You’ve heard seven party leaders speak on TV: now you can hear what the eight parliamentary candidates for the Newbury constituency have to say on 11 national, local and personal issues. Interviews were conducted by phone between 28 March and 9 April and are laid out here in the order in which they took place. No one had prior knowledge of the questions nor of any of the other candidates’ responses. Some answers required editing to ensure they were all of roughly the same length. The candidates (and the abbreviations used) are:
JR: Jonny Roberts, Labour Party.
RB: Richard Benyon, Conservative Party (and current MP).
BS: Barrie Singleton, Independent.
AS: Andrew Stott, Patriotic Socialist Party.
JB: Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrats.
PF: Paul Field, Green Party.
CA: Catherine Anderson, UK Independence Party.
PN: Peter Norman, Apolitical Democrats.
Thanks to all the candidates for agreeing to take part.
Finally, in keeping with the spirit of Desert Island Discs, we can confirm that anyone who requested a remotely practical luxury item promised not to use it to effect an escape.
What is the biggest single challenge facing Britain at the moment?
JR: Inequality. We need to address the uneven spread of wealth and find a way to rebalance the economy
RB: The deficit, which affects every single one of us. The only way to tackle it is to get the budget in surplus.
BS: Corruption in every aspect of public and private life.
AS: The current monetary system, which effectively allows banks to create money – with nothing to support it – every time they make a loan. This makes periodic credit crises inevitable.
JB: Ensuring our education system is of the highest standard. The stronger economy we all want will be built on this.
PF: The growing inequality in society which leads a wide range of problems.
CA: To save and restore the NHS: increasing investment and keeping it free at the point of delivery.
PN: Climate change: none of the other parties seems willing to discuss it.
What is biggest single challenge facing West Berkshire at the moment?
JR: Living costs, in particular in matters such as childcare, rent and energy bills. Nowhere are these more acute than the South East.
RB: This is a fairly prosperous area with fairly low unemployment. The challenge is to keep it that way. We must ensure we have the right skills and balance the need for new housing with protecting the countryside.
BS: The 2010 General Election.
AS: The unavailability of affordable housing and the uncertainties surrounding the electrification of the railway line.
JB: West Berkshire is currently well-placed to be a high-tech, low-carbon economy where our skilled workers can provide services to the country and world. We need to build on what we have and improve this still further.
PF: The lack of affordable housing.
CA: Protecting the green belt and using alternatives such as brownfield sites and regenerating empty properties that planning decisions are devolved to local residents.
PN: How the area can accommodate the number of new homes that are needed and finance the infrastructure they will require.
What is the most important thing your party would change if it were in power?
JR: The tuition fees system needs reform. Nearly half of students won’t end up paying back all their loans with the result that a £21bn black hole is building up.
RB: To wipe out the deficit to protect future generations and also instigate new infrastructure projects including the Heathrow western rail link and investment in schools
BS: We do not have a representative democracy. A wholly fresh start is needed.
AS: To raise living standards through a national living wage and progressive tax policies.
JB: To create a fairer society by properly funding all our public services, including implementing our planned and costed extra £8bn for the NHS.
PF: To set the country on the path of a positive, long-term and sustainable approach to the future domestically and internationally.
CA: To regain our sovereignty and restore our democracy, and end open-door immigration from the EU and replace it with the fairer Australian-style points system.
PN: We have no single manifesto so there is no one shared goal. Personally, changing our perceptions on health with people taking more responsibility for their own lifestyle decisions.
What is the one thing you would change about the political system?
JR: The introduction of some form of proportional representation.
RB: Reforming parliament, including having fewer more equally-sized constituencies, strengthening the scrutiny given to legislation and reforming the House of Lords.
BS: I refer the Honourable Member to the question I answered some moments ago.
AS: More wholesale devolution and a rationalization of all tiers of local and regional government.
JB: An elected second chamber, with fewer members.
PF: Proportional representation. At present, many views are not represented in parliament which leads to a public disenchantment with politics in general.
CA: Some form of proportional representation, perhaps a mixture of that and first past the post. Certainly something needs to be done to regain the voters’ trust particularly among the young.
PN: The current adversarial atmosphere of the House of Commons is dysfunctional and needs to be replaced with something based more on collaborations and deliberation.
