Amid the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and new issues arising at the start of term, The Boar sat down with Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western for an interview.
To begin with, The Boar asked Mr Western for his thoughts on the Brexit deal recently struck between Prime Minister Johnson and the European Union (EU). Mr Western said: “I think the real tragedy about the deal that has been put forward is that it’s worse than the deal that was put forward by Theresa May.”
Moreover, the previous deal “was actually voted down by Prime Minister Johnson and people like Jacob Rees-Mogg and other ERG-ers”.
He continued: “It’s a real shame because we haven’t moved forwards, if anything we’ve moved backwards. It’s a short term ploy to get through the 31 October.
“I think by the end of December 2020 we will see the true colours of what they’re planning and that will be to push for more like a no-deal Brexit.”
Mr Western added that he does not think the Conservative Party “have a genuine interest in a free trade agreement”.
“It’s quite an extreme position. I think the Conservatives are looking to minimise the impact of Brexit party and by reducing them they have more chance of, not of electoral success, but certainly seeing off Nigel Farage’s party.”
He said that “where the Conservative Party is drifting strategically” is the “real concern”.
“We have to see that off because it will be really damaging to workers rights and environmental protections.”
The MP further explained: “I just do not see future funding coming in for research in the way that we have. Warwick has benefited greatly from that.”
He also cited the Erasmus programme as something which “has been so powerful” but he “would be surprised if it continues long-term” due to the deal.
The deal as its proposed – but also any form of Brexit – will damage our manufacturing sector because what the government is not being honest about is the sort of deals it’s going to have to do
– Matt Western MP
With companies such as Jaguar Land Rover and Warwick Manufacturing Group in the local area, Mr Western elaborated further on the effects he thought Brexit would have on industry in the UK.
“The deal as its proposed – but also any form of Brexit – will damage our manufacturing sector because what the government is not being honest about is the sort of deals it’s going to have to do.
“It’s estimated that we will lose something like 5 or 6% GDP on a deal,” he said, a loss that “is hardly going to be offset” with any gain “we might have with the US”.
Any deal made with the US would come with a trade-off of having to move manufacturing to the States “because they’re the bigger player,” he said.
“Whether we like it or not, that will be the terms of any trade agreement with Trump.”
He added that he thought the US would also push for “greater increase in pharmaceutical prices”, which subsequently would have an impact on the NHS, predicting that “we’ll see more US companies vying for services through the NHS”.
Asked what he would propose as an alternative to Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal, the MP for Warwick and Leamington said that “we have the best deal the way we are”.
“This is recognised by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). They say the UK is in the best market and that market is the EU so why on Earth would we want to leave that?
“My preference is that we try and stay in a customs union and some form of single market. That’s got to be our long-term interest.”
Due to trade tensions between the US and China, “trying to side with the US is not going to help us necessarily,” he said. “I don’t think Trump is a very stable individual and given that uncertainty, being in the safe haven of Europe is important.”
Brexit would confuse and…overwhelm the debate. So, I don’t believe there should be an election
– Matt Western
Mr Western had also previously stated that the Queen’s speech was “Johnson’s very own pantomime…full of pomp and theatrics”.
Asked to elaborate on this, he told The Boar: “I think what he did was a rabid piece of electioneering; using the queen yet again as he did to prorogue parliament.
“I think you saw from the queen’s face that she did not want to be there, she knew she was being used by Johnson and I think it’s disgraceful what he’s done. It was a pantomime.
“It shouldn’t have been allowed and it was just like a shopping list of ideas and possibilities but as we’ve seen before he’ll say one thing and do another.”
He also emphasised a feeling of a lack of trust in the Prime Minister: “What is very interesting about our Prime Minister is that his brother and his sister don’t trust him. His brother walked out of the cabinet and they’ve both distanced themselves over his position.
“I don’t trust him, and the public should not trust him.”
Moreover, Mr Western does not think we “need” or “should have” a general election now.
“We need to sort the issue of Brexit out before we talk about other things. It’s wrong to conflate Brexit with all the other domestic issues that we have in this country.
“After nine years of austerity, we should not be allowing those issues to not have the air time and the due scrutiny and debate they deserve” from “education, higher education and housing” to “the wider economy, and welfare”.
“Brexit would confuse and…overwhelm the debate. So, I don’t believe there should be an election,” he explained.
Focusing in on issues that are more local, The Boar asked about whether Warwick and Leamington is doing enough to combat climate change and improve the environment. Mr Western referred to the Clean Air Summit held on 11 October, which he described as “really successful”.
Ultimately, there is “a huge amount that could be done” as the “two old towns” are subject to architecture that fail to quell pollution.
I’m working on upgrading or completely reconfiguring Leamington train station to make that into a transport hub
– Matt Western MP
Leamington, as “a Georgian Town”, is “better in terms of being able to absorb traffic but still really gridlocked” due to the river, canal and railway, rendering “the permeability of the town” to be “really restricted by certain bridges or underpasses”.
The MP hopes “a clean air or an ultra low emissions zone” will come into effect at the towns, as would Jaguar Land Rover, he said.
“I’m working on upgrading or completely reconfiguring Leamington train station to make that into a transport hub.
“Within that I’m looking at the whole rail line, car-parking, cycling, public transport, more buses and a much better integrated transport system.
“I want to see a much more coherent transport strategy,” Mr Western concluded, stressing the importance of “electrification”.
Turning to the topic of sustainable transport, The Boar asked the MP about his views on the construction of High Speed 2 (HS2), and the issue of the ancient tree felling that has surrounded the development.
He questioned the “great benefit” of “somehow spending £100 million – because that’s at least what it will be, or £150m by the time they really get round to it – to save 10 minutes to reduce the journey to an hour”.
