Stroud lost their widely loved Labour and Cooperative MP David Drew, as Neil Carmichael the Conservative pipped him to the post at Thursday’s General Election. David was not loved because of his party (indeed this was a problematic area for many), but because of his record as a “constituent MP”. In other words, because he made it known that he cared about his constituents and worked on their behalf. David set down the challenge for Neil during his speech on Friday morning saying that he would “drop the files off so you Neil can get started”. On the campaign trail I met numerous hardened Conservatives who were going to vote for David because they knew someone David had personally helped out. Neil must be able to show that he can represent all of his constituents not just the 30% who had voted for him by taking up these cases.
Stroud in the past has had less than effective Conservative MP’s. The most recent of which was Roger Knapman, who later went on to become leader of the UK Independence Party. It is widely held in the Stroud Valleys that Roger represented a wholly different kind of politics to David, despite their shared scepticism of the EU. Roger was born in Devon and soon after being defeated by David in 97 returned to Devon to contest a seat in North Devon. This is in stark contrast to David Drew who is truly seen as a local “Stroudite” (whether this is a good thing or not remains to be debated).
Many fear Neil may just be another Roger; a man too busy with the dealings of Westminster to be able to truly represent Stroud. I have heard countless “stoudies” rubbish Neil’s character with little or no basis. I say, let’s wait; at least until he has made a mistake before we start the attack.
Neil, academically speaking, represents a more progressive wing of conservatism. He has assured me that he opposes the Conservative’s involvement with the ECR group in the European Parliament because of the “unsavoury nature” of those who they sit with in coalition for example. There is no reason to believe (at this stage) that Neil will be any worst a constituent MP than David (although he must prove this) and there is no reason to think that he will be any worse than other elected Conservatives (just think we could have Dr Fox as our representative). Essentially, I am saying lets hold our fire and let him prove himself (for the good or the bad). At this stage we should be giving him all the support we can to see if he can give it his best shot. I want the best for Stroud and this will only happen if we try to work positively with our new MP.
Neil remains a decent hard working person. He was before he got elected, and he will remain to be so. We might disagree with some of his politics, but I do not see any advantage attacking the man. Equally, I see no point in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by talking up the “inevitable demise of the next 5 years”. Now is the time to be drawing out shared politics such as our equal commitment to localism and see how this can benefit Stroud and its surrounding valleys. Will Neil publicly back the community supported agriculture project in Stroud for example? Will he push for the investment needed (not cuts) in the Stroud valleys to make us a leading force in renewable technologies (including the manufacturing of wind turbines despite the hysteria in the Cotswold villages)? Will he really work to challenge the gender pay gap that persists in our society? These are all issues that Neil and the Greens agree need to be tackled; these are the sorts of areas that I would love to see Neil and the Greens working together on.
As far as I can see, he has done nothing to deserve the hatred that I have heard off people (not from Greens but from members of the public and other political parties), he simply has the misfortune of representing the Conservative Party. Let’s hope that Neil has the vision and the perspective to engage across the political spectrum for the good of the people of the Stroud valleys and beyond!