15 questions for the candidates in the Reading West and Mid Berkshire 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, 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. 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.

  • AA: Adrian Abbs, Independent
  • OB: Olivia Bailey, Labour
  • HB: Helen Belcher, Lib Dems
  • KB: Kate Bosley, Reform UK
  • CC: Carolyne Culver, Green
  • RM: Ross Mackinnon, Conservative
  • AP: Adie Peppiatt, Independent

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.

AA: Pretty much all in IT, including for Apricot Computers, Chips and Technologies, Intel, Silicon Image and KickFire. More recently, I’ve been running my own IT company, TEEC. I was elected to West Berkshire Council in 2019 (as a Lib Dem) and since October 2023 have sat as an Independent.
OB: I am a policy and public opinion researcher by trade, and have held a number of senior roles including being Deputy General Secretary of the Fabian Society. I have also worked as a senior policy aide to Keir Starmer. I stood for Labour in Reading West in 2017.
HB: Maths and computing teacher; then systems analyst, then head of software development for a finance software firm. I then ran my own software company for over 15 years. I’m currently a local councillor, I stepped down as chair of my town council in May to concentrate on this campaign. I also do voluntary work for a member of the House of Lords. I write on human rights for Byline Times and head up a community interest company.
KB:
CC: I have represented Ridgeway ward on West Berkshire Council, in the west of this constituency, for the past five years. Since May 2023 I have been chairman of the Scrutiny Commission, which reviews council decisions, policies and services. I have worked for the University of Oxford, Save the Children, War on Want, and the Wildlife Trust. I have also been an A Level teacher, associate university lecturer and journalist. I currently work as a consultant for a community interest company, delivering nature-based solutions to climate change.
RM: I’m a financial trainer. I’m also parish councillor for Bradfield and a member of West Berkshire Council where, since May 2023, I’ve been the leader of the opposition group.
AP: I’m a bricklayer who runs his own company. I worked abroad as a bricklayer for a number of years and also worked as a kitchen porter and waiter. I love and loved all three jobs.

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

AA: Immediately it is the cost of living crisis. Long term it is the growing debt mountain
OB: Our economy hasn’t grown as it should under the Conservatives and the reckless Liz Truss budget crashed the economy and made working people even worse off. This is the first parliament on record where living standards will be worse at the end of it than they were at the start. Stabilising our economy, and getting it properly growing again so that we can get out of this cost of living crisis, are the most important tasks for the next government.
HB: We have a largely unaccountable media owned by very few people, most of whom say they live overseas. Press regulation is almost non-existent. Complex issues get reduced to a few soundbites and important issues such as climate change are largely ignored. We need stronger laws to make sure that those who own our media live and pay taxes in the UK and cannot dominate media, and better regulation which acts quickly to force the media to correct misinformation it publishes.
KB:
CC: The twin threats of climate change and ecological collapse. Every day we are quite rightly focused on the wellbeing of our loved ones, and earning enough money to pay the bills, but ultimately humanity must come together and use its ingenuity to tackle these twin threats, or large areas of the planet will become uninhabitable resulting in mass migration, and there will be large-scale crop failure and hunger. 
RM: Maintaining a strong economy. Everything else – jobs, living standards, public services, defence, education, welfare – is dependent on it.
AP: Really too many to mention concisely. But for me it’s knife crime and drug use that’s really the root cause of our youngster’s frustration in being ignored by the power’s that be. It’s scary, but these kids are our future.

