The General Election campaign for the South West Devon constituency is hotting up, with one candidate describing it is as “completely unpredictable”.
Voters have a choice of five candidates on Thursday, June 8: Philippa Davey of the Labour Party, Ian Ross of the UK Independence Party, Win Scutt of the Green Party, Gary Streeter of the Conservative Party or Caroline Voaden of the Liberal Democrats.
The Gazette caught up with the candidates to find out what they were hearing from voters on doorsteps. While Brexit is a big issue, cuts to the NHS, school budgets and the welfare state appear to be at the forefront of many voters’ minds.
Philipa Davey, the Labour candidate said: “People are very worried about Brexit, they don’t feel that Theresa May is in a strong position to carry out Brexit negotiations. Voters have spotted that she’s calling this election to increase her majority. So that if she gets a Brexit deal that is no good for Britain or working people, she’ll have the MPs who will vote any legislation through.
“People’s biggest concerns are actually NHS and social care. There are people who’ve had operations cancelled or waited hours for an ambulance. There are people who have been stuck in hospital or stuck in nursing homes because a social care package isn’t available to them. There are people seeing an increase in waiting times for doctor’s appointments.
“There are schools, teachers, parents and grandparents who aren’t just worried, but are actually upset by Gary Streeter’s comments about the National Union of Teachers.”
Earlier this month, Gary Streeter hit back at the School Cuts website, which highlights the impact of Conservative budget cuts to primary and secondary schools across the country. Mr Streeter described it as “politically motivated and wanting to cause trouble”.
Ms Davey continued: “I’ve had lots of contact from the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign - which Mr Streeter has also made a derogatory comment about.”
Mr Streeter posted a message online, saying it was a “shame the WASPI campaign has been hi-jacked by socialists” and went on to describe Labour members of the campaign as “not genuine WASPIs”.
Ms Davey said: “I completely support the WASPI campaign for equality, they’ve been treated really unfairly. They have lost a huge amount of money, they were planning to retire and weren’t given adequate notice about the pension changes.
“In this election, people have got a proper choice - between someone who has overseen a rise in inequality, a rise in national debt, an increase in food banks, cuts to services, privatisation of services, a huge rise in personal wealth for the ‘one per cent’ and bankers. And someone who will always put people first and stand behind a manifesto that stands for the many and not the few.”
Ian Ross, the UKIP candidate said: “Nationally, the issue is all about making sure that Brexit happens properly. People are concerned that the next government won’t deliver Brexit.
“We don’t want cumbersome ties with the European Union over immigration and trade deals. And we don’t want to compromise new trade deals with Europe or the rest of the world.
“Locally, people are very worried about the funding inequality for Devon schools and are concerned about levels of social care provision and whether it is sustainable.
“People are concerned that cuts to local government from central government will continue. We have to review the whole local/central government relationship. If not, council tax bills will go through the roof and we’ll get less and less services for our money.
“People are concerned about the continued development of greenfield sites in the recent joint local plan - and whether we have the infrastructure, jobs and schools to support them.”
Ian Ross describes himself as “not a career politician”, having only been interested in politics since just before the EU referendum last year.
He is a marine engineer by trade, and works in Plymouth. He spent 25 years working in the Navy and 25 years in the oil and gas industry. He has lived in Ivybridge for 30 years, and is married with three young adult children.
Win Scutt, the Green Party candidate said: “Having lived in the area for most of my life, I care deeply about the needs of local people, who have been ignored by the Conservative government. We need someone who can speak up for us in Parliament. “As a nation, we should be ashamed to have 3.9m people in ‘persistent poverty’; a quarter of a million homeless; and the worst ever NHS performance figures.
“If elected, I shall stand up for South West Devon so that we can see improvements in our libraries, leisure facilities and services, campaign for better funding for the NHS, especially for mental health; and for increased funding for science, education and apprenticeships.”
Conservative candidate Gary Streeter said: “The campaign is going well in South West Devon. Most people I meet understand that this election is all about leadership and that on June 9, either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister. There are no other options. I am finding a very positive response for Theresa May everywhere I go. There is an understanding that to guide us through the choppy waters of Brexit, a strong and experienced leader is necessary.
“I don’t take it for granted, but I am optimistic for a positive outcome in South West Devon.”
Mr Streeter, who has been MP for South West Devon since 1997, is pledging “fairer funding for our schools”. He said: “I have been at the forefront of getting the government to increase the amount allocated to Devon schools and will continue to battle away on this. The new funding formula benefits schools in Plymouth but not Devon.”
Mr Streeter also pledges “more funding and support for our armed forces and their families. In an increasingly dangerous world, we have to invest in better defences and better connectivity, both rail and broadband. We are making good progress on both fronts, but this remains a priority for our region. All of these issues appear to be going down well on the doorstep, although as I say most people see this election as more about national leadership, as do I.”
Caroline Voaden, the Liberal Democrat candidate said: “This election is completely unpredictable. We’ve met Labour voters who are disenchanted with Labour and Conservative voters who can’t bring themselves to vote Conservative this time. And lots of other people are saying they’re not interested in voting, that they’re sick of the whole thing.
“The NHS has come up a lot. We’ve spoken to many people who work for the health service, or have family and friends who do - and see the stress that they’re under.
“People have been very supportive of our 1p income tax rise to contribute to the NHS budget. They see it as an honest and straight forward policy.
“While the Conservatives focus on lowering taxation, most people realise that the NHS costs a huge amount of money.
“Gary Streeter has a huge majority and we’re realistic,” Ms Voaden continued. “This has been a safe Conservative seat in the past. But I think there are people who are very receptive to our alternative vision of the Brexit negotiations. It doesn’t have to be a ‘hard Brexit’ - lots of people are scared of the impact this would have on the economy and jobs.
“And many are very nervous about Theresa May having too big a majority - there will be no opposition to cuts to the NHS, the welfare state or school budgets.
“Brexit is not the biggest issue for voters. The dismantling of our welfare state is their big concern.”
Ms Voaden is a former journalist and small business owner. She describes herself as a “newcomer” to politics. Last month, she stood for Devon County Council in the Bickleigh and Wembury division - which elected Cllr John Hart of the Conservatives. Her motivation for getting involved in politics was “ being devastated” by the EU referendum result last year. She has lived in six European countries and speaks several languages.
“I am frightened by the direction that UKIP and the Tories want to take us in. We want to stand up and oppose a ‘hard Brexit’ - it’s important we have the opportunity to hold the Tories to account.
“It’s important the Tories don’t think they have a mandate for a hard Brexit,” Ms Voaden added.
The deadline for registering to vote is Monday, May 22 at 11.59pm.
To register, go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.