15 questions for the candidates in the Newbury 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 – Reading West & Mid Berkshire, East Wiltshire and Didcot & Wantage). 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.

  • LB: Liz Bell, Labour 
  • LD: Lee Dillon, Liberal Democrats
  • LF: Laura Farris, Conservative
  • EJ: Earl Jesse, Freedom Alliance
  • GJ: Gary Johnson, UKIP
  • SM: Steve Masters, Green
  • DT: Doug Terry, Reform UK

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.

LB: First Secretary Science at the British Embassy in Moscow, Head of Policy at the Physiological Society and at UCAS, Programme Director at UNESCO, Director of a higher-education consultancy. Also a former Great Shefford parish councillor.
LD: An office manager of a SME in Thatcham, a project manager at AWE and then joined a social landlord where I have worked for the last 14 years, currently as the senior housing manager for Oxfordshire. I have been a councillor since 2004 (first elected in Thatcham in 2007). I have been the mayor of Thatcham twice, the Leader of the Town Council, the Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Council at West Berkshire and currently portfolio holder for Public Protection and Communities. I also stood in the Newbury seat during the 2019 general election.
LF: Journalist for BBC News and Reuters and latterly as a barrister specialising in employment and public law. I worked on public inquiries including the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. I was elected MP for Newbury in 2019 and made a Justice Minister in 2023.
EJ: Senior accounts manager for the IT company Danwood, TaeKwon-Do and kick-boxing instructor, riot police trainer for UN peacekeepers, art teacher, curator, mentor, interior designer, restaurant manager and personal trainer. I am also the Deputy Leader of the Freedom Alliance Party.
GJ: Financial advisor, telecoms network computing for Vodafone and Promotion Manager serving the elderly across Berkshire Age UK (Berkshire). I was elected in 2010 as a Lib Dem councillor for Thatcham West, Deputy Mayor 2013 and Mayor 2014 for Thatcham. Having left the Lib Dems in 2015 to join UKIP, I am the chairman for the UKIP Thames Valley Branch, Chairman for the Southeast Region and a Director/ NEC member for UKIP.
SM: 19 years in the RAF, worked on an internet sports TV channel after leaving the RAF then returned to education before working in mental-health rehabilitation. Currently I am a solar and renewables consultant. I was a West Berkshire Councillor from 2019 to 2023 and have been a Newbury Town Councillor since 2019.
DT: Chartered accountant advising and working in a range of businesses from start-ups to multinationals. I’m returning after a 40-year hiatus and do not hold any elected positions but have held committee posts on professional and voluntary and sports groups.

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

LB: The Truss-triggered cost of living crisis, on top of a decade of austerity by the Tories and their Lib Dem coalition partners undermining our schools, NHS and other vital public services. This has badly affected so many families. We need to rebuild a strong economy, bring down household bills by implementing more renewable energy, build more social and affordable housing and create jobs. We can tackle climate change as a part of all this by focusing on building a high skill, high tech, innovation-led green economy giving us cost effective energy security and global trade opportunities.
LD: Growing our economy so we can invest in public services which  are on their knees.
LF: Security and prosperity, if I may pick two. Russia is making gains in Ukraine and the future of that conflict is uncertain. Equally, the conflict in Gaza is unresolved (despite President Biden’s best efforts) and has wider and dangerous implications for the region. This is the most dangerous geopolitical moment since the Cold War, and national security is a huge challenge. Whoever a person is thinking of voting for, it is critical to think about what the party is saying on defence spending and strategy. On the second, I think the PM has made huge progress on the cost of living but I believe that anchoring that progress and building on it is absolutely critical.
EJ: The world economic forum (WEF)-controlled puppets who sit in our parliament.
GJ: In one word, recovery. Today we have a broken Britain which many can relate to. Poverty has returned for many and we need to regain trust in government this is something we have lost. 
SM: Climate change, which impacts every part of our lives, including the economy, health and defence. 
DT: Overstretched infrastructure and unprecedented debt needs a radical solution.

