Posted: 06.11.19 at 16:46 by Joseph Bulmer
In one of his final interviews as East Devon MP Sir Hugo Swire has said there is ‘plenty more to be done’ to improve the lives of people living in Exmouth.
The MP, who was elected to parliament in 2001, spoke to Nub News this week about the development of Exmouth Seafront, as well as Brexit, life after parliament and his thoughts on who will replace him as MP.
Nub News editor Joe Bulmer sat down with Sir Hugo this week to get his final thoughts on his time as the area’s MP.
What do you make of the development of Exmouth Seafront?
“There’s a plenty more to be done in Exmouth. There a huge false rumours about what was planned for the seafront and Queen’s Drive and my view has always been that Exmouth needs more tourist attractions and more attractions for people that live there because we need to increase the season and increase the spend in the town to benefit everyone living there. But still the same old people, like Megan Armstrong in her new incarnation as an independent, are complaining.
“It strikes me as being ironic that much of the criticism of EDDC under the Conservatives was that they were operating in a shroud of secrecy about what they were going to do in Queen’s Drive and the first thing the independents do is close off any public involvement in the consultation at all. It seems to me to be slightly ironic. I’m very hopeful that Queen’s Drive will be a huge benefit to tourists and locals alike.
Why are you stepping down?
“Very simply I’m 60 in a few weeks time and this parliament, which was originally started in 2015, don’t forget we’re still in what would have been the Cameron government had he not stepped down post referendum, was due to finish in 2020. So I would have been just over 60 which was fine but then David stood down and we had another election under Mrs May in 2017 so under the Fixed Term Parliament act that pushed the next election to 2022 and so I thought that’s when I would stand down.
“Then of course they overturned the fixed term parliament act for this election which would take us from 2019 to 2024 at which point I’ll be 65 and I didn’t want to be there at that age to be honest. I want to get out while I’ve got a bit of energy and ideas left to do something different.
What’s next for Sir Hugo Swire?
“I will continue to do politics I’m deputy chairman of something called the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, which promotes trade within the 57 countries of the Commonwealth. Increasingly there are countries which are not members of the Commonwealth which are looking at the Commonwealth and how we do business and in the Commonwealth there is something called the Commonwealth factor, where on account of common language, common legal system, it’s cheaper for companies to do trade with each other to the tune of about 19 per cent. There’s a huge amount more we can do, particularly post-brexit. That will be a big political commitment for me because I will have to go round to all these countries on a regular basis.
“So will I keep doing that and then I’ve got one or two other business things I shall be doing. A mixture of business and Commonwealth Enterprise Investment Council. So I’ve got plenty to do, I’m not retiring, in fact I shall be as busy as ever but I’m just not going to be the MP for East Devon.
What were you most proud of during your time as MP for East Devon?
“I’m proud of the fact that by the end of it, at the last general in 2017, I managed to increase the share of the Conservative vote in East Devon to just under 50 per cent of the vote. Which must mean that whatever I was doing I wasn’t doing too badly. I’m very proud of the help and assistance I’ve been able to bring to hundreds and hundreds of constituents over the last 19 years or so. That’s been the most rewarding aspect of being a local MP and I’ve also been hugely fortunate in my career to have been either on the opposition front bench or the Government front bench for a good part of it.
“I’ve had a front line political career but it’s always been East Devon I’ve tried to put first and whilst I haven’t always been able to be there the whole time on account of being in the Foreign Office and so forth, we’ve been assiduous in looking after the needs and problems of our constituents with my excellent team, without whom I could not have done any of this frankly.
“I think my proudest achievement must therefore be to have looked after them as well as I can. We’ve helped on other things too, the difference between being a placard waving campaigner and an a member of Parliament, a legislator, is very simple you can’t crow about everything you have achieved as an MP because a lot of what you do is confidential. It involves other people’s extraordinary, complicated, messy and difficult lives. Of the public things I’ve been involved with over the years I suppose being behind the scenes being supportive in transforming the community hospital in Budleigh Salterton into a health and wellbeing hub, which I think is now a real asset to the community. Incidentally I’m delighted now to have the firm commitment from Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, about the future of the hospital in Ottery St Mary, that’s incredibly good news and takes it out of the political arena because it has been weaponised by certain people who have whipped up concern locally about the hospital.”
Do you have any regrets looking back over your time as East Devon’s MP?
“There are two things really, one is the Science Park. It has not taken off in the way that many people will have hoped in terms of attracting a lot of high tech clean companies paying better wages. I think there is a lot more that could be done with the science park because one of the problems we’ve got in East Devon is the low paid seasonally dependent jobs and we want to attract higher paying, cleaner and better jobs. That’s something that needs to be given rocket fuel.