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

AA: The answer is different for each socioeconomic group. We need to focus on those with the most need including all forms of social care.
OB: I’m really worried about the state of our local NHS. So many people have told me they haven’t been able to see a GP or a dentist when they need one and many of us are on a really long NHS waiting list. With a Labour government in Westminster, I’m pledging more appointments in our local NHS, an end to the 8am scramble for a GP appointment and to bring back the family doctor. I have also secured a commitment from Rachel Reeves to build a new Royal Berkshire hospital.
HB: Many people are struggling to make ends meet or to make sure their children have the opportunities they had. The constituency appears prosperous but hides a lot of poverty. We need to ensure that public services, like our local councils, our NHS and schools, are funded properly. Access to timely healthcare is a major issue locally and nationally. I’ve already challenged the CEO of the Royal Berkshire Hospital NHS Trust to look at opening a hospital site on the west of Reading.
KB:
CC: If I have to choose one, I will say housing. We must end homelessness. The cost of housing is out of control. An increasing proportion of the population will never be able to afford their own home. I would like to see a freeze on rent rises and the banning of no-fault evictions. We need to build more social homes with secure tenures and affordable rents. New housing estates should have well insulated homes, solar PV and heat pumps, all as standard. 
RM: RW&MB is a marvellous place. In some parts, though, crime and anti-social behaviour needs cracking down on more severely.
AP: I’m a social animal, so for me it’s important to keep community centres and working men’s club’s open too. I’d like to give a shout-out for the Pangbourne Club, a well used and integral part of the village. Hate to think what the village would be like if it closed.

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

AA: A move away from faux democracy to democracy both local and nationally, where every vote counts. I’d also like to see a system which fosters co-operation not opposition. I would remove the word opposition from political vocabulary and maybe replace it with “minority”. In addition, I’d like to some connection between cabinet or portfolio position and expertise.
OB: Integrity in politics is really important to me. Speaking to people on the doorsteps I have heard how much trust has been lost after all the scandals and sleaze, especially the Covid parties in Downing Street whilst everyone else in the country was making huge sacrifices to follow the rules. If elected I will always act with integrity and won’t make promises I can’t keep.
HB: I have been campaigning to change the way we vote for MPs and councillors for nearly 40 years. We need to change the system so people can vote for something rather than work out how to vote against something they don’t like, and to make seats match votes. Our current electoral system is broken and is actively damaging our politics and our society. It’s why I joined Make Votes Matter back in 2016.
KB:
CC: Proportional representation so that everyone’s vote counts. Recent polls suggest that the Green Party would get 15 per cent of the vote if we had PR, which would equate to over 90 MPs.
RM: I’d like to see politicians (of all parties) focus on the positive reasons for supporting them, rather than attacking their opposition.
AP: That’s easy. Career politicians with zero understanding really grinds my gears. Read my leaflet and you’ll see my proposal.

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)?

AA: Bring forward at pace an alternative energy policy that is built upon resource we can access easily and that is unlimited. That starts with solar and wind but then expands through tidal and geothermal and ends with fusion. Once we have fusion, we can unwinid the solar, wind etc and return the land to other use.
OB: Our country is crying out for change – change to get stability in our economy, change to get our public services back on their feet, change to restore our country’s standing on the world stage. If I had to pick one thing, I’d pick improving mental health support for our young people and improving support for local schools. That’s why I’m pledging a full time mental-health professional and more specialist teachers for every local school.
HB: We have a failure of regulation in this country, from press and media to environment and education. That, allied with a lack of corporate responsibility, means vulnerable people are often penalised for being vulnerable. Added to which the Conservatives have overseen a return of economic inequality not seen since Victorian times. We need to strengthen regulation, hold the powerful to account and start to close that growing economic inequality.
KB:
CC: A mass programme of retrofitting insulation, solar PV, heat pumps, thereby creating highly skilled work, reducing energy bills and shrinking our carbon footprint. 
RM: I want to make sure social mobility is embedded throughout the country. We’ve come a long way but everyone should be able to succeed and make the most of their talent and hard work, whatever their background.
AP: I’m 60, we really should be looking far, far into the future, to our our unborn children. Green plans on travel and energy might be a start. When we die, it would be nice to think we as politicians have left something positive behind. I’m a dreamer: or am I?

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?

