15 questions for the candidates in the Didcot & Wantage constituency at the 2024 general election

Shortly after the election was announced, we sat down and came up with fifteen questions to ask of all the candidates in this constituency (and also the three others in the area we cover – (Newbury, Reading West & Mid Berkshire and East Wiltshire.) You’ll find the questions and the answers below. These are arranged alphabetically by the candidate’s surname, colour-coded by party and identified by initials as per the list below. A blank space means that the candidate has yet to supply their responses: these will be added as soon as possible, if they do so.

  • SB: Steve Beatty, Reform UK
  • SC: Sam Casey-Rerhaye, Green
  • OG: Olly Glover, Lib Dems
  • DJ: David Johnston, Conservative
  • MK: Mocky Khan, Labour
  • KP: Kyn Pomlett, SDP

Each candidate will have their own preferred method of contact and this will be displayed on any election material they produce and, if they have them, on their websites. None have been provided here. You can also visit the Who Can I Vote For? website for details of the contact details each candidate is prepared to publicise.

1 Please list the main jobs that you’ve had outside politics and also a brief summary of any main elected positions you’ve held, or currently hold.

SB:
SC: I’ve worked in local government and the not for profit sector for last 25 years in roles quality assuring public services ranging from children’s centres, learning disability support services, apprenticeships for school leavers, and drug and alcohol support services. I’m currently the Cabinet member for Corporate Services in South Oxfordshire DC as well as a parish councillor. 
OG: I’ve spent all my working life on the railways, in Network Rail and train operating companies mostly whichminvolved solving problems, leading large teams of people, managing budgets, negotiating with trade unions and serving the public hands-on, on concourses and on the tracks during disruption. I’m also a local councillor in Milton, where I live, and in Didcot.
DJ:
MK:
KP: I am retired, and have qualified and worked as an electronics engineer, software engineer and project manager. I have founded two technology companies and have worked for clients across many private and public sectors. I was a Parish Councillor for Cholsey from 2020 until very recently and was the lead on the latest Cholsey Neighbourhood Plan.

2 What do you think is the biggest single challenge the country faces?

SB:
SC:
Climate breakdown and the related nature depletion. We have only just begun to see the disasters that have been caused by the heating above 1.5ºC that we have seen this last year. This will affect everything including the cost of living, health, food, and migration. The Green Party has long said that there cannot be climate justice without social justice.
OG: Lack of trust in the country’s leadership and a loss of faith in the political system. It now seems to be accepted that politicians are self-serving and dishonest which undermines the fabric of our society. We saw it most during Covid – not just with the partying but with the allegations under investigation of corruption in relation to procurement and contracts.
DJ:
MK:
KP: The cost of living. It is expensive to live in our country and especially in our region. There are many drivers for this, high energy costs, expensive housing, high legal immigration of low skilled workers, student loan costs, no plan to re-invigorate our domestic manufacturing industry.

3 What do you think is the biggest single challenge the constituency faces?

SB:
SC:
The cost of living crisis, including the cost of housing. The impact of government cuts over the last 14 years and their mismanagement of the economy has meant many people are struggling to make ends meet and are still not feeling secure to be able to pay bills or be secure in their home. This is what I see in my work and when I speak to people in the constituency. People are also telling me they are horrified by the huge quantities of sewage poured into the Thames by Thames Water. This is killing the rivers and causing illness as well as causing further deterioration in the condition of the natural world around us .  
OG: The consequences of Conservative’s neglect of the NHS. So many people I meet cannot get a GP appointment (me included), NHS dentists largely no longer exist in Oxfordshire and there are long waiting times for operations. Our councillors in Wantage have been doing a great job campaigning to get more  outpatient appointments to Wantage Community Hospital, saving 30,000 journeys to/from Oxford a year and I will work hard for this approach to be taken elsewhere in the area.
DJ:
MK:
KP: Housing. Whilst the constituency has built more than its fair share of housing, I maintain that this has not been the type of housing our communities require. Anecdotal evidence suggests that our new housing stock is mainly bought up from people outside of our region. It is the SDP’s policy to build social, or council-owned housing. We need to implement planning design codes that will enable rapid and unchallengeable planning decisions.

