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An interview with Bath’s Conservative candidate – Annabel Tall

This is part of an election series with all of Bath’s Parliamentary candidates – all interviews can be found on our website. Some answers have been edited for legible clarity

Interview by Genevieve Redgrave

What made you want to get into politics

I didn’t get into it until 20 years ago and before that I literally didn’t know who my MP was, I was really disconnected from the whole thing. When I knock on doors, people do ask me who their MP is because they just don’t know – they’re not in the bubble that we’re in. I’ve got three children and my second son who’s nearly 21 was born with Down’s Syndrome, autism and is deaf. It meant that I was suddenly having to use services which most people don’t interact with but that’s actually where a lot of our public spending goes. So I got involved with it and basically nothing worked. When people say to me how can you be a disability advocate and a Conservative like it’s impossible, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s never been right. I wasn’t happy with how things were working so I fought to change some things. First I changed them for me, then I got some friends together and then I became Secretary of the Down’s Syndrome Association in Bristol. Then I started linking them with national charities and became a national advisor for special needs at the IPSE panel. So much of it is about getting people on the right pathway and if people aren’t in the right process they’re screaming into the void basically and getting nowhere. I changed all the bits that I wanted to but to do the next bit I needed to start changing some laws and to do that you have to be an MP so here I am. When I first got here and we put out a poll in the association of different issues and everything was cut 50:50 down the middle so the first job was about pulling that together. Pulling people together is so important at the minute because it is somewhat divided. So that’s the way I like to do things – start with a small number of people and then roll it out. 

So you just mentioned about divisive politics, what would the Conservatives do, if they were to get a majority, to bring the country together again? 

The absolute priority for me is democracy and to get the deal done because the foundation of our democratic system is that the minority accept the views of the majority; whether they like it or not, whether it makes economic sense or not. If you ask the population what they want to do and they tell you, you have to do it because the alternative is chaos. Now that we’ve got a deal, nearly everybody is on the same page. It is a compromise but even the EU like it and it is perfectly workable. I personally think it is a good deal. We’ve got to get it passed and then, once it’s done, you can start pulling people together again because the first stage of pulling together is in fact, compromise. The people in the middle are growing with either side [revoking article 50 or dropping out of Europe] shrinking, because I think people are coming together on it. It’s eye opening how many people are saying they just want it done; it wasn’t ideal but we’ll live with it and then let’s get on with all the other stuff that’s been log jam for three and a half years. 

Do you not think because there was misinformation on both sides and Vote Leave has been done for over-spending that people should have a right to vote again as they now have more information on it?

I think the question was so simple. It was do you want to be in the EU or not, so people didn’t need all that extra campaigning to make their mind up as I don’t think that really influenced people. The question I always ask on the doorstep is how many MEPs do you have and what are their names? And that’s all you didn’t need to know. The question wasn’t about the specifics, it was simple, about who do you want to govern us – Parliament or the EU? I find a little bit offensive, as I voted to leave, to be told that I didn’t know what I was voting for. And you can use that argument for any election we have and it would just mean this constant rolling re-referendum every five minutes. That’s the danger of asking people what they want – they tell you. That’s the power of our democracy, you actually enact it. 

A lot of people across the country do have Brexit fatigue, is this election not just prolonging that? 

The reason we’ve had to have this election is that you cannot run a country with a majority of minus 45. If you can’t pass primary legislation which is the position we ended up in, you have to have an election. It’s not to prolong Brexit, it’s to end it frankly. I would counter that argument to say, this is un-divisive because we might vote in Labour, the liberals. But the lovely Liberals, let’s be completely realistic about this, for all their benefits, they did only win what – 12 seats in the last election? What’s the chance of them winning another 314? It’s just not going to happen. One of the benefits of our electoral system is that it does generally return a majority so you’re not in a stalemate. So overwhelmingly this is going to be a Labour or Conservative Government. But either way, as I said, if Labour win, then we don’t campaign for the next 5 years to have another election if we don’t like the result. 

There’s a lot of mistrust of politicians on both sides, how would you say to voters that they can trust you, especially given the general level of distrust amongst young people for Boris Johnson? 

The problem with trust in politics is a real problem across the Western world and for me, the root of it is that we now have so much information. We’ve learnt how to generate lots of information but we haven’t learnt how to manage and interpret it properly. But we’re living in a world now where everything you say, a tiny speck of dust, someone can put it under a microscope and blow it up the size of a planet. The whole thing is becoming very distorted which does need to be dealt with through the political process. But I find the real problem is in how things are presented to people and magnified completely out of proportion. My major thing to students, because you’re bright people, is to learn to trust your sources and don’t believe everything you read on social media. 

This is the ‘Brexit election’, but there are bigger issues, what would you say are our nation’s other biggest issues? 

The big thing for me that I hear about are security and policing, education, the NHS and the biggest one here is the environment. I’ve talked to so many people about the reasons for austerity and why we had to do it and for me it was one of the worst things to have to go through because I spent 10 years campaigning for disabled children. I’d had loads of things that were put in place and I had to watch some of them not work like I knew they could be, because there wasn’t the money to do it. But we came into government, literally with a letter saying there’s no money left. On top of that we were borrowing £1 for every £4 we were spending and it’s clearly not sustainable. At that point we were spending so much more on interest payments [on the debt] than we were spending on the NHS. Hard decisions had to be made and you had a choice of carry on spending the money and end up like Greece or Venezuela pretty quickly. Or you have to cut your spending and we try and protect vulnerable services but vulnerable do get hit. So what I do find encouraging now is the economy is rebuilt and performing, tax revenues are massively up so we’re in a position where we can really start spending again.

So I just want to get elected to make sure the money and promises we have, really do come to Bath. The trouble is, is that because Bath is a wealthy city it does get overlooked so we need someone to fight the corner. I do think the primary role of an MP is to keep people safe so we’ve got that covered. We’ve also got lots of promised nurses and things for the hospital. Every pupil in Bath is also going to see an increase in education. It is, at this stage, just beginning to make up for lost time but it is a real increase and that is going to come to every pupil involved. My real biggie is the environment and we’re aiming for net zero by 2050. We could aim to get there overnight but then what would happen? One of the major things is going to be moving people into electric cars because in my point of view as an engineer, the grid couldn’t take it at the moment if everyone started to charge their cars. So we’ve got a lot of infrastructure work to do which is all in the 25 year environmental plan. And why would you trust the Conservatives on the environment? Well it’s because we’ve been doing it and we are so bad at getting the message across. Ten years ago renewables were virtually zero and today we’re generating nearly 37% by renewables. We’ve generated a massive economy and wind farms. 

But is it not too little too late? Doesn’t the fact there’s massive protests show that not enough has been done?

I think it’s partly because people don’t know what has been done already. We are literally leading the world – we have more offshore wind power than any other country in the world and leading the G20 and G7 on all of our targets. Protest, yes, it is an emergency but please get across that we’re not going to melt the planet in 20 years. I speak to a lot of young people who are terrified they’re not going to reach adulthood and there’s just no science behind that. Global warming is absolutely happening and the world is heating up but let’s not be terrified by this because it’s not warming up that fast and it’s not unmanageable. And the human race is brilliant at evolving. And I see all these riots and I think ‘hang on, you’re rioting in the wrong place’ because the UK has got this, we have so got this but the rest of the world hasn’t. We need to be using our expertise to help the rest of the world with this problem. It’s all very well saying we’ve built our economy now on the back of fossil fuels but you can’t do that. So we do need to provide them with other options. One of the things I’m most proud of is the Conservative’s record on the environment and one thing that worries me is that if we don’t get in and Labour do, the whole thing will just unravel. It’s all built on this capitalist economy model and when you strip that away the economy collapses. 

The Conservative manifesto says that they want to be net zero by 2050, which is the latest out of all the main parties, is this not ambitious enough? 

It’s the most realistic and none of the earlier dates are. It’s about trust and people can make these promises and then can’t keep them. I just can’t see how you can achieve, certainly 2030, without totally destabilising society and wrecking the economy. 

Well a lot of scientists have said it’s necessary to bring in a carbon tax to make the country net neutral, would this be brought in?

It’s far better to do it the way we’re doing it which is through the incentive schemes and we’ve made an economy out of it. There’s examples of taxing people flying but then that leads to a whole raft of privacy issues. Basically what I say is what we’re doing is working, carry on with it. 

