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Sir Roger has high hopes for Conservative majority

With just three weeks until polling day, candidates will be working hard to try to secure your vote on May 7. This week Conservative incumbent Sir Roger Gale met reporter Aidan Barlow at the Central Bandstand in Herne Bay to discuss the issues at stake in this election.

Sir Roger Gale has been the Member of Parliament for North Thanet since the seat was created in 1983 and was knighted for his public service in 2012. He is originally from Dorset and was among the first pirate radio broadcasters for both Radio Caroline and Radio 270. He then worked for BBC Radio and BBC Television, becoming director of children’s television in the 1970s, before being selected as the Conservative Party candidate for a by-election in Birmingham Northfield in 1982, where he narrowly lost a marginal seat. He is a proud father and grandfather and has been married to Suzy since 1980.

How did you first get engaged in politics?
My first political action was protesting over what happened in Hungary in 1956. Listening to people scream on the wireless for God’s sake help us” over and over really got to me. Then in Prague in 19681 joined a 50,000-strong demonstration and ended up speaking on the podium. From then on I realised that this was what I was going to do. It was put up or shut up. I thought that no child or grandchild of mine is ever going to grow up under communism.

How did pirate radio help?
It was the 60s and it was just fun – people were losing the inhibitions of the 1950s. From time to time it would be a bit rough three miles out at sea, but it was an incredible experience. I think pirate radio may even be the reason I am here, because in 1983 the Thanet seat was broken up and the Herne Bay Conservative Party members wanted to select their own candidate. I was at the selection meeting at the Winter Gardens in Margate, and a man who was probably a plant asked me if I was comfortable breaking the law while doing pirate radio, accusing me of hypocrisy on law and order. But I replied I didn’t do anything illegal, it was before laws were enacted. What I did was to be part of something which blazed a trail for commercial radio, and was in the finest traditions of conservative free enterprise.

In 1997 your majority was cut to just over 2,000. Could this election be even tighter?
I fought the Birmingham Northfield by-election in 1982 and was expected to lose by 5,000 votes, but I only lost by 279.1 learned to fight every election like a marginal seat, and take nothing for granted. You have to help people without judgement of party politics. In 1997 I think it was my personal vote which kept me in as an MP.

Are you preparing for another coalition?
No. I think we can win an overall majority. It won’t be a huge one, that’s for sure, but I think we can do it. As we get nearer to polling day I think that people who may have been flirting with others will realise a choice between if they want David Cameron and George Osborne, or Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Pretty much nothing else is as important. After the past five years of putting the economy right, people won’t want to give the keys back to those who crashed the car.

What has been the government’s biggest success?
Cameron and Osborne had to take some really tough decisions. We can all remember Liam Byrne’s note in the Treasury which said “sorry, but we’ve run out of money” – and we had. Everyone had to pay the price, but due to the British people we have made a recovery. It is tough and there is more work to do to sort the economy, but we’ve got one of the strongest performing economies in Europe and I think we need to keep going with the job. After all the pain we’ve gone through, the last thing we need is a Labour government to take us back to square one.

Labour has accused you of putting the richest first, with lots of people struggling In zero hours contracts, for example. How do you respond?
The recovery isn’t just favouring the rich. We have taken more people out of tax than Labour did in 13 years of government. If we get a majority, we will go even further. Do we favour the rich? I would say we favour a climate that is creating investment and jobs. Very few of the jobs created are on zero hours. There are record numbers of people in full-time work and unemployment has fallen. We’ve also made a commitment that anyone who genuinely seeks a job will be able to get one. We heard Ed Balls making all sorts of dire predictions about our policies after the last election, and he has been proved wrong on pretty much all of them. Labour like to talk about spending, but you can’t build hospitals, schools and do the things you want to do without a strong economy. They want a spendthrift economy, which would take us right back to where we were before.

