The Race For The Bath Constituency: An interview with Conservative candidate James Wright

Cover Image credit: James Wright for Bath

This is part of an election series with some of Bath’s parliamentary candidates – all interviews will be posted on our website over the next week. Some answers have been edited for legible clarity. 

Friday 7th June 2024

Interviewer:  Louise Sadler (in bold)

Interviewee: James Wright, Bath’s Conservative Parliamentary Candidate

Why would you like to stand as the MP and why Bath community in particular?

I grew up in Bath. I grew up in Combe Down and my mother and my brother worked for the NHS in Bath and got married in Monkton Combe, which is just on the edge of the constituency, and that’s where I started my family. So you know, I’ve known Bath for the majority of my life. I now live and farm in Somerset, not far away. I want to be an MP because I also run a technology company that I helped set up about five years ago. We employed roughly 32 people, most of whom live within around 30 minutes of Bath and 60% of all the people in the UK are employed by small and medium-sized enterprises. I believe that, in order to have the national security, the infrastructure, the education, the NHS that we all want, we’ve got to grow that sector and I often feel like civil servants and politicians don’t understand what it is to create jobs, what it is to run a business. I’m standing so that when a bill comes forward that might not help job creation (as someone who actually understands how that works in the room). Bath, as you know, is where I grew up, but there are big challenges in Bath. We’ve got a Liberal Democrat Council which pursues vanity projects rather than sane governance. So rather than spending £7.4 million on city centre bollards that nobody asked for because you don’t like cars, really, that money should have been spent on improving active travel or improving choices around bus transport by making them more reliable. So that’s so that’s why I’m standing, because Barth deserves an MP who will stand up to the Council’s poor decision making, but also understands what it is to create jobs and what that means for the economy.

To talk about First Bus, the bus service that a lot of students rely on in the area. This past year, they sought to increase the price of buses, which is the primary form of transport for students. How would you make sure that public transport stays affordable for both students and more permanent residents in Bath when we’re looking at the net zero and the climate targets for the country?

There’s two questions there. So the first one is how do we ensure that bus travel is affordable. So the Conservatives last year rolled out £2 bus travel across the entire country to make sure that bus travel was affordable and reliable. We’re able to do those sorts of schemes because we have looked after the economy well and going back to my point about job creation, which is you can’t do good things or nice things unless you’ve got a thriving economy and that’s why we need more people like me in politics who have built businesses and understand what it is to create jobs. The second thing about net zero: I mean I’m a farmer, right? So every morning and every evening I see the impact of climate change on my farm. We are having wetter winters, drier summers and generally the weather is more unstable. So there’s absolutely no doubt that man-made climate change is having an effect on the planet. We can’t just stop everything completely and rewire our economy in a really short period of time. We need to transition, and we can’t make things more expensive during that transition. We’ve gone through the war in Ukraine, which has enormously increased energy prices. We can’t then tack on more things to reach net zero. We need to bring the country with us. That means making sensible decisions. So, for example, you wouldn’t replace a bus that has got another ten years in its life with a more energy efficient bus. You should run that bus for its full lifetime and then replace it. What we’re seeing with the Liberal Democrat Council in Bath is that they will make those vanity project decisions that cost more because they think it’s the right thing to do and are not actually being practical about it. So we mustn’t let ideology and dogma get ahead of sensible decision making, because that ultimately is what will what will get us to net zero and get us to that stable climate that we all need.

What do you think about the low emission zones within cities and particularly the fines for cars that don’t meet the specifications? 

So Bath does have a problem with air pollution and growing up there, I saw the effects of that on my friends and myself. We need to improve air quality. That comes with making cars more efficient over time and not penalising drivers who can’t afford to upgrade their cars. So we need to encourage people to make the right decisions by buying more sustainable, more fuel-efficient cleaner cars, and not by penalising drivers because they can’t afford to buy a modern car. Some people say, well, why don’t you use a bus? But, if you’re a tradesman, and you’re coming in to fix electrics in Bath, you can’t bring your tools on the bus. You have to drive in. And those are the people who are penalised by clean air zones. So it’s the right goal, but the wrong way of doing it. That just goes back to my point about ideology and dogma and the Clean Air Zone in Bath generates £2 million a year and they spent that on a cycle lane. Actually that should probably be spent on supporting those tradesmen, those businesses, who are suffering because of the clean air zone, not just putting in another cycle lane that won’t be used. 

To fact check, the following link shows the 2022 profits and plans that Bath Council has reported from the Clean Air Zone.

Many students are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the Government’s ability to seriously counter the climate crisis. What are your party’s main policy proposals to counter the climate crisis, and what would you say to students to make them trust that you will actually go through with them?

I was a District Councillor and Cabinet Member for the Environment and Rural Affairs, I was set the target of reaching net zero by 2030. We had cut our emissions by 50% within four years and well on the way on the way to reach the target. That’s the same in the UK. So across the country, we are the first G7 economy to halve our emissions. That is fantastic. Whatever you think about the Conservative Party, the Conservative Party has led the way on supporting the country to transition to a more sustainable future. 50% reduction is absolutely fantastic. I hope you and all of your students would agree with me. Next week we’re going to get the manifesto, so we will see what the commitment is from the party for the next five years. But we shouldn’t just think about climate change. There’s what we’ve done on biodiversity. The 13 years of the Labour government from 1997 to 2010, we saw a huge decline in pollinators and the birds that have gone with them because we were using the old-style Common Agricultural Policies. Now there are 48,000 new agreements signed between the government and farmers to support nature-friendly farming across the country since 2020. That won’t carry on happening if the Conservatives aren’t in government again because the Liberal Democrats would bring back the old style of farming payments that rewarded farmers based on the amount of land they farm, not what they did for nature. Take away the fact that some of your readers might not like the Conservative Party, actually, the Conservative Party is the party of the environment. We’ve cut emissions by 50%. We’re protecting more land now than we ever have before for nature and the manifesto which will outline what we will do for the next five years.

Conservative Party manifesto: https://public.conservatives.com/static/documents/GE2024/Conservative-Manifesto-GE2024.pdf

Find the BBC analysis of the Conservative Party manifesto here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/crgglmwwlggo

Recently, Wessex Water announced they would be seeking prices rises by up to 50%, putting the average annual water bill up to £822. After recorded high levels of sewage last year, sewage spills, how can we ensure that residents in Bath can have access to clean and reasonably-priced water in the coming months and years?

There’s two parts to that question. It’s not just how do we make sure that water is affordable. It’s also ensuring that there aren’t sewage outflows. We know that sewage is a problem, because before 2010, sewage outflows were not monitored. That meant that sewage still went in the rivers, but no one knew about it. So when the Conservatives came into office, we instigated a programme of making sure that every single sewage outflow in the country had a monitoring station on it and that all of that data had to be publicly available and that the water companies would then have to report on that. So that’s why we know that sewage is a problem. It’s been a problem for much longer than that, but that’s why we know it is a problem. Now we know it’s a problem, we’ve got to deal with it and that is what the Conservative government is delivering with its plan for water, which involves investing in more storage capacity – we haven’t built a new reservoir since the 1990s. So we need to make sure that there is storage of water available. We need to upgrade our sewers. In London there’s a huge amount of work that’s gone into upgrading old Victorian sewers and that is the same for around the country and also where new housing is built that it’s done to an incredibly high standard, both for the amount of water that is used in the house, but also how it recycles waste water. That all costs money, the Liberal Democrats plan for solving the sewage outflows would have put hundreds of pounds per household on bills. The Conservative plan will take longer, yes, but will mean that their houses are not met with extremely high bills and at the same time still stopping the surge outflows that we all want.

With the advent of parking permits this year particularly in Oldfield Park, this has led many students to feel priced out of bringing a car to Bath. Should we make parking permits more affordable?

This is the Liberal Democrats once again having a war on cars and not thinking about individuals. It’s pushing their own world view onto the residents of Bath, and it’s very simple. The parking permits should be where they are absolutely required and there will be some cases where parking permits are required. It should be a method of managing the parking, not a revenue raiser. So what I mean by that is that there is a cost obviously to managing roads where there is a need for managed parking of which there are some in Baths, but that then shouldn’t then be turned into a revenue raiser or penalising drivers for owning cars. That is what the Liberal Democrats are doing. They’re penalising people for owning cars rather than realising there are reasons why people own cars. Let’s say you’re a student and you’ve got parents who sometimes require care or they’re elderly or you’ve got brothers and sisters and sometimes need help – you need a car because at some point you’re you might get a phone call at 11:00 at night that says you need to go home and help. You need a car for that, but the Liberal Democrats don’t think about that. They’re just thinking about how can we penalise people who own cars because we all use the bus, we all ride bikes. Everyone should be able to do that, which is just not the case. If you are somebody with a disability or someone who has family that require caring needs, you need a car. So it’s not a choice. That’s what they forget.

What would you propose?

So there are some roads that will require car parking permits but that is to control the number of people trying to park on the road. So for example you don’t have people driving into Bath, parking on a road for free and then walking into work. We can’t have that, because it means there’s no residence parking available. But what we shouldn’t be doing is making that parking permit expensive so that the only people who can afford them are people who own their own houses. We need to make sure that we manage parking based on need and not by using it as a revenue raiser.

Do you