AA: My whole manifesto is built around showing how we can have a sustainable future that does not cost but rather saves money and provides other benefits.
OB: Tackling climate change is a central part of Labour’s plan for government and we’ll accelerate towards the UN goal of net zero by 2050. As part of this, we have pledged to deliver clean energy by 2030 and set up a new publicly owned renewable energy company which will bring down bills and reduce our reliance on Putin. We will also turn the tide on the destruction of our precious natural environment and if I’m elected I’ll work with our wonderful local conservationists to protect our countryside. 
HB: “No” to the first question. We regularly have climate records being broken and severe flooding happening. The Liberal Democrats have plans that would reach net zero emissions by 2045, provide 80% of our electricity from renewables by 2030 and improve home insulation and energy efficiency. I remain convinced that the Liberal Democrats still have the best plans to integrate the measures we need to take, bringing people with us without harming those who are worst off.
KB:
CC: I have seen little mention of climate change in the national media. I see Sunak has tried to defend his stance by saying he doesn’t want to ‘impose thousands of pounds of costs… to arbitrarily rip out your boiler’. This is disingenuous. Countries around the world have targets to cut their carbon footprint. Sunak is making our country’s target more difficult to achieve by allowing more licences for oil and gas. The country does not have to take this route. We must invest in clean, green energy and the highly skilled and well paid work that goes with it. 
RM: Yes, I think so. The UK has more than halved its CO2 emissions and is continuing to lead. It’s important, though, that we work towards net zero while still improving our living standards.
AP: I’ve probably answered this question in Q5. Definitely not enough is being done,sadly.

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

AA: “Are you running because of what the Lib Dems did during the selection process?’The answer is an emphatic “no”. I am running having returned to my previous state of being an independent and because party politics is broken. Business people like myself and other people who have had different careers and so different expertise need to become MPs – not career politicians.
OB: “Why are you any different from the rest?” Trust in politics and politicians is so low and it is really hard when people just don’t believe that you can deliver what you promise. I tell them that I’ve fought for change all my life, and that I’m just a local mum who wants to use my passion and experience to make my community better. I also tell them that at this election every promise I’m making is fully funded and deliverable. People will see the change I’m promising if Labour win this election and form a government.
HB: “Why do you want to be my/our MP?” Much over the last few years makes me so angry about how the Conservatives have treated the weak and vulnerable and those who don’t or can’t conform to their limited expectations. I think they don’t share our core British liberal values. My business career taught me how to listen first and develop practical solutions: now it’s my time to use those skills to serve and give back. I’ve always been driven to make our society and our world better and I’d deeply value the opportunity to be the first MP for this new constituency whose people did so much to shape my values.
KB:
CC: I can’t think of an example so perhaps this question is the most difficult…
RM: Not a cop-out here, but the truth is no question should ever be difficult as long as you answer honestly. And not be afraid to say “I don’t know” if you don’t know…
AP: I only registered as a candidate on 7, June so it’s early days for that one. I’m looking forward to trying to answer any question that’s thrown at me.

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

AA: “How can you as an independent change things?” The answer is because they work locally and run surgeries across the area and by not being bound by a party and whip. They can propose or amend laws, join committees to shape policy, represent local interests above those of any party and collaborate with other local MPs on Berkshire-wide issues.
OB: The best questions are those you can answer! Lots of people have asked me why I am standing and that is an easy one. I love this community, it’s my home, it’s where my kids go to school and where my dad was a policeman. I believe we deserve so much better than we have had over the last 14 years. I’m standing because I want to deliver change for our community, and be a hard working local MP.
HB: At the moment, it’s “how do I get the Conservative out”, which is asked by lots of people. The Lib Dems are the clear challengers in this new seat, based on real votes in 2023 and 2024, not on opinion polls or flawed projections. It’s also clear from the thousands of conversations my team and I have had with voters across the constituency in the last few months. So it’s showing people the numbers – which have Lib Dems and Conservatives neck-and-neck on votes, and Lib Dems ahead in the number of councillors and first places across the seat – and the map explaining that the new constituency no longer contains the strong Labour areas in central Reading, and then explaining my background and record, so also giving people something to vote for.
KB:
CC: One learns a lot about a wide range of topics as a councillor. Residents contact me daily with concerns and I have found myself having to quickly get to grips with a range of issues including housing, transport, flooding, planning, adult social care, education, children’s services, finance, highway maintenance and so on. So the question I enjoy being asked the most is one I know the answer to! But if I don’t know the answer, it is a learning experience to find out what the answer is. 
RM: “Why are you a Conservative when you grew up in a Lanarkshire mining village?”Because Conservatives believe in equality of opportunity, regardless of background. There should be no limit on the ambitions or aspirations of anyone.
AP: I’ve not been asked it yet. But I’m hoping someone asks me why, as a 60-year-old old bricklayer and father of two, are you standing in the general election? Can’t wait to answer it, if and when asked.