What effect has it had on North Thanet?
I think our area is now really humming. When I’ve asked retailers and businesses in the High Street and Mortimer Street they say they are noticing the difference. In Margate we have the Turner Contemporary, and it’s had a noticeable effect. It has taken time as east Kent is often one of the first to go into recession and the last to come out, so we shouldn’t put that in danger.

At the last election your party made a contract with the British people. You said you’d get immigration down to the 10,000s, and If not, they could kick you out. What went wrong?
We have got immigration from outside the EU under control. But people tend to forget that Cameron made that promise if there was an overall Conservative government. And what we’ve got is a coalition. So we couldn’t get a referendum on the EU and powers to put in place what we need. We should remember that we do need some immigration. So when I get people calling me in a huff and puff saying “there’s too many bloody foreigners” I have to disagree with them. I abhor racism and extremism in all its forms. I will not play the race card. I find those that do revolting. Immigrants work in our hospitals, and we are a country where people have come from all over the world. We should be proud to take in refugees and asylum seekers who need help.

Was it wise to put a figure on immigration?
No, it was not wise. It was brave, and probably a little foolhardy. But the Prime Minister has made the pledge again. We do need to control immigration. I don’t think there is an ideal figure nor should there be.  You have got to vote for a Conservative majority for a referendum on Europe. Voting for Ukip will simply split the vote and potentially let Labour in.

Should Britain leave the EU?
I think if there was a vote on May 7 whether to be in or out, I would vote to leave. I voted to enter in 1974. But none of us signed up for shared defence forces, shared economic policy or shared currencies. We don’t want a United States of Europe. Europe is still important for 40% of our trade. I would like to get back to our free trade relationship. I think we should afford David Cameron time to negotiate and re-judge by 2017. I’m not sure he will be able to renegotiate enough powers, but it is right to let him try.

Aidan Barlow interviews Sir Roger Gale at Herne Bay Bandstand
Aidan Barlow interviews Sir Roger Gale at Herne Bay Bandstand

Can the Tories be trusted with the NHS after a bad winter for A&E waiting times?
We are treating more people than have ever been treated and they are being cared for quickly and efficiently, so I don’t think we’re failing. I think there has been a problem that too many non-A&E patients have had to go to A&E departments at weekends and at bank holidays. It was a failure of Tony Blair, who failed to get GPs to agree to longer working hours. We’ve made a manifesto pledge to change that.

You promised in 2010 no “top-down reorganisation” of the NHS – was this wrong?
No piece of legislation is entirely correct. The NHS has been subject to lots of legislation. But we wanted to put power in the hands of medics and those at the sharp end. It won’t be without problems, so we have to be prepared for fine tuning.

Labour has accused you of opening up the NHS to privatisation. How do you respond?
Ed Miliband wants to cap the amount of private care providers. But that would mean people lose the opportunity to get treated quickly and efficiently. There has always been private providers supporting and working in the NHS. We shouldnt be stopping it if it helps. Cataract treatments now all go to clinics. People don’t have to wait for months, they get treated fast, and that’s what matters to people. Care must remain free at the point of use. If a private firm can provide a cost-effective service, then we shouldn’t take a doctrine approach against it.

What do you think about Nigel Farage and Ukip?
He is becoming known as Bandwagon Farage. He is claiming that it was he who brought high-speed rail services to Thanet for example. Laura Sandys and I worked very hard for years to make that the case. And on the issue of Manston we aren’t Johnny-come-latelys. People have seen my record and my views for what I stand for. I don’t try to be all things to all people. I know sometimes people will be upset by the things I say, or disagree.

Is there still hope for Manston?
I think there is, yes. It is a slow process, but we’re not giving up. I am backing the Compulsory Purchase Order option for Thanet District Council. It means I will support the Labour leader Iris Johnston, who I think is fundamentally decent, even if it means a cross-party approach. I think RiverOak are serious about creating jobs and keeping it as an airport, and they have a serious business plan. I disagree with Paul Carter that it should be sold off for development and smothered with housing.

Herne Bay Gazette, April 16th 2015

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