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

LB: We are a rural area with beautiful market towns with all the connectivity challenges that brings. Access to healthcare issues with insufficient public transport. Insufficient affordable housing to sustain local communities. Anti-social behaviour and rural crime. Sewage in our rivers. These, and many other issues, need to be tackled for our communities to thrive.
LD: The cost of living, whether that be higher mortgage payments, higher rents or more food bank usage and also access to health services from GP appointments to accessing an NHS dentist; and, finally, the state of our waterways.
LF: Flooding and sewage. When we passed our Environment Act 2021, we created binding obligations on water companies to improve water infrastructure and progressively reduce use of storm overflows. Thames Water’s Pollution Reduction Plan commits to reduce them by 80% in rivers like the Lambourn by 2030. That’s great, but what if they don’t achieve this? TW’s plan identifies Lambourn as an area where progress has been made (and has begun a plan for storm overflows) – but residents would disagree. We need to ensure regulators have the teeth to hold them to account and that water companies face real and serious sanctions if they fail to meet their legally binding obligations.
EJ: Potholes and flooding.
GJ: Choosing the right party to guide us through the many challenges we face in this constituency – these include not enough dentists, waiting list for healthcare, housing, environmental pollution and more.
SM: Aside from the climate crisis, an aging population where adult social care provision is on the verge of collapse is a very real issue the constituency faces. 
DT: Inadequate transport infrastructure (rural communities needing bus links) and potholes lead to lower productivity, lack of opportunity accessng jobs and services and loneliness.

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

LB: Labour will reduce the voting age to 16. The young people of our country whose futures are heavily impacted by the decisions that our elected politicians take. A previous Labour Government reduced the age from 21 to 18 against howls of opposition. Despite the success, the same sorts of objections are now being thrown at reducing it to 16. My experience, from discussions with many 16-year-olds at school hustings, is that they are more than capable of the informed thinking necessary. 
LD: A fairer voting system and more collaborative approach to long-term challenges like adult social care. We have to find concensus more than we do currently.
LF: Good question. There is an overwhelming need for more expertise, such as scientists, technology and data experts, academics and business leaders in parliament and the civil service. The challenges we face – AI, cyber security, warfare, climate change – are complex. There is too little real-world expertise about how we prepare for the challenges of the next century. We should be making greater efforts to find those people and lure them into public life.
EJ: Remove as much control as possible from the central power and return it to the counties and local councils.
GJ: We need a complete makeover of political reform. We cannot continue to have a two-party system coming up with policies which are totally unsustainable. Proportional representation is needed and will one day happen.
SM: Proportional representation would be a start, it would better reflect the voters’ views. Nationally and locally this would force more collaboration between parties. The Greens have worked with most parties locally and that should be the default. 
DT: For full devolution, every nation should have its own assembly, including England. It is only fair for the English population to have its own dedicated parliament for devolved powers.

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)?

LB: Giving families real hope and security. That the NHS will be there for them, that they will be able to afford a decent home, whether owned or rented, that the costs of mortgages and rent will leave them with enough money to have a comfortable life; and that their children will get an excellent education with enough teachers in well funded schools, giving them the head start that they need to do well in further and higher education, prosper as adults and build an increasingly powerful economy. 
LD: I want to help create a fairer society where the most vulnerable are protected.
LF: Another good question! I am very committed to stopping violence against women.This accounts for one in five of all reported crimes in this country. The Sarah Everard case was one of the most appalling I can remember because the perpetrator was a Met Police Officer. I would ban violent pornography, create a new centre on Violence Against Women to which every police force would be accountable, mandate training of effective investigatory models on domestic abuse and rape (our Operation Soteria model being the blueprint) and change the way we educate young people. The work on the police was underway when the election was called and it’s frustrating it has been interrupted.
EJ: Change the taxation system on everything including food, work, purchases, fuel, travel and homes.
GJ: People before politics – it’s as simple as that. We all have views on how we have become a broken society and when we explain our concerns with those in government do they listen, they do not.
SM: A truly free press, not owned by billionaires to influence political discourse. Political education is somewhat lacking in schools and we don’t know how we are governed. If people have the tools to understand what their vote they’ll be better informed on the issues rather than relying on the media.
DT: To restore the generational wish to see one’s children have a more prosperous future than previous generations. This would be achieved by cutting unnecessary regulation, fairer taxation and sensible environmental policies in place of the ruinous net zero.

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?

LB: Labour has a long term plan to tackle climate change, bringing us to net zero by 2030, including by reducing household bills and national emissions through a new national renewable energy company and by building a new green economy bringing us jobs and increased national security. Hectoring people about climate issues only works up to a point. What really brings change is when individual families looking at their best budget options and naturally turn to environmentally friendly alternatives as the most cost effective for them. 
LD: Because of the broken state of public services this election is focused more on how improve our day-to-day lives rather than the environment being front and centre: however the Liberal Democrats have a strong record in the environment and our manifesto is supported by Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.
LF: Our government that was the first in the world to make 2050 the legal target to reach net zero. We are the first developed economy to have halved carbon emissions and are thinking radically about how we develop low-carbon energy alternatives especially in hydrogen and nuclear. We have announced the expansion of small modular reactors to achieve this. I am conscious, however, of the need to take people with us to ensure we are reaching our net zero targets without making people do unaffordable or impractical things so they become hostile. The European elections where parties representing an anti-climate action agenda have just been very successful is a warning in this regard.
EJ: I have frequently traveled world-wide over the last 10-plus years and seen different understandings of this “climate crisis”. My personal summary is that I do not see a “climate crisis threat” apart from in the media which is all funded by Vanguard and Blackrock.
GJ: I feel climate change is a very controversial subject. Many say we need to make decisions in reducing our carbon footprint; others say it’s irrelevant. Nature has a way of dictating how our planet responds. We cannot control volcanic explosions, tsunamis and hurricanes. It seems with the far east countries continuing to use coal we are a long way of uniting the world.
SM: The most difficult question to answer is the one that doesn’t get asked. I would urge readers to tell political figures what you want and ask how they are going to deal with it. I say repeatedly to residents, voters and others that far too often politics is done to people. I try through my community connections listen rather than tell people what is needed.
DT: Climate change is real. To address this it is essential to balance preserving the planet with the needs of the population, avoiding ruinous unachievable targets that will hit the poorest and middle income households the hardest.

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

LB: When I was a diplomat in Russia I was constantly hounded by the media about the policies of our government on everything. I’d become pretty smug about my ability to handle the worst they could throw at me. Then they sent a kids TV show to interview me. I found myself facing a 10-year-old backed up by a full TV camera crew and found out that a young child, given that power, could ask questions in a far more direct manner than an adult. Was human carbon emission driven global environmental change real r just a western plot to spread fear in Russia? I answered truthfully but with my answers more aimed at a child audience, that it is real and we needed to deal with it so he and his friends could have a safe and healthy future.
LD: “Whats the point in voting?” It’s really hard to prove that we aren’t all the same without having a direct conversation which each voter, which is impossible in a snap election. But when you get a chance to explain the difference and can show evidence of how you have acted in the past you can win a majority back around that they should vote. 
LF: “Defend the House of Lords”; in its present incarnation, I can’t. I don’t think people should have a role in national politics because they have inherited a title and I don’t think there are enough checks and balances on the people who get appointed. I would cut it down from its present size of 800 peers (far too many) to 325 so that there are half the number of Lords as to MPs. I would impose a retirement age and require any new member to be assessed by an independent panel with a power of veto and ask that any prospective member must demonstrate a specific area of policy expertise and give a minimum-hours commitment.
EJ: I haven’t been asked it: yet…
GJ: I have personally not been asked any difficult questions. But I would say that when I was Mayor of Thatcham, my visit to the end-of-life wards at the West Berkshire hospital were moments I did find difficult. Wonderful constituents facing ill health wanting that personal visit from politicians to show we do care.
SM: The most difficult question to answer is the one that doesn’t get asked. I would urge readers to tell political figures what you want and ask how they are going to deal with it. I say repeatedly to residents, voters and others that far too often politics is done to people, I try through my community connections listen rather than tell people what is needed.
DT: As relatively new to politics, I have not yet encountered many very difficult questions. One potential one that does stick out is the current debate around assisted dying which is a complex and emotional issue.