4 What would you like to change about the UK’s political system, nationally or locally?

SB:
SC:
Nationally and locally, the first-past-the-post system means people do not feel their vote counts, which undermines democracy and people’s engagement in politics. The Green Party believes that decisions should be made at the most local level possible and local councils need more powers: we are, politically speaking, the most centralised country in Europe.
OG: We need to find a way to engage people more, especially the young. Of course, honesty amongst politicians would go a long way towards that but, from a system point of view, I think we need to take another look at proportional representation so that every vote really counts. We need more local control over decision-making, too. 
DJ:
MK:
KP: Proportional representation for national voting. The SDP propose the creation of an English Parliament to balance the current devolved parliaments of Scotland and Wales. Decrease the amount of people in the House of Lords as well limit how long they can sit.

5 What is the most important thing that you would try to change about the UK if you were elected (in addition to your answer to the question above)?

SB:
SC:
The most important thing to address will be able to solve three vital problems: cutting energy costs, improving health and reducing carbon emissions. This is to accelerate the transition to renewable energy while ensuring we are insulating people’s homes. Energy supply is very insecure and we need to ensure we have more control over our own supply. Simultaneously, we must also cut demand for energy, ensuring people can live comfortably, improving their health and well being and cutting their bills. 
OG: Lots of people feel that the economy and political systems aren’t working for them. We need to focus on helping those on average and lower incomes far more than so many Conservative policies, which benefit those who are doing well already. This includes better provision of social care and child care, both of which can help more people be able to work alongside care responsibilities.
DJ:
MK:
KP: The nationalisation of our utilities which are natural monopolies; these include water, transport and energy. The SDP supports and advocates for a free market: however the utilities need to come back into public ownership so that they can be accountable to the public through the relevant government departments. This will be funded by the issue of government bonds.

6 Do you feel enough attention is being paid to climate change in the campaign so far? What is your party’s response to this threat?

SB:
SC:
Climate change has hardly featured in the national campaign so far. The politicians from the old parties are presenting the issue as one of cost, but we know that the cost of not acting to slow down climate change is far more expensive in both monetary and humanitarian terms than acting. Climate action like the transition to renewables is an investment in our country, and will have a overall positive impact now and for future generations.
OG: I think this is a real challenge, as climate change is one of the biggest threats facing us, but with bills having gone up and NHS services under strain, it’s not always at the front of our minds. My and my party’s approach is to promote climate change policies which help both planet and people. These include investing in home insulation and solar panels on buildings and in much better and more comprehensive public transport, cycling and walking routes, including a new railway station at Grove.
DJ:
MK:
KP: I don’t think the right type of attention has been paid to climate change to date. We have failed to develop our nuclear power industry. We require cheap energy to develop the type of sustainable industry to minimise our climate change impact. Currently 12% of our energy is from nuclear and the SDP would increase that to 40%.

7 What is the most difficult question you’ve ever been asked in your political career (and how did you answer it)?

SB:
SC:
“Why are you opposing house building on some local sites when there is a housing affordability crisis?” This is difficult because the housing situation in the UK is so broken and complex that it seems an obvious solution to just build more. However, the answer is more complex: allowing councils to build and buy more houses which are protected from the right to buy, bringing in regulations to incentivise downsizing, reforming council tax to be more progressive and fair, investing in areas that are the most deprived, regulating rents and bringing  housing benefit in line with rents and banning no-fault evictions. All these would go some way to properly ensure people can afford to live in a decent, affordable and secure home. 
OG: “Would you support an end to new houses in our area?” This is a difficult one, because whilst many people are frustrated by new houses going on without the infrastructure and services needed to support them, others recognise the need for more affordable homes for young people and those on lower incomes. Our councils are working on a new local plan to better address these areas but they need more power, particularly compared to developers, and the ability to influence decisions about public services taken by central government.
DJ:
MK:
KP: “Isn’t a vote for the SDP a wasted vote?” This question depends on what the questioner wants the outcome to be. I advise to vote for the party or person whos values and policies reflect your own. Tactical voting for the three main parties has got us to our current position – I think we can do better.

8 What question do you most enjoy being asked as a politician (and how do you answer it)?

SB:
SC:
I really enjoy being asked a practical question that I can help someone with, like how can they get a grant for planting trees, or for a new playground, or who can they call to help with their bus pass that has expired, or where who do they contact when their bins haven’t been collected.
OG: Why are you putting yourself through the process of standing for parliament?” My answer is it’s because I really care about our area and our country, and I want to see both doing better than today. I volunteer supporting people living with motor neurone disease and their carers, and this gives me some insight into how people struggling with illness or care responsibilities need people in parliament to represent them and get them the support they need.
DJ:
MK:
KP: “What improvements could you make to the economy?” As a country we are addicted to cheap labour which tends to supress wages. Our national assets like the railways and water are sold to external companies. Our import of cheap goods far outstrips our exports in terms of monetary value; this is a drip-feed of our national wealth to international players.

9 Regarding the growing problem of disinformation of various kinds, what advice would you give people trying to get accurate information during the campaign?

SB:
SC:
Listen to or read lots of different sources and don’t rely on one media outlet. And remember there are fact check services out there like BBC Verify.
OG: There is a lot of mistrust of the mainstream media which can lead people to believe everything they read on the internet and social media. Always look for the source of a claim or statement and consider what the motivation is. This way we not only stand the best chance of finding the truth but we can learn from and listen to different opinions and perspectives.
DJ:
MK:
KP: A difficult question. I believe in freedom of speech, so view any restrictions applied as negative. My advice to people, and my own approach, is to not accept information at face value but to be highly critical of its source and if on further research the information is valid it can then be accepted as accurate.

10 What measures is your party taking to ensure that the UK is better prepared for a recurrence of a pandemic event?

SB:
SC:
Investing in the NHS and other heath prevention services is the most important preparation and the Green Party is committed to this. A really big risk from runaway climate heating is greater chance of further pandemics. Working to prevent further climate heating is crucial to prevent this.
OG: Governments regularly carry out disaster emergency simulations.  In 2016, it conducted Operation Cygnus, which modelled a potential flu epidemic.  The problem is, as with so much of what the Conservatives did, they then completely ignored its findings and so we were unprepared. The Lib Dems will always learn from, and act on, these exercises. Working closely with researchers and governments around the world is also key to anticipating threats.
DJ:
MK:
KP: It is the SDP’s policy to reform the NHS and social care provision by creating an integrated Health and Care service. This would ensure that in any pandemic we would have a wide view of solution and impacts. In the recent pandemic we had an existing pandemic plan which the politicians of all colours decided to overrule: we need to trust our medical planning experts.

11 What do you feel ought to be done to address the well-publicised problems of the privatised water companies?

SB:
SC:
Water companies should be brought back into public ownership. The companies who have had a monopoly in supplying water and sewage have just extracted profits out of the companies while racking up debt and leaving the infrastructure to crumble. It’s a clear failure  which is having a terrible impact on our rivers and seas, destroying wildlife and people. It is only in public ownership that a natural monopoly like water can be reliably supplied and protected for the future. 
OG: The Lib Dem policy is clear: we need a new regulator, and we need to ensure water companies are rewarded only for tackling leads and reducing sewage dumping. This would include introducing a Sewage Tax on water company profits. The current situation where firms are able to make huge profits whilst failing to achieve their main purpose is not acceptable. Many residents are very concerned by proposals for a huge reservoir near Steventon and the Hanneys: we need a public inquiry into this.
DJ:
MK:
KP: The SDP’s goal is to nationalise all natural monopolies such as water, electricity generation and distribution and the railways. A nationalised water industry would mean that the water company would be accountable: executive officers would have performance-related pay and would be fired if their performance were not of a high standard.

12 Imagine, if you can, that I’m Lauren Laverne and that this is Desert Island Discs. What would be your one must-have piece of music?

SB:
SC:
Every Time We Say Goodbye by Ella Fitzgerald.
OG: Baby Grand by Ray Charles and Billy Joel.
DJ:
MK:
KP: Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tarraga.

13 And your choice of book (you already have Shakespeare and the Bible, remember)?

SB:
SC:
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
OG: Archangel by Robert Harris.
DJ:
MK:
KP: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

14 And – not an option offered by Desert Island Discs – your choice of film?

SB:
SC:
Pride and Prejudice.
OG: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
DJ:
MK:
KP: Das Boot.

15 And finally, your choice of luxury item (which can’t be used to mount an escape)?

SB:
SC:
A pen and notebook.
OG: A lifetime’s supply of tamarind chutney.
DJ:
MK:
KP: A Spanish guitar.

 

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale