unspecified) criteria. The Application process could be open to religious/nationality/race bias depending on the types of border control/immigration control workers hired to do the Admin. Ayling mentions Seasonal Workers Programme as an alternative but not sure going back to old schemes is appropriate.
  • "Hospitality being abused"....anti refugee stance? Control Control Control. Fear Fear Fear on immigration won't be encouraging me to vote UKIP!
  • Ayling doesn't give concrete examples of EU legislation that she'd like to remove, only to remove "freedom of movement policy" and then mentions silly rule/regulation on toothbrooth construction to instill a sense of ridicule against EU Directives as a whole.
  • "They need us more than we need them" stance on EU trade is a bit confrontational. UK may have provided 5.6m jobs inside the EU but that doesn't mean we can afford to be arrogant around the negotiating table. Playing hardball doesn't win you valuable allies. Tariffs could be imposed on us if we leave the Single Market in a huff and Ayling doesn't acknowledge how UK citizens based abroad in the EU may be affected in terms of their own employment status, health status, education costs etc. Don't think many Brits in Spain would like the idea of having to pay to use the Spanish health service or to have British products imported from the UK to Spain.
  • Ayling wants to cut Health and Safety Directives but which ones does she identify as nonsense and which are essential...her definition of "common sense" may differ from mine. Anti PC.
  • Transgender discrimination was not in place before we joined the EU....would a transgender employee who gets abused at work by a manager be seen as a "genuine grievance" or would they be seen to be using the Employment Tribunal as a "cash cow"? What is the definition of "rogue employee"? SMEs who break current employment legislation- e.g. not paying owed holiday pay/sick pay/maternity pay to employees must be held accountable for their actions and the Employment Tribunal acts as a mechanism for justice for those workers who have been harassed, abused taken for a mug by an organisation, no matter how small that organisation may be.
  • EU= "glorified communist megastate"....nope sorry as Nordic Green Left supporter whilst we still are members of the EU I can say such sweeping statements are vacuous...if the EU was socialist, Jeremy Corbyn would have been its most vocal supporter.
NHS:
  • Ayling wants  to reopen Grantham 24 hour A&E but also realises that GP surgeries are overstretched. Ayling feels that less red tape is needed- GPs shouldn't have to manage their practices and attend conferences to fill in paperwork. Does that mean reforming the NHS to back away from Commissioning Group control? Does that mean more Admin Managers need to be recruited to ensure essential paperwork (after "red tape" has been removed) is completed, freeing up GPs to look after patients? Where's the money from Local Government/NHS services to do this? Good point-re GP AND Nurse training places need to be increased.
Law and Order/Funding:
  • Ayling right to identify voter apathy in Lincs re Conservative majority control...7 Tory MPs and a Tory PCC (I voted for a Labour one but Marc Jones was my second choice).
  •  Runding needs to be improved for Sleaford and NH. Visible policing-"bobbies in the beat" is a popular solution and Ayling believes that there is a need for a local police officer for every village. Ayling points out that we can't rely on PSCO's and volunteering schemes but whilst funding levels for local Government and policing remain low for Lincs, Mr Jones is making the most of the resources available, including advocating for a joint base for Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue and Lincolnshire Police at Nettleham to allow the services to collaborate.
Score: 5/10.

Ross Pepper-Liberal Democrat.
Warm, Yellowbelly. Message of hope tone to his narrative. Councillor for Skellingthorpe. Former  Lincoln Parliamentary Candidate, 2015.

Brexit/Immigration:
  • Pepper wants to be a representative for all regardless of preference over Brexit. Harness positivity from constituency.
  • Clear plan for Brexit needed before voting for Article 50; defending the interests of constituents who voted to Remain and Leave voters in Sleaford and NH who do not feel their views have been represented adequately by the Conservative Government.  
  • The Conservatives lurching to the far-right in terms of policies to placate the Brexiteer wing has put off some Remain voters.
  • Pepper is a proud Europhile...wants a 2nd Ref which would be on the terms/plan put forward by the Conservative Government. Would calling for a General Election once the Conservatives have worked out a plan and presented it to the British people actually be more appropriate? Ensure that May has to present the finalised plan for approval to Parliament and then call for the election if the plan isn't deemed workable for your own constituents.
  • Pepper respects the results of the 1st Referendum (Good).
NHS:
  • Mentions Grantham A&E, closure of Metheringham surgery in the New Year which is extremely disappointing to hear about...but not entirely unexpected given current GP recruitment and GP surgery funding crises.
  • Pepper feels there is a need for more nurses and doctors but believes that we should look to the EU to try and entice nurses and doctors to come and work in Lincolnshire rather than wait for training to be set up. That being said, Pepper supports the idea of the establishment of  Lincoln Medical School that will train doctors as well as nurses at the University of Lincoln.
  • Retention of medical staff is an important issue for Pepper, pointing to the "brain drain" that goes on in the NHS. I think that the "brain drain" has continued in the private sector, with single graduates choosing to go to major cities to further their careers because SMEs are less willing to hire them (because they could pay Apprentices less to do the same job). Bosses have talked about the need to make sure grads and school leavers have basic employability skills in place prior to applying for a job- e.g. appropriate IT/Numeracy skills.  Grads also move to improve their quality of life or to get a better salary.
  • Ambulance times are certainly critical and linking to the inadequacy of road network in the constituency was clever. I think Pepper would need to speak to EMAS to work together with them to address constituents concerns...e.g. trying to get them to update processes to prioritise most urgent cases or support an education campaign to get more constituents to use the 101 service rather than dial 999 straight away.
  • I'd have liked more nuance on Grantham issue from Pepper though...how many Drs are needed? Has he spoken to nurses/doctors about their concerns?
Transportation:
  • Duel the Eastern Bypass would have improved access to Lincoln County Hospital for Sleaford and NH Constituents. Short term investment that focuses on getting a single carriageway was not the right answer.
  • A15 missed out on funding...but definitely needs improvement to ensure drivers using the road feel safe and secure on that road regardless of conditions.
  • Pepper didn't really mention £2.5m potholing funding that had been sourced by Karl McCartney? Credit where credit's due?
  • How much more funding would be needed to improve rail infrastructure? Rolling carriage stock issues very good to highlight. What about ticket prices? Franchises to work together rather than nationalism and sort out connectivity issues is a good policy idea...waiting at stations for hours on end frustrates passengers trying to get to work who can have their pay docked as a result of being late.
Funding/ Constituency Cohesiveness:
  • Lincolnshire needs to be at "the front of the queue" for funding...Pepper believes that the Conservatives or Labour won't bother investing in the county because they've never bothered before. Stefan pointed out lack of inaction during the Coalition Government...would the Lib Dems push for more funding should they ever get into Government again?
  • Large constituency but it's not about playing villages off against each other in terms of funding/attention. Pepper will work with neighbouring MPs to get the "best deal"...make sure that includes praising them for existing work done on transportation :P
  • I'd have liked a nod/mention to Jo Cox here- "more that unites us than divides us" message does resonate with progressive voters.
  • Hmmm is Witney really a similar constituency....it did vote to Remain after all?
Score: 9/10

Dr Caroline Johnson - Conservative
Firm tone which seemed quite rehearsed at times. Yellowbelly. Rural awareness through marriage to
farmer. Real life work experience in the NHS as a consultant pediatrician.

Brexit/Immigration:
  • Leave voter...but repeats Government mantra line "Brexit Means Brexit" ad infinitum...have to keep some cards close to chest but even a rough timetable/plan would help.
  • Brexit is an opportunity to make deals with Non-EU countries...would that include encouraging local businesses to trade with China/India? Would that mean more secondary students in the constituency should be encouraged to study Modern Foreign Languages such as Mandarin or Spanish to be able to increase likelihood of trade deals progressing past initial planning stages?
  • I'd really like to know whether we are going to leave the Single Market and how will that affect farmers and local small businesses in Sleaford and NH? Dr Johnson mentions no details on EU legislation that might be repealed post Brexit or whether there would be extra funding streams available for Lincolnshire post-Brexit. I'm not sure that lack of detail will impress Conservative Leave or Remain voters.
NHS:
  • Dr Johnson mentions how Grantham Hospital helped save her husband's life twice and she values the service that he received.
  • Dr Johnson wants to see Grantham A&E service reopened ASAP as long as the A&E can be fully staffed.
  • Recruitment and Retention is important...improve training opportunities for British nurses and doctors...encourage more students into wanting to become Lincs based GPs. Should have asked a HR Assistant in your local hospital to gain in depth understanding of procedure perhaps...such as the laws pertaining to recruitment from abroad?
  • Dr Johnson believes the Junior Doctors industrial action has now finished and they have accepted the proposals to finalise contracts as laid down by Jeremy Hunt. Some Junior Doctors would disagree that the matter has been resolved to their satisfaction.
  • Dr Johnson is not sure whether establishing a Lincolnshire Medical School would add much to the training system...most medical schools are trained at a tertiary centre and they have a rota system to visit a number of different hospitals in the area.  
  • Dr Johnson seems to suggest that NHS service providers in Lincs, including United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust (ULHT) and Lincs Community Hospital Services (LCHS) are "receiving enough money" but why do hospital staff talk about lack of funding being a driving factor in the stress of NHS services?
  • Pledge on the bus was an out and out LIE...just admit that....it'd improve your credibility with Leave voters who want to trust in the party of Government to deliver an honest Brexit.

Transportation:
  • Collaboration with fellow Tory MPs is a good selling point for Dr Johnson. She's stated that she'll work with Karl McCartney on transport schemes and to secure funding for them. Eastern bypass and improvements West of Grantham will benefit constituents but I'd have liked Caroline to mention A15 and to have heard more about the smaller road schemes proposed within the constituency.  
  • Dr Johnson mentions the fact that a rail forum has been organised by local Conservative MPs so that they can discuss the frequency of rail services in the constituency...nothing about improving rolling stock though!
Other Notes:
  • I was pleased that Dr Johnson mentioned her 5 point plan towards the end of the interview, mentioning policies already scheduled to be implemented by the Government according to the Autumn Statement announced last month:
    •  Fast Digital Broadband,
    • Rural Crime prevention,
    • Support local shops and small businesses, 
    • Sustainable, Sensitive Housing Schemes, 
    • Transport links. Not much mentioned RE Farming though. Disappointing.

Score: 8/10

Jim Clarke- Labour
Passionate Labour Party member who is a local refuse driver with a degree from the "university of life". Likeable cheeky chappy attitude.