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

LB: “What real change Labour can bring to all the things they may be worried about?” Answering it is not difficult as we have such a great offer on anything they bring up.
LD: “Why do you want do this?” This is simple for me, I love my home of Newbury and want to ensure that we have a strong local voice in parliament standing up for the constituency, from supporting the continued development of tech leading business here in Newbury to supporting our rural economy including our horse racing industry. We need a voice in Parliament that speaks to our collective values of fairness here in West Berkshire.
LF: “Who is my favourite opposition MP?” That’s easy – Harriet Harman. She is a joy to work with and blazed a trail for women in public life for which I will be forever grateful.
EJ: “What is your party’s name?” The answer is “Freedom Alliance”.
GJ: “What made me decide to join UKIP?” My answer is “independence”.
SM: I enjoy any questions, it’s my job to be challenged and residents often can be very creative. I’ll always try to answer all questions and, if I can’t, I’ll find someone who can. 
DT: “How do you feel about being an effective opposition to Labour?”We’re looking forward to the chance to inject common sense and to challenge poorly thought-through plans finance and resourcing.

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

LB:  There’s a big problem with online misinformation which the big tech companies and social media platforms do too little about. So, take nasty or scaremongering posts with a sizeable pinch of salt. Do not like, comment on or share dubious posts as this just triggers algorithms to ramp them up so even more people can be automatically targeted. And report anything you spot using the tools supplied on social media sites. And after his comments in the first TV debate with Starmer, we need to fact-check everything our PM says, too.
LD: I would go direct to party sites first to read policies and costing first hand, then I would look at who is endorsing those manifestos. The Lib Dems manifesto is checked by the IFS and has been supported by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, The Guardian, The Independent and organisations like the Fawcett Foudnation. 
LF: I’m not an expert but worry that sites like X and TikTok polarise people and condense complex arguments that deserve time and attention into glib lines and 30-second clips. Politics isn’t like that – it isn’t simple or basic. Often there are difficult nuanced competing arguments which deserve careful thought. I still like broadsheet newspapers and in-depth news journalism like The Economist, The New Stateman and The Washington Post.
EJ: Join the Telegram app and start watching independent journalism. Turn off your teLIEvision programme/s and radio to stay away from the virus known as the Lame Stream Media.
GJ: Look at the individual and try to read them like a book. Is the individual really there to assist his constituents during hard times or are they in it for themselves? I have said people come first before politics and that is how one gains trust.
SM: I try to focus on what I’ve been doing and stand on my record. It frustrates me how much nonsense is put in some of the literature of local parties and even more so when those same bad actors cry foul about publicly available facts such as attendance and voting records. The levels of hypocrisy from them is staggering. If the only thing you have to offer is that you aren’t the incumbent you don’t deserve people’s votes. It’s clear Labour will win a huge majority, but is irrelevant here. Neither the incumbent or the Lib Dems will form the next government so voters in Newbury can vote for what they believe in, not just the slightly less worse option. Look at what the candidates actually do for the community locally and what their values are. Then vote for the one who delivers and will serve everyone in the constituency.
DT: Read all manifestos if you have time and see which you find the most credible. Keep an open mind.

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

LB: We’ll rebuild a well resourced NHS that can effectively deal with it. We’ll review what worked and didn’t work in the pandemic to lay concrete plans. We’ll get the NHS working differently through shared waiting lists and collaboration between hospitals and work with NHS leaders to trial neighbourhood health centres. Using existing resources, these will bring together a wide range of services. 
LD: Ensure the NHS is fully funded in the first place so it starts from a position of strength and develop and implement a post-pandemic strategy for supporting people who are immuno-compromised. 
LF: I am excited by the government’s development of the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre in Harwell which I think will play an important role in our future resilience. And I think it was right to set up the Covid Inquiry because, as with every other country, there are lessons that can be learnt and we need to move to a world where lockdowns can be avoided in the future if possible.
EJ: I would ask people to truly think and act for themselves, it is a big ask, though…
GJ: I think we have all learnt from the last pandemic that we do ring-fence care homes. We should hold plenty of medical garments in reserve and not end up using black bin bags as a protective item for medical staff. More awareness and a quick response when details of a pandemic are flagged up.
SM: We are committed to protect he NHS from private companies and building resilience across public services. We would act on the scientific advice and ensure the processes and resources were available to act. These include factors as diverse as biosecurity, food security and adequate controls around these areas. 
DT: Early identification of who and how (such the elderly, underlying health, air-borne or contact) is at risk and develop appropriate solutions based on evidence. We want to avoid another sledgehammer to crack a nut that leaves a ruinous economic legacy for our children.

