This morning Liberal Democrat candidate for Norwich South James Wright spoke to Concrete to discuss his policies and personal stances, two days before voters will go to the polling booths.
Mr Wright has been a Norwich City councillor since 2010, and is running against Clive Lewis (Labour), Lana Hempsall (Conservative), and Richard Bearman (Green) in this general election.
When asked how he felt the constituents of Norwich South would be benefited by voting for the Liberal Democrats, Mr Wright said: “I’ve demonstrated my commitment to the city already, serving as a city councillor since 2010.
“I’m a lifelong Norwich resident and what I would like to see is my liberal values played out in supporting the city that I grew up in and the city I love. I’m someone who is passionate about education and wanting to make sure that we get the very best for our young people, and that will play out in having me representing Norwich South at Westminster.”
The candidate also spoke specifically about how he would like to help students in Norwich, promising to “tighten up” the renting market. He said: “We want to make sure that landlords aren’t ripping students off, and that the fees that landlords put on are not untoward.”
He continued: “We’re also looking at other things around transport, making sure that students and young people in general have access to discounted bus travel.”
Recently, the UEA SU encouraged students to boycott First Bus services following what they called an “unreasonable and unfair” ticket price rise.
The Liberal Democrats also intend to reinstate the maintenance grant and raise the repayment threshold for student loans. James Wright told Concrete that “a lot needs to be done on student loan repayments.
“There should be a reversal on the removal of maintenance grants,” he said, also noting that “there shouldn’t be an opportunity for the government to sell on the debt or raise the interest rates.” However, the Liberal Democrat candidate did admit that “If we had and could do everything we wanted to, we would remove tuition fees.
“But I think [tuition fees] are an appropriate thing to have given the challenges and given where money is spent elsewhere. The key thing is these fees are only repaid when graduation has happened and when income is high enough.”
In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats state that they will invest £7bn more into education, including the funding of vocational courses and the protection of the arts and creative subjects.
However, when questioned about the view that the Liberal Democrats did little to stand up for students when they were last in government, Mr Wright said he is “standing on the Liberal Democrat manifesto: firmly intending to implement what’s there.
“One thing that is often overlooked is that Simon Wright, the Liberal Democrat MP for Norwich South between 2010 and 2015 stood by his ple
dge and voted against the raising of tuition fees. I’m very pleased that he did that, and our current party leader did the same.”
Prior to being a member of the Liberal Democrats, James Wright was once aligned with the Labour party. Mr Wright told Concrete his political alignment was altered in response to the Iraq war. He said “Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq was, for me, the final straw with Labour.
“As we fast forward to 2017, we’ve got a number of new members in the local Lib Dems who have come from Labour, and they have particularly come from Labour because of Labour’s position on how to handle the post-referendum situation.”
Labour intend to accept the EU referendum result and “build a close new relationship with the EU” prioritising jobs and and workers’ rights, they have announced in their manifesto. Labour will also reject the option of ‘no deal’ and will negotiate transitional arrangements if needs be.
Mr Wright said that “for all of what individual Labour candidates are saying, Labour’s policy is for a hard Brexit and for exiting the single market.” By contrast, the Liberal Democrats have promised a second referendum on EU membership in their manifesto.
Discussing his predictions for the election outcome in Norwich South, Mr Wright noted that there is a certain discussion going on about how close it is between Labour and the Conservatives. But, he seemed optimistic, suggesting some election forecasts say “that is not the case at all.”
Mr Wright also spoke about recent criticisms of the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron. “Tim was asked a lot around sin [and homosexuality]. I have said that I think sin is a matter for the church, not for politicians.”
He continued to say: “I think politicians should be judged on their voting record. If you look at Tim’s voting record on matters of equality and LGBT issues, he is sound on those and has voted to enable equality in the law and I think that is the key thing about a politician.”
Concrete’s interviews with Mr Bearman and Mr Lewis can be found here. Despite multiple attempts to set up an interview, Mrs Hempsall did not reply to Concrete’s requests.