Adding that other rail schemes have “greater priority than HS2”, he said his “personal preference” would be to “use that money to actually improve local, sub-regional transport”.
He said that currently there is “terrible infrastructure” with regards to broadband and mobile reception on trains and shared that he thought investing in and upgrading current services would “increase productivity” and “improve connectivity”.
On the possible destruction of “a beautiful ancient woodland” for HS2, he said: “The idea that they are going to cut these trees down when the government is still not entirely 100% behind HS2 is utterly wasteful and destructive.”
The MP shared his efforts in writing to the Secretary of State as well as Kenilworth MP Jeremy Wright, who he would be “more than happy” to collaborate with on the preservation of Cubbington Woods.
The buses at the moment are dirty, old, unreliable
– Matt Western MP
Furthermore, The Boar shared with Mr Western complaints made by students at the University of Warwick about Stagecoach’s bus services reportedly failing to run on time or as planned.
“It’s awful, isn’t it? It’s the same every year,” the MP said, adding that both students and lecturers have been affected. Some of the latter “have bought cars because they just couldn’t rely on the buses”, he added.
“I have had a lot of issues with Stagecoach. I have had them in on a couple of occasions to demand that they improve the service.
“The buses at the moment are dirty, old, unreliable. It’s not a good service. I think you’re paying a ridiculously high amount for a service that’s just not fit for purpose.
“I would like to see more competition. I would like to see National Express running more services,” the former county councillor stated, who added that a university station has been suggested in bi-yearly talks with Warwick’s Vice-Chancellor Stuart Croft.
“I had a meeting with the Minister of Transport to talk about it along with a very light rail system as well from Coventry.”
Moving to the topic of homelessness, Mr Western said that “there is no genuine appetite from the government to address rough sleeping”.
It was recently reported that the number of homeless deaths in the UK has rose by a record 22% last year, which saw 726 incidents.
Addressing homelessness in Leamington, the MP shared the results of two summits he held for homelessness.
“Back in March 2018, I set the council the target of having no rough sleepers by the winter of 2018. That didn’t happen.
“What I was able to do was help and get funding to put in a hostel, which I think can house up to 19 people, so there is at least a hostel with 19 beds in it so that’s some improvement.”
There is no genuine appetite from the government to address rough sleeping
– Matt Western MP
He pointed out the multi-faceted nature of issues related to rough sleepers, which could be “people who suddenly find themselves losing their job and home, may have certain addictions, whatever it may be, and they just fall through the slats.
“We need to reach out and help these people. They quite often have mental health issues, they could be ex-service people, ex-prisoners. There are no buffers; these people just come out and they crash.
“We are the fifth wealthiest nation on the planet yet we can’t provide for our people.”
The MP, who hopes to see “a ‘housing first strategy’, also sits on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for homelessness, which has led him to consider the work being done in Scandinavia and Birmingham to combat homelessness.
“You give people some security, a roof over their head, and then you provide what’s called ‘wrap-round services’, so help with any mental health issues, addictions and so on,” he explained.
The prerequisite would be to have them in “a safe space removed from the day to day”.
He added: “Anyone who wants to rid our streets of rough sleepers, and you see this with certain authorities, they see them as subhuman.
“People have a right to be on the street. It’s public space and those people are trying to survive. The worst thing you can do is just try to hide them away or take away their right.
“In other authorities they have done this – it lacks compassion. How can we treat people like that?
“These are decent good people who actually need help and for authorities not to show that compassion, not to reach out and provide for them, I think is disgraceful.”
Mr Western recently hosted an event focused on the need to build new council homes. The Boar asked him to elaborate on why he thought this was a housing solution, particularly in the local area.
“The government from 2010 to 2015 changed the planning legislation which basically has given them a loophole for developers not to build social rent housing and so they’re not.
“If you’re on a low income, trying to live in our area is almost prohibitive. We need to build that housing. I want housing developers to be building social rent housing on every piece of land.”
I want housing developers to be building social rent housing on every piece of land
– Matt Western MP
He added: “We should be making sure that those people who need housing get it, and at the moment the government has no interest in that.”
In the summer, The Boar reported on tensions between locals and students in Leamington due to waste and items left by students moving out of their properties. Mr Western shared his thoughts on this: “A few years ago I worked when I was a councillor on these issues, working with the University, the SU and with residents to bring peoplet together to talk about this stuff.
“What I see is that in student properties there is often insufficient capacity for waste and when it comes to the end of term or the end of the academic year.
“I think it would be terrific if the landlords worked with the student housholds. Students are paying quite a lot of money for accommodation and I think it would be terrific if landlords could work with tenants.”
Lastly, The Boar asked the MP for Warwick and Leamington to elaborate on his summer newsletter in which he wrote that “our public services are in crisis”.
“Warwick Hospital is under huge pressure,” he said. “At the end of September and the first few days of October, the waiting times or A&E were the sorts of levels you would expect in midwinter, it’s that bad.”
These “longer waiting times” are “putting huge pressure on the hospitals themselves” he said.
“Mental health is a huge issue due to lack of capacity again. We’re losing something like 18 acute mental health beds in Warwick. They’re now being moved into University College Hospital, Coventry and Warwickshire. That’s going to be a challenge. We’re losing all this provision in our communities.”
He continued: “There’s a mental health crisis too. I was just at a primary school this morning. You cannot believe that there are so many young people even at primary school with mental health issues and they’re not getting the support they need. Likewise, teenagers and on university campuses; I’m well aware of the situation. Across the health board there is insufficient money going in.
“For too long there’s been a failure to recognise just what a massive mental health crisis we have.”