Brexit:
  • Remain voter but prepared to invoke Article 50 because he understands the need to respect the views of all constituents.
  • Clarke mentions Ayling's continued use of the vacuous term "red tape" to describe any legislation/regulation/directive that doesn't fit with her view of "common sense" laws. We don't really yet know what she means. There is certainly a need to protect Health and Safety Laws, from possible Brexiteer attacks post Brexit.
  • Clarke is right to mention worries about price inflation and erosion of workers rights. There is concern that the recent NLW increase and income tax threshold rise will not being enough to offset a rise in basic food prices. Equality Act, Working Time Directives/Maternity/Paternity rights/ right to protest/belong to a Trade Union and right to go to an Employment Tribunal if you have been discriminated against have got to be protected.
  • The lack of plan/action from May is extremely concerning. Clarke doesn't expand on what he believes the plan should be, other than to wait and see what the EU offers the UK before deciding on whether to leave the Single Market.
  • Fear has been creating division, especially when it comes to worker solidarity. Wage stagnation/undercutting isn't acceptable. Clarke says that voters shouldn't "blame the exploited, blame the exploiters." Yes there is evidence to suggest that agencies have been exploiting Eastern European migrants who work in agriculture...they don't get paid the NLW, they don't get to decide whether to join a trade union etc.
  • Clarke remembers Jeremy Corbyn's national line RE the Migrant Impact Fund; it shouldn't have been scrapped. 
  • Clark believes that we should negotiate on freedom of movement alongside trade deals...that way countries may be more sympathetic to our view point RE immigration and may reform the central policy to provide necessary immigration controls.
NHS:
  • Clarke is in favour of re-instating 24 hour Grantham A&E service.
  • Clarke blames the Tories for the staffing problems saying that if they had wanted to increase personnel to prevent A&E service from having to close overnight, the local MPs would have lobbied for more funding.
Law and Order:
  • Clarke wants to see more "bobbies on the beat" and blames Marc Jones for not asking for a fairer funding deal from central Government now that May has taken office. Clarke is in danger of appearing too partisan in his attacks and I do think that more awareness of Marc Jones's successful campaigns would have gone down better. For example, Mr Jones has worked hard to help promote the  "Ask for Angela" campaign created by Domestic Abuse and Violence lead Hayley Child; it has been widely praised and versions can now be seen in London and as far afield as Sydney and New York.
  •  Costings needed...ask one of the MPs! Perception that rural crime isn't being tackled due to reduction of bobbies on the beat.
Transportation:
  • Clarke wants to re-nationalise the railways once franchise contracts end. Very true East Coast trains was more efficient when nationalised and Virgin has made services slower.
  •  Clarke mentions the need for A17 to get investment and he believes it should be a dual carriageway. Clarke also wants to look at getting investment for Southern Bypass which would prove popular with voters...but he needs to make sure such campaign pledges can be fully budgeted for.
Other:
  •  I got the sense from the interview that Mr Clarke seemed unable to expand on issues to fully explain policy. I was happy that he mentioned the Migrant Impact Fund but I'd have liked to have seen him talk about housing strategies, proposed increases in the NLW to at least £9 an hour and the need to scrap the bedroom tax. In terms of his answers on the NHS, I think mentioning strain on Mental Health services and Social care could have possibly strengthened his appeal because constituents do care about whether there are enough care workers in Sleaford and NH to help look after elderly residents or those with disabilities. I'm not sure whether more briefing by Jeremy Corbyn/John McDonnell before the interview would have helped but I hope the party will help Mr Clarke with researching policies thoroughly should he be elected as MP on Thursday.
  • Positively speaking, I was glad that Mr Clarke mentioned Equality and Social Justice right at the very end of the interview. Some sceptics would say this was a bit of an "add on" that was intended to enthuse Labour voters.
Score: 7/10

Sarah Stock-Independent Part of Fight for Grantham Hospital Campaign (F4GH)
Cancer survivor, wants to have her voice heard to talk about vital need for Grantham A&E services to be available 24 hours a day. Dedicated campaigner. Very authentic voice. Silent majority-apathy...think we can't change things...woken up from anesthetic. We feel like we have nothing.

NHS:
  • Stock mentions a National Directive created Hit list from 2010 when 66 hospitals in the UK were classified as needing to be closed or downgraded to fall in line with the Austerity measures proposed by George Osborne. Since 2010, over half have been closed or downgraded.
  • Stock believes that the 2012 Health and Social Care Act split the ULHT and NHS Lincs services in general into too many different areas, which has now left an accountability gap.
  • Stock points to failures by management, especially HR staff to adequately plan their recruitment and retention. She believes that ULHT should have actively recruited earlier. Budgets should have contingency planning in as standard and if the NHS is meant to be more "business like" in how it conducts its activities, there has to be a tightening of policies and procedures and a cultural change.
  • The fact that there are only 3 hospitals in Lincolnshire worries Stock and her supporters. Waiting times at Lincoln County Hospital are "unmanageable" so can't really take the strain of diverted patients from Grantham. Boston has "long been on the hitlist for downgrading", which means that Lincoln County could end up with a massive increase in patients without any promises of extra funding. Lincoln can't be a superhub for the whole of Lincs without extra funding and extra staff. 
Transport:
  • Stock is critical of recent funding allocations to Lincolnshire to help ease congestion and improve transport infrastructure. She points to the £3 million transport money only becoming available after the by-election was called, so perhaps this was done to "placate" current Tory voters in the constituency.
  • Stock wants county-wide plan to upgrade road infrastructure, more than the "breadcrumbs" being offered by the Government.
  •  No figs for no of ambulance staff, bobbies, firefighters needed...a bit wishy-washy. Training important. Airforce mentioned...Cranwell families need good local public amenities!
Brexit:
  • Stock classifies herself as a moderate Leave voter whose main issue was with the foreign aid budget. I think there are voters who believe that the aid budget should be reduced, with the money diverted to Local Government funding.
  • Stock agrees that there wasn't a fully-fledged plan put in place prior to the EU referendum result being called and that the lack of certainty in how Brexit will be delivered has lead to increases in fear rhetoric which can manifest itself in hatet tweets/bullying from both extremes. Panic/fear driven rhetoric has been divisive and detracts from looking at possibilities outside the EU.
Score: 8.75/10