What can you do to help make sure employers pay the minimum wage?
JR: Not enough companies are being caught. To do this, HMRC needs more staff and resources. There are also a number of legal loopholes that need closing.
RB: Further careful increases in the minimum wage: the difference between that and a living wage is at present partly subsidised by tax credits. Non-compliant companies need to be named and shamed.
BS: The integrity for us all to support both the letter and the spirit of legislation.
AS: Introduction of a national living wage to replace the NMW: enforcement certainly presents serious challenges. Some people may be happy to accept lower wages.
JB: Enforce the law. Abuse of the minimum wage, and zero-hours contracts, hurt employers and employees. We also need to work with businesses to ensure all employment practices are as efficient as possible for both sides.
PF: The minimum wage is barely a living wage. Tighter controls are needed and employers need to be encouraged to do the right thing. Any system needs some level of flexibility but must always stay true to its core values and purpose.
CA: To raise the minimum wage to £13,000 and enforce it. If immigrant labour from the EU is limited this will improve the situation
PN: The biggest problem is a moral disconnect on the part of some employers. Unless our economy becomes more balanced and remuneration more equitable it’s hard to see how it can grow in a sustainable and ethical way.
What can you do to help increase employment opportunities in the area?
JR: Labour’s proposed Jobs Guarantee Scheme will subsidise wages for the long-term unemployed who return to work.
RB: Increase the apprenticeships scheme and increase cooperation between relevant bodies such as training schemes and employers. Superfast broadband will increase job opportunities for everyone.
BS: Not my field of expertise.
AS: More apprenticeships in practical trades.
JB: Work with employers to increase the number of apprenticeships.
PF: A higher level of investment in public services and local businesses
CA: Simplify the (mainly EU-based) regulation on business, make taxation burden simpler and start-up finance easier. Free town-centre parking to encourage local businesses to help smaller retailers
PN: The Thames Valley is a world leader in digital media. More investment in Research and development and in education is needed to safeguard this and to ensure the right skills are available to employers.
What jobs have you had? (candidates were restricted to three)
JR: Trainee supermarket manager, conference organiser.
RB: Soldier, chartered surveyor, land manager.
BS: Industrial applied chemist.
AS: Trout-farm worker, landscaping, construction.
JB: Science teacher in Canada, science journalist and documentary director, sound engineer.
PF: Teacher, working in a hotel in Denmark, clerical worker.
CA: Business-to-business marketing, charity trustee, working on an educational project in Austria.
PN: Reinsurance broker, management consultant, co-founder of a mobile data company.
Who is your hero, political or otherwise (if you have one)?
JR: Robert Kennedy: a man who could have made a big difference to the world.
RB: My father, Bill Benyon: a compassionate, independent and widely admired man
BS: No comment.
AS: Tony Benn: a patriot and a socialist.
JB: Shirley Williams: a forward-thinking woman.
PF: Tony Benn: a man of commitment, consistency and integrity.
CA: Winston Churchill: a man of integrity, style and inspiration.
PN: William Pitt the Younger: he stood up against foreign tyranny.
Imagine you’re at the end of a Desert Island Discs interview: what would be your most treasured record?
JR: Be my Baby written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector, performed by The Ronettes.
RB: Desperado written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, performed by The Eagles.
BS: The Time of my Life written by Franke Previte, John DeNicola, and Donald Markowitz, performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.
AS: Por ti Volare written by Francesco Sartori and Lucio Quarantotto, performed by Andrew Bocelli.
JB: Life on Mars, written and performed by David Bowie.
PF: When You’re Young written by Paul Weller, performed by The Jam.
CA: Swing the Mood written by various artists, produced by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers.
PN: So Far Away written by Mark Knopfler, performed by Dire Straits.
And your book?
JR: Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
RB: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence.
BS: The Blunders of our Government by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe.
AS: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
JB: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
PF: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
CA: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.
PN: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
And your luxury item?
JR: My iPhone.
RB: A cloud: I’m not very good in full sunshine.
BS: A solar-rechargeable DIY kit.
AS: A machete: so many uses on a desert island.
JB: A piano.
PF: A clarinet.
CA: My iPhone.
PN: A hot bath.