I know you said our economy is growing better but without raising national insurance, income tax or a significant rise in corporation tax, how are you planning to fund the manifesto? 

People don’t understand, there are three ways of doing it. You either tax people more and at the moment the top 1% of our taxpayers are paying 27% of our tax income and I like rich people, the problem in a global economy is, they leave and immediately take 25% of your tax revenues away. So that doesn’t work as Greece and Venezuela have shown us many times. The other thing you can do is cut spending and that’s not popular. There’s a third way and that is the Conservative way and that is growing the economy. One of the strange consequences of lower taxes is that it raises total tax income. So I don’t care what the tax rate is, what I care about is how much money falls into the pot. [the tax rate] is very carefully balanced at the minute such that it stimulates the economy to generate more money to then generate more total tax. Whether I’m taxing Mr Dyson 90% or 40% or whatever, if he’s rich I’m not that bothered about it but instead if he is chucking tonnes of money into the bucket. 

But the fact that Amazon doesn’t pay any UK tax-

It’s got to be dealt with! It’s one of the things that needs to be dealt with but hasn’t been because we’ve had this elephant sitting on Parliament for three years. 

In your manifesto, it spoke of ‘looking into student tuition rates’ but that’s quite vague?

There is a report out looking into concerns of students whose parents are unwilling to pay, and concerns about the actual interest rates, and it is all being reviewed. It would have been dealt with by now but it hasn’t because of [Brexit]. So the only thing I’ll say about that is you haven’t seen anything yet because it hasn’t come through the system but it is being done. Whenever I talk to students they just want me to write [tuition fees] off and stop them, but I personally see tuition fees as a tax. That’s why it’s not a debt, it’s an advance tax because you’ve got to fund it somehow and where does the money come from? Either the person going on the course pays it back through taxation or everybody pays for it. The fact that we have had tuition fees has allowed us to massively expand, there’s currently 2.34 million students and when I went, there was nothing like that. It’s massively expanded the availability of further education to people who would never have been able to go before. 

Obviously Bath is a very expensive place to live and rent, how would you attempt to tackle the lack of affordable housing in here?

There’s a lack of housing across the country so obviously building more housing is one of the solutions. From my point of view, any sort of housing helps because everyone shuffles around. If we built more student housing in Bath, which lots of residents grumble about, I think that’s a good thing because then students are going to be moving out of [Houses of Multiple Occupancy] and then that frees them up for other people to live in. If there’s more accommodation generally then prices fall. About 10 to 15 years ago, all the students wanted to live in the city but now they all want to live on campus because they don’t want to be going up and down on buses – the environmental concern. The University had no need to build more on campus because it would be half full but I think we’re going to see a change in that. 

At the very end of your manifesto, it speaks about ID at polling stations which our LGBT Committee felt concerned about and what this would mean for the Transgender community?

I think the reality is, you have to. If your official ID is your official ID I can’t see how you can do anything other than use that. You can if you want to identify as a different gender you can change it, you can change your name and that through deed poll. It’s a bit late to do that for this election but if people are walking up and you know, if I want to be known as Andrew, it is a big issue at the minute. It’s really interesting my son is at university now and it’s a real generational gap because I find younger people’s sexuality is much more fluid and he’s in this drama group and they’re all into polyamorous relationships and all that. And you know people don’t like identifying at all. But at the end of the day, what other choice do you have? It’s kind of a tricky one. No one’s really concerned about what sex you are when you come up, all they want to know is you’re the same person as on the piece of paper. It is an issue I’d like to know a bit more about and what [the community’s] problem with it are. 

Her three reasons why you should vote for her

  • For everybody’s future, we’ve got to move on with Brexit. Get the elephant off the table so we can move on to things that matter. For student’s futures I want our democratic process to still be here and still work
  • We’re going to keep the economy growing. I’m a Conservative and our economic policies are working. I want the economy to grow because I want them to have jobs and earn good incomes
  • It is vitally important to get a Conservative government to carry on with our environmental policies 
  • BONUS: to start bringing everyone together again which is really the first reason. To settle the argument, move on, bring up everyone together. 

Genevieve Redgrave

Genevieve Redgrave was the Editor-in-Chief (2019/2020). She won the 'Best Contributor' prize at the 2018 Media Awards in recognition of her frank and witty coverage of world politics.

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