“I suppose my saddest thing has been the way Cranbrook has been developed because I really thought when I became MP and Cranbrook was beginning to be spoken about seriously I thought we should build a contemporary town in Devon based on a Devon market town. In which all sorts of modern technology could be utilised with a nod to the local vernacular, so it was recognisably and demonstrably a Devon town.
“I had this rather fanciful vision of people flying in from all over the world into Exeter Airport and being taken across to see what a wonderful development it was but our vision was disbanded by the then head of planning at East Devon who didn’t like me interfering in what she thought was none of my business. I had no official role I could fall back on and anyway the development went ahead and I fear that it has been very much led by the volume developers. It’s made me unbelievably frustrated that there has been no proper identifiable town centre and the developers have said there is not enough volume of people living there to build a town centre. It was ridiculous not to build an iconic town centre and build out from that so that the community moving in already had a sense of community.”
Are we more divided now as country than ever before?
“I think we’ve been more divided before. If you are a historian you will know we’ve had civil wars and so forth but that’s many centuries ago. In terms of my lifetime and certainly in my political lifetime I don’t remember the country being as divided as it has been and it was divided, quite literally, by the Brexit vote where a small majority of people voted to leave the EU. That was very divisive and what’s been even more divisive has been the ensuing three and half years where successive governments have been unable to deliver on the express wish of the majority of the British people who voted because they have been frustrated by those who don’t recognise the democratic deficit created by not delivering on what the majority of people voted for.”
Do you have confidence in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister?
“He has not been Prime Minister for very long and he has already got a withdrawal deal. The problem is because of the parliamentary arithmetic and again those on the Liberal Democrat benches, the Labour benches, the SNP and the independents have continual frustrated him in actually getting the withdrawal deal through and it was abandoned because they would put so many amendments down at report stage, they would have demanded another referendum or a confirmatory vote or whatever. So the only answer is, and I think he’s right about this, is to have have a General Election and make it the issue of the General Election. If you vote for a Conservative government and get a Conservative working majority, which they haven’t had, then you will get Brexit delivered and we can move on to all these other issues of the day, education, police, health, the fire service and whatever else it may be. My fear is if you end up pretty much where we are now or worse with a Corbyn government propped up by the Scot Nats or whatever then you have got real trouble here in this country. I would be very nervous about that.
Do you have any predictions for the General Election?
“Every election is fairly unpredictable actually, particularly this early on. Strange things happen at elections. I think there will be some anomalies up and down the country but I think nationally it’s my belief that the Conservatives will get a good working majority. I hope to hell they do and I hope they are not frustrated in so doing by the Brexit Party, who I don’t think will get a seat but they could equally make it very difficult for the Conservatives to get a majority and that’s completely counter-productive for a party that’s based on delivering Brexit. You couldn’t make it up. But I think Boris is a good campaigner and I think the sort of hysteria we saw surrounding Jeremy Corbyn at the last election has abated and I think a lot of people are thinking very seriously about whether they really want this man either alone or propped up by the SNP to be Prime Minister of this country and I think the answer really is no. So I think that will happen nationally.
“I think locally Claire Wright, the Independent, came out of nowhere in 2015 and did extremely well, she did even better in 2017, but what she really did was mop up the anti-Conservative vote. I should say, for the record, that my share of the vote at the last election actually went up to just short of 50 per cent anyway. Despite the fact the Liberal Democrats lost their deposit. I think the Liberal Democrats are recovering from that position and there is huge pressure on Eleanor Rylance, the Liberal Democrat candidate, to stand down and all of Claire Wright’s supporters are saying she should stand down and make way for Claire. Why Claire Wright has this sense of entitlement to be MP I’m not sure but there we are. I think people will either vote Conservative locally because they want to get Brexit done or they will probably vote Labour if they want to vote Labour or for the Lib Dems again because why would you not vote for a candidate who can become part of a national party who might form part of a coalition or part of a caucus which actually can get that done. What on earth can an independent do in Parliament? It’s an absurd idea and a complete misunderstanding. If you want to get Brexit done vote Conservative. If you don’t, frankly, vote Labour or Liberal Democrat. Why would you vote for an independent? I don’t understand it.”
When do you expect us to leave the European Union?
“If we get a working Conservative majority and we can get through the legislation we need to, probably by the end of January. There is a huge misunderstanding too about where we are in the process. All we are discussing with the withdrawal bill is the divorce and this has got confused and conflated with talk about workers rights and environmental protection, that’s for the future relationship. We haven’t even started on that yet.”