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

AA: Talk to the candidate, listen to what they say at hustings and write it down. Follow up with any answers and get it in writing. Ask under what conditions something in a manifesto might not be delivered – in other words, grill the candidates on how they will deliver what they have said or what their party has said it will do to get beyond mere political promises.
OB: Trust in politics is so low and when some people wilfully put out misleading information that only erodes trust further. I think getting your news from reliable sources and using independent polling and websites to see how best your vote can count is a good thing. I also try to speak to as many voters as possible on the doorstep so they can quiz me in person and make their own mind up.
HB: Always go back to the evidence. What’s the source? Is it reliable? Are there other sources which back the evidence up? And what is the story trying to make you think about the issue? I’ve been challenging press misinformation for well over a decade. I gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards and ethics in 2012 and I know the tricks they use to frame an issue in the way they want you to think about it, which is a problem given the issues with ownership of the press I discussed earlier.
KB:
CC: Read and watch a variety of news sources. We need to force ourselves to read things that we think we might disagree with, and engage with people with different points of view. As we know from the Trump election and Brexit referendum, Facebook was pumping out different information to different audiences and one was not aware of what the other was seeing. This is both the genius and the danger of Facebook. This has helped create the impression that the country (and world) is irrevocably divided into extreme groups, whereas the reality is that humans are complex and fascinating in their experiences and views. I would encourage people to read Penny Post because Brian and Penny are knowledgeable and their journalism is incisive. Look for all candidate’s official websites and read their election literature. If you have questions for them, contact them. 
RM: Good question. Be careful about believing everything you see online – a lot of it is nonsense. There is no easy answer, even with supposedly trustworthy media.
AP: Get in touch and I’ll definitely get back to you in person.

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

AA: Most important is making sure we have an emergency plan for the mass production of masks (FFP2/3). We have a relevant stock for emergency services so we don’t lose those key workers. We must also be prepared to move on scientific advice faster. Covid issues were a lot bigger than they need have been because of the speed of response.
OB: The sacrifices we all made during Covid were incredibly tough. I’ve spoken to so many people not able to see or properly grieve a loved one, or who had their education disrupted. Labour is committed to building a more resilient public sector to ensure we are not as exposed in the future. We would also ensure the millions wasted on dodgy contracts is never repeated with a Covid corruption commissioner and an office for value for money so taxpayers’ money is respected.
HB: Liberal Democrat plans for improving and investing in our NHS include real action on hospital waiting lists, so we don’t have millions already waiting for appointments when a pandemic hits, and recruiting more GPs. We are taking a keen interest in the Covid Inquiry, which is clearly showing the dysfunction and competing interests at the heart of the Conservative government. We think that the Conservatives won’t be any different should they be in office when any future pandemic occurs.
KB:
CC: A key lesson from the pandemic was the need to regularly test emergency plans and protocols to ensure the country is prepared. The then government dropped the ball and ended up shelling out vast amounts for PPE, much of which was useless. Humanity must take global action to prevent zoonotic transfer of diseases, where infections are transmitted from animals to humans. Locally, as a councillor during the pandemic, community resilience was key. During lockdown I held a weekly online meeting of volunteer coordinators to ensure everyone in the six villages in my ward had the support and information they needed.
RM: I think the experience we’ve had since 2020 naturally gives us an advantage if the worst happens again. It is a once in a hundred years event but we will have protocols in place based on our experience.
AP: I’m an independent, but I’d say, if any sort of pandemic were to befall us again., don’t go to baroness Mone for the masks. Scandalous behaviour…