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

LB: Labour has pledged to put failing water companies under tough special measures to clean up their toxic mess and protect people’s health. This will include giving the water regulator powers to block the payment of bonuses until water bosses have cleaned up their filth, making bosses who oversee repeated law breaking face criminal charges, ending self-monitoring so water bosses can’t cover up their sewage dumping and introducing severe and automatic fines for sewage dumping that companies can’t ignore.
LD: This is at the heart of our campaign. A £2bn sewage tax, changing the ownership model of water companies and using the criminal justice system to bring polluters to account. We would also make it illegal for sewage to be dumped in our waterways and rivers. 
LF: There needs to be reform to the model of regulation. Under of our Environment Act 2021, water companies must progressively reduce use of storm overflows (that emit sewage). Thames Water has published a Pollution Incident Reduction Plan (see answer to Q3 above). The issue  is what if they don’t do it? I no longer have confidence that the Environment Agency or OFWAT are sufficiently robust to hold them to account. One option would be to put staff from DEFRA into both agencies so that there is consistency with the law and the way sanctions are applied. Another is to attach individual criminal liability to water company bosses, as we have done to rail company bosses when it comes to health and safety. Since that change, we have seen very few rail accidents. The prospect of losing liberty would act as an incentive in a way that financial punishments do not.
EJ: Take back the ownership of our water so we know it is safe to use.
GJ: These companies need to re-nationalised. Billings have been paid by customers since becoming privatised and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the water companies’ failures. When they fined we pay, when pipes burst we pay, when rivers become polluted we pay. So who is getting our money? Speculators and shareholders. Have you seen the salaries of the directors that run these organisations?
SM: Bringing water companies back into public ownership would be a first step, followed by funding the Environment Agency and other regulators properly to ensure that public protection can be enforced. We need a national project of investment in the system: also an honest conversation about the impacts of developments and farming practices on our water supplies etc. At a local level, I have been supporting residents through the floods and sewage crisis, including calling for West Berkshire Council to enact abatement orders to protect both the public and the environment. Sadly they have been slow to take that course of action.
DT: Tougher regulation needed to hold the water companies to account. Ofwat has failed in this. Our infrastructure is dated and needs updating. Make investor returns contingent on quality price and supply constraints. Write this into investors’ ESG criteria. Hold a golden share in public ownership to hold accountable and prevent abuse.

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?

LB: Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs.
LD: Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis.
LF: Tangerine by Led Zeppelin.
EJ: Stand by Me by Ben E King.
GJ: My Way by Frank Sinatra.
SM: Painkiller by Turin Brakes. 
DT: Anything by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

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

LB: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.
LD: Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson.
LF: American Pastoral by Philip Roth.
EJ: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
GJ: I’m not a book reader due to my dyslexia. Life gave me my learning skills and I continue today to learn from others.
SM: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
DT: Five lessons – the Modern Fundamentals of Golf by Ben Hogan.

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

LB: The Lord of the Rings.
LD: Saving Private Ryan.
LF: The Remains of the Day.
EJ: Instinct.
GJ: Airplane.
SM: The Bicycle Thieves.
DT: Airplane.

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

LB: A lifetime’s supply of diverse wines.
LD: A lifetime’s supply of salt and vinegar crisps.
LF: A never-ending scented candle. I never tire of them and my family tease me about it.
EJ: A Swiss army knife.
GJ: I have all that want or desire. If I had to choose, it would be the gift of seeing other less fortunate get that item.
SM: My electric narrowboat (not sea-worthy so not suitable as a means of escape). 
DT: iPhone and solar charger (if you promise not to use it to summon help…).

 

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