The Independent Parliamentary candidate for East Devon, Claire Wright, launched her general election manifesto in Exmouth on 27th January.
Speaking to 80 enthusiastic supporters, she explained that her manifesto was unique because it was based on the local voters’ concerns. It took into account hundreds of responses to a survey, comments from street events in all the constituency towns and many villages, conversations with thousands of local people and hundreds of town centre traders, “the life blood of our local economy”.
bnSome 40,000 leaflets had been distributed, which prompted more ideas and offers of help. Claire Wright also mentioned her experience on the East Devon District and Devon County councils and looked forward to a series of public meetings.
Now, with less than 100 days before the general election, she outlined some of her policies. The subject of greatest concern to local people, and to the rest of the country, was the future of the National Health Service. “East Devon’s community hospitals…have never been more at risk than they are now. We hear every day of the postponement of operations and of casualty departments not being able to cope.” She warned that in five years’ time, as demand grows, the NHS in Devon will be over £400 million in deficit and vowed to fight to protect local health services and argue for more funds for this area which has been historically under-funded.
Claire Wright condemned the East Devon District council for failing to agree a local plan which had allowed “rapacious developers” so “we are at a high risk of speculative and large-scale development”. This could not continue: the infrastructure was creaking. The environment also concerned local people and “human beings cannot exist without a successful natural world and this would also be a priority area for me”.
The possibility that the ground occupied by the Exmouth Rugby Club might be used for a new supermarket would damage local traders and was not consistent with current supermarket policy. The area should remain a sports field. Claire Wright condemned EDDC who had taken at least two years to decide on the future of “the unique” Exmouth Sea front, thus causing planning problems for local businesses. The council had behaved “quite badly”.
The council-imposed cuts and the proposed Devon County Council reduction of another £30 million next year were criticised. There were closures or the threat of closures, for youth centres, libraries, care homes, day centres, children’s homes, minor injuries units and inpatient beds. The use of food banks, even in East Devon, “had shot through the roof”. The House of Commons would soon be voting on funding for local authorities. “We shall see whether our current MP, yet again, votes in favour of the monumental cuts meted out to local authorities.”
How could some of the essential services could be funded? Claire Wright cited the “dubious HS2 project whilst local lines are denied funding”. It should be scrapped and the money spent on what people want. The plan to create elected police and crime commissioners had cost £70 million, equal to £14 per vote recorded. “We don’t need the commissioner: we need more police constables”. £3 billion had been spent on “yet another confusing and totally misguided re-organisation of the NHS… Government priorities on spending are wrong” and the cynical phrase “we’re all in it together, has never had such a hollow ring”.
There was widespread anger with East Devon District Council and its “arrogant bulldozer attitude to local people’s views”. It will “go its own way, even if it harms local people’s livelihoods” and the formation of many campaign groups, such as the East Devon Alliance, “should have sounded alarm bells to our MP and the local council but they appear to be deaf and blind to the threat posed by the public’s fury”. “Because the council and our MP are members of the same political club, challenges to either are few and far between. This damages democracy, the credibility of local government and its parliamentary representatives.”
Claire Wright promised to continue to challenge the councils and to condemn unnecessary expenditure. She would back the campaign for votes for young people who tended to be ignored. “People of 16 can get married, join the armed forces and pay taxes. Youth unemployment rose by 30,000 to 764,000 in the three months to last November. They should be represented.”
Speaking with conviction, she explained why a vote for an independent was a very positive vote and, that, as an independent, she would never have to choose between her conscience and a party line.