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

AA: Riparian rights licences should all be removed so that any water company can be fined according to what they do. If they go bust then they come back to public ownership. They must be forced to use new methods  (like hydrothermal carbonisation) for managing sewage. We need to change the game so that sewage become part of sustainable food production. We also need to limit water take from rivers after farming has had  a chance to adopt how it farms for lower water use. Finally, we must finish implementing the water neutrality act and in fact go further by having a schedule for reduction not just neutrality.
OB: The sewage in our rivers and streams is disgusting and if elected I’m determined to sort it out. For water companies that means, blocking the bonuses of water bosses, bringing in tough fines and ensuring those who oversee repeated law-breaking face criminal charges. We also need an end to self-monitoring and a step change in waste water infrastructure. Locally, I’ll campaign for special legal protections for our precious chalk streams like the Pang.   
HB: We have a real problem with sewage discharges. Processing plants in Burghfield and Mortimer leaked sewage for about a third of last year: an absolute scandal. Brexit has made acquiring the chemicals needed to treat sewage harder to get, but the problem has grown out of all proportion since the UK left the EU in 2021. We would introduce meaningful fines for sewage leaks and change water companies like the effectively broke Thames Water into public benefit companies, so all profits to improving the services and the network and not its shareholders. We would also look to improve our trading relationship with the EU so making those important chemicals easier to get.
KB:
CC: Thames Water needs to be taken into public ownership. As long as these companies remain under the control of shareholders their executives will be dancing to the tune of pension funds rather than being accountable to water bill paying voters with raw sewage backing up into their homes and gardens and contaminating their pavements and roads.
RM: Privatised v nationalised is a red herring. If government owned the water firms they’d have to provide investment and fund it by borrowing at about four per cent interest, roughly the same as OFWAT-recommended shareholder dividend yield. Finance costs the company the same regardless of where it comes from. The advantage of privatisation is that the taxpayer doesn’t have to fund the initial investment. Reducing sewage discharges can’t be done overnight, which is why the “oh these MPs voted to allow sewage dumping” attacks are so dishonest. If they’re banned outright, sewage overflows will come up our toilets and drains. Water companies should be required to implement an achievable, realistic investment plan to upgrade the Victorian infrastructure (exactly what’s happening). If they discharge when they didn’t need to, stop bonuses and consider prosecution. The reason we know about the scale of the problem is because the government’s environmental legislation now requires full monitoring. It’s always been a problem – but now we know about it.
AP: I want all utilities nationalised. Thames water paying dividends to its shareholders while pumping effluent in our rivers and seas is almost criminal.

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?

AA: Somewhere over the Rainbow by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻoleby.
OB: Make You Feel my Love by Adele.
HB: Anything from Sting’s Live in Berlin album.
KB:
CC: An even more difficult one to answer that Q7. I fear that if I had one piece of music I would end up with an ‘earworm’ that I couldn’t shake off and would be driven mad as a result. 
RM: Back in Black by AC/DC.
AP: Imagine by John Lennon.

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

AA: The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
OB: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.
HB: Any one of Terry Pratchett’s middle Discworld books: say Wyrd Sisters.
KB:
CC: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome.
RM: Churchill by Roy Jenkins.
AP: Schindler’s List  by Thomas Keneally.

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

AA: LA Story.
OB: Notting Hill.
HB: Local Hero.
KB:
CC: Withnail and I.
RM: The Godfather Part II.
AP: The Deer Hunter.

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

AA: An espresso machine (solar-powered, naturally) and an unlimited supply of beans.
OB: A lifetime’s supply of red wine and cheese.
HB: My power shower. 
KB:
CC: Photos of my loved ones.
RM: A radio.
AP: A pillow. How can I dream about making the world a better if I can’t get a good night’s sleep?

 

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