A few details about other candidates in the Sleaford and NH Election:

Marianne Overton Lincolnshire Independents
Lincolnshire Independents are a network of councillors and members who work together to try and come up with practical solutions to improve the lives of residents by listening to them. As an independent group they are not subject to whips etc. Overton stood as a candidate for Sleaford and NH in 2015 and currently works as a District Councillor/ County Councillor. She is also Vice Chancellor of Local Government Association with a responsibility to upskill local councillors across the country. Marianne sounds like the perfect person to have to represent Lincs at a local level...is it better for her to stay on the County Council.

NHS:
Overton was quick to mention the importance of upgrading Adult social care in the Lincs area and it sounded like it is a major issue that comes up on the doorstep. Overton also talked about the frustration constituents have about Grantham A&E overnight closure and the fact that ambulance pressures are increasing about EMAS's response time (something mentioned in the news a lot in this past week).

Funding:
Overton believes that too much council tax is being kept in the coffers of central Government. There's been too many cuts to local services because reserves are now essentially depleted. Overton mentions that Lincs County Council will have a funding gap of £57 million next year, which is very concerning considering the cuts that Lincs CC have already made. Council leader Martin Hill has already talked about £40 million needing to be cut from the budget, which he intimates would come from closing some local parks, firing park rangers and considering charges for museums and art galleries. 30 libraries across Lincolnshire have already been turned over to voluntary organisations. The reason that Lincolnshire bears the brunt of funding crises according to Overton is that safe seating has allowed a lapse attitude to set in at Parliamentary level towards Lincolnshire...this seems to be a common thread adopted by all candidates in this election.

Transportation:
Overton is the only candidate that talks about the need to improve pavements...she says that elderly residents are at risk of falling. Overton believes that the pothole funding allocated to Lincs is not enough and should have included improvements to paving. The lack of scheduled funding over a long period for pothole repairs has made the situation worse.
Overton agrees with Mr Pepper that the Eastern bypass should have been duelled and there is a need for considering a Southern bypass. Overton also says that North Hykeham is "very congested" and there is need for another road in the area to ease pressures but admits substantial funding would be needed to "make this happen".

Brexit:
Overton admits she is a Leave voter who made her decision based on the limited resources the UK has on offer to support people currently here in the UK. She says this despite the fact she is a Europhile and that her son is currently studying in Utrecht (the Netherlands). Strangely sharing a position akin to some UKIP voters, Overton argues that public service pressures in Germany and hardening attitudes  might lead to refugees attempting to come to the UK to find work in places like Sleaford and this could lead to our "small island sinking". Overton believes that work permits need to be granted to people coming into the area and you need to have a job before you come to the area. However, what would happen to a migrant family if the father/mother lost their job and they have children enrolled in local schools? Would Overton be OK with forcing them to go back to "their own country?"
With regards to EU legislation, Overton tells us that she's currently charged with looking at 500 pieces of EU legislation on both a local and national committee to look at how the UK can easily take back control in the months immediately following Brexit. Overton's priority is to reduce funding for the EU so the money can be used locally to pay for street paving or housing. Overton argues that environmental protections (clean air/beach quality) need to maintained post Brexit. Interestingly, Overton wants to change the laws regarding procurement of local government service contracts so that they do not need to offered to businesses in the EU as part of "equal opportunity" business rules. She gives the example of her fight to get Leadenham Recycling site re-opened; she had the funding in place from the Council but the lack of co-operation from the contractor (based in Spain) meant the project couldn't happen. Overton says that the procurement system lacks accountability and it would be better to use local contractors who could be held accountable to the Council and constituents. My only question is...why didn't Ayling talk about the fact that local councils are already looking at EU legislation to keep/cut? If she had discussed this in more detail, I bet she would gain more votes.

Score: 8.5/10

Peter Hill - Iconic Arty Pole Monster Raving Loony Party
Magazine article writer. Suave. Hill talks about the usual policies..99p coin, passports for dogs, 24 hour pubs and protection for Unicorns. Well I have unicorn earrings so yeah I'm in solidarity with that. Hill does go on to talk about more constituency focused issues...for example he mentions that Sleaford and NH are the 8th largest constituency in terms of number of voters, so why do they get less money than almost any other constituency in the UK? I thought that Hill was great at pointing out that most constituencies in Lincoln have a Conservative vote share that's above 50%, especially in places such as Boston and Skegness and Gainsborough.

Social Housing:

Hill is frustrated at the fact that nobody's really talking about social housing in the by-election; he says it is due to the fact it is a touchy feely" subject. An interesting part of his argument is that he believs the number of homeless people in Lincs equals the number of
empty properties in Lincs, give or take 5%....60/70 houses low cost in one hamlet not good but smaller affordable housing schemes as percentage of total village/hamlet would avoid creation of "ghettos".  Estate creation is not the solution for Hill but I'd warn him to be careful not to denigrate residents living in estates as all having unkempt properties...some do but not the majority.
Hill believes that 2/3 houses in villages to begin with is the best way forward, so that those who move in can assimilate into village life but how much would this cost and would working class people be able to afford to live in those houses? I thought it was madness that Hill lives in a village which has no current bus service but a lovely bus shelter!

Brexit:

Hill voted Leave (out) to "shake it all about"...I think he did it to annoy Eastern and Southern European bureaucrats but can't be sure? I did agree with Hill that constantly moving EU members from Brussels to Strasbourg every few weeks is wasteful. I was a little concerned about Hill's understanding of  red tape"...he doesn't like "paperwork" but he'd have to get to grips with tonnes of it if he became MP. I'd have liked to have heard examples of Health and Safety laws that he didn't believe were nonsensical.

NHS:

In terms of the situation at Grantham Hospital, Hill was stunned to learn that they were 17-20 doctors short before they decided to close the  overnight A&E service...it exposes a real lack of HR strategic plan. Hill believes it's more to do with the Tory Government's overarching interest in
privatisation and as agency staff increase, there is less financing available to provide full time, permanent contracts for local residents. Hill believes there is a need for a "nice and good" teaching hospital in Lincolnshire...a medical school based in Lincoln? Overall

Actually impressed by Hill's closing argument that more people in the Sleaford and NH constituency need to exercise their right to vote, something no other candidate bothers to mention during their interview.

Score: 7.5/10

David Bishop- Bus Pass Elvis Party
Humorous candidate with an interesting backstory as to why he decided to run in the election...he is a Nottingham resident and founder of the "Church of Militant Elvis". I think he does tap into the rebel attitude of the Baby boomer generation.
Bishop is a Green party supporter and is against factory farming. Bishop initially wanted to run for Sleaford and NH constituency to stand against milk producing factory farm at Nocton in 2010.

Key policies for Bishop include mounting a campaign to save rural buses, save public lavatories from closure and scrap HS2 to use the money to fund local train and bus services. I do agree with Bishop that there is a need to either ban air guns or ensure that people are licenced to carry them; Bishop talked about an incident that happened when two young guys shot him in the back and it's clearly unacceptable to use air guns to shoot beloved pets or animals.

Brexit:

Bishop is a Remain voter who voted to Leave in 1975. His main reason for voting Remain was to ensure that environmental protections are not eroded. Bishop doesn't trust that the Government will honour the Paris Agreement after we formally leave the EU, despite many non-EU countries such as China and Norway already having signed and ratified the agreement.  UKIP are really the only party I've heard about who might try and scrap environmental protections given in EU legislation.

Sleaford Decline:

Bishop talks about there being more empty shops and pubs in Sleaford than 2 years ago...a constituent actually told Bishop that they believed Sleaford was a "dying town". One solution that Bishop offers to reverse the decline would be to legalise brothels and then turn local pubs into brothels? Are there many sex workers in Sleaford? What are the provisions available for them to practice their trade safely? "20% discount for OAPs to use brothels"....seemed a bit too flippant on sex worker issues.

The real question for me is why didn't Bishop decide to stand for the Green party in Sleaford and NH? I don't understand why Bishop didn't think Green voters might have rallied around him. He did admit that the Green party might have a lower chance in the East Midlands but surely that's a rallying cry to get constituents more interested in the party? If Bishop has such a defeatist attitude towards the popularity of his policies, would this attitude dog his possible term as an MP?

Score: 6/10

Paul Coyne: Independent-
Local Government Officer and then Sleaford Town Councillor from 2015.
Coyne is a lifelong die-hard Conservative voter who feels he is not able to vote for Dr Johnson. Coyne is not a Conservative party member because he didn't want to be subjected to the party "whip". Many staunch Conservative voters have told Coyne on the doorstep that they can't bring themselves to vote for Dr Johnson because she is the "wrong candidate"...but does that mean that they will necessarily vote for you? They may end up voting for UKIP! Coyne moans at the fact that Dr Johnson is even considering giving up her part time job...it's a "loss to the NHS that they cannot afford". If she does become an MP Coyne believes that Dr Johnson would be a "part time MP who can't give them their full representation". At least Coyne is honest about mixed feelings of Conservative constituents.

Coyne talks about a "genuine choice" being available to voters in Sleaford and NH because of the nature of the election. He states that in a General Election there is a sense that voters will vote for the
status quo and there is the certainty of nothing changing. Coyne wants voters to use the by-election to send a message to the Government that they need to address chronic underfunding in Lincolnshire...they need to put more money into public services across the board...not just transportation or the NHS...i.e. adopt a multifaceted approach.

Transportation:

Coyne wants to duel the A17, A15 and to establish a Southern Bypass with roundabout system. He feels this would then make more large scale housing developments proposed for Sleaford for 1400-1500 houses more feasible. However Coyne didn't offer any costings to show how much funding would be needed to improve road infrastructure and I think for independent candidates, having a viable budget plan to share with voters is important.

NHS:

Coyne seems to be for re-opening the 24 hour A&E service but he used the issue to attack Dr Johnson. I do agree that hospitals do need to be able to provide a basic service and I'd say that that
paediatric medicine is a basic service that must be provided at Grantham. That being said, the £350m promised for the NHS by Vote Leave would be more than enough to entice new staff to Grantham and Coyne shouldn't just see it as "just a bolt-on" that should be ignored...Leave voters in the area did vote based on it! Coyne also dismisses Sarah Stock as a Stock as one-issue campaigner, saying there is "no weight behind her" but having listened to Stock's arguments, I'd disagree with this.

Brexit:
Coyne is a Leave voter and he says he voted because the EU didn't volunteer "to radically reform bureaucracy.  Coyne didn't offer any EU legislation that he'd want to repeal or save....seemed a bit misinformed. That being said, he did talk about the fact there are no workplace pension protections at EU level so there is no way of preventing company bosses from raiding pension pots. Should the ECJ have legislated or should the UK Government have taken the initiative?

Score: 6.25/10.


Rankings:
  1. Ross Pepper- 9/10
  2. Sarah Stock - 8.75/10
  3. Marianne Overton- 8.5/10
  4. Dr Caroline Johnson- 8/10
  5. Peter Hill- 7.5/10
  6. Jim Clarke-7/10
  7. Paul Coyne-6.25/10
  8. David Bishop-6/10
  9. Victoria Ayling- 5/10