TV chef Hugh says sorry for his by-election vote

TV chef and environment campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has apologised to the Green Party for voting Liberal Democrat in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. The chef runs his River Cottage food and farming operation, featured in a popular Channel 4 series, from an organic smallholding near Axminster, in East Devon.

Edward Oldfield 

He revealed his vote in Thursday’s by-election a series of tweets, complaining about the “unfair” election system. He said it was the only way to “unseat the Tories”. He explained: “I’m voting in the Honiton and Tiverton by-election today. And I’m afraid I’m going to break a pledge I made a year ago, when I joined the Green Party. I said I was fed up of voting tactically and made a commitment to vote Green at every opportunity.

“I simply wanted my green vote to be counted, even when I knew I couldn’t really make it count. A system where one million General Election votes gets the Tories 20 MPs but the Greens only 1 is a grossly unfair system.

“So unfair that there are times when the opportunity to “game it to change it” becomes almost impossible to resist. Today I have such an opportunity, a chance to cast a vote that might actually have an impact on that system.

“It’s going to be very tight, but if we can unseat the Tories here today we can, in a small but not insignificant way, shift the dial towards a progressive alliance and perhaps ultimately a more representative democracy.

“And so, with apologies to my friends in the Green Party, of which I remain proud to be a member, today I will be voting for the Lib Dems. I will not feel as good or as honest as I would voting green. But in a contest that could well go to the wire, I feel it’s what I have to do.”

Eight candidates are standing for election in the Tiverton and Honiton constituency after Conservative MP Neil Parish resigned for watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons. The Conservatives are defending a majority of more than 24,000 from the 2019 General Election, with the main challenge coming from the Liberal Democrats who believe they can take the seat.

Pollsters suggest the Liberal Democrats have the best chance of taking the seat from the Tories, after recent by-election successes in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham in Buckinghamshire. The Tiverton and Honiton vote is on the same day as a by-election in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, following the resignation of the Conservative MP after a conviction for sexual assault. Labour are poised to regain the seat, which they lost in 2019.

The Tiverton and Honiton Conservative candidate Helen Hurford, a head teacher turned beauty salon owner, says she is the only one who can work with the Tory government to deliver improvements. The main challenger, Liberal Democrat Richard Foord, a former Army major who served in Kosovo and Iraq, says the Conservatives have taken for granted what they see as a safe seat.

The by-elections are also being seen as a test of the prime minister’s popularity and the government’s record following the Downing Street parties and the cost of living crisis. The latest polling for the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton and Honiton suggested they and the Conservatives were neck-and-neck on 45 per cent each.

The Tiverton AND Honiton seat has been held by the Tories since its creation in 1997. MP Neil Parish won a majority of 24,239 in 2019. Polling stations for the by-elections in Wakefield in West Yorkshire and Tiverton and Honiton will be open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday, with the results expected between 4am and 6am on Friday.

Teignmouth Hospital: the final nail?

Decision has been going back and forth

Teignmouth Hospital’s fate looks to be sealed after councillors decided not to refer NHS plans to close it back to the health secretary.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

The community hospital on Mill Lane, the first to be built by the NHS in 1954,  is due to close, with services moving to Dawlish Hospital and a new £8 million health centre in Teignmouth town centre.

Devon County Council’s health and adult care scrutiny committee referred the decision to the health secretary last year, because it was unhappy with the lack of consultation over the hospital’s future.

Sajid Javid then asked panel of independent experts called the IRP to review the situation. It ruled that the NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) consultation was “adequate,” thus paving the way for closure.

However, the IRP also said there were “lessons to be learned for both parties,” adding the NHS must engage with the local community to “determine the future” of the community hospital.

Speaking at a meeting of the committee on Tuesday [21 June], representatives from the NHS defended the “modernisation” plans for healthcare in the town, despite criticism from a number of public speakers and councillors.

Teignbridge District Council vice chairman Chris Clarence called for another referral to the health secretary “on a question of medical service provision in the local community.”

The Tory councillor said: “The majority of you [the committee] are of the same political persuasion as me – a Conservative. How does this possible closure of Teignmouth Hospital look to the local community when our leader Boris Johnson is advocating building more hospitals?

“Yet here we are, the South Devon NHS Trust, considering the closure of one. Let’s hope a referral to the secretary of state triggering an examination by the IRP will lead to the obvious conclusion of retaining Teignmouth Hospital with some beds back in it.”

Campaigners claim community beds are “desperately needed.” A petition signed by over a thousand people urged the NHS to keep the hospital open.

But at this week’s meeting, health leaders said the new integrated care model, which includes aiming to avoid admissions into hospitals where possible, is the “direction of travel we’re going to take across Devon.”

Jo Turl, director of out-of-hospital commissioning, explained: “We can care for four times as many individuals at home, using the same level of staffing, same resources, rather than having those individuals in beds.”

She continued: “We can care for a lot more people by doing it this way, but also the outcomes are better for those individuals as well.”

Councillor Tracy Adams (Labour, Pinhoe & Mincinglake), while saying the plan was “very exciting,” questioned whether tsufficient workers were available to provide care at home, given the current “difficulties of getting any care workers.”

Shelly Machin, system director at Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust, said: We’ve done well with our recruitment into our intermediate care teams, our teams that are providing support in the community, because it is seen as being part of something really quite special.”

Cllr David Cox (Lib Dem) stressed the importance of retaining the hospital, particularly for people who don’t need acute care but can’t be taken home. He said it could be run by the voluntary sector rather the NHS.

He proposed the committee referred the decision to Mr Javid again, saying the closure is “not in the interests of the health service of the area,” but a majority of members voted against.

Instead they agreed to a recommendation which includes noting the progress and outcomes in the NHS report and to “continue to build on the recent progress in working more closely together.”

The NHS will submit a planning application for the new health centre on Brunswick Street at the end of August or in September. It comes after Teignbridge District Council agreed to sell the land to Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust in April.

Speaking when the decision was made, Cllr Richard Keeling (Lib Dem, Chudleigh), the council’s executive member for corporate resources, said: “This has been a positive collaboration with the NHS to provide a modern and accessible health care hub in the centre of a flourishing seaside town; bringing together doctors, surgeries and other care facilities.”

Work is expected to start on the building in early in 2023 and take around 18 months.

The largest of Teignmouth’s two existing GP practices – Channel View Medical Group – will move into the centre when it opens but the other one has decided not to.

In addition, it is planned to be occupied by:

  • The health and wellbeing team, comprising community nurses, therapists and social workers
  • Community clinics including podiatry, physiotherapy and audiology
  • Specialist orthopaedic outpatient clinics and specialist ear nose and throat services
  • The voluntary sector in the form of Volunteering in Health
  • Potentially one of the existing Teignmouth pharmacies
  • Councillors were also told the NHS will engage with the community about the future use of the Teignmouth Hospital site, with no decision made on selling it yet.

It has been designated as an “asset of community value”, meaning the local community will have the right to bid for the building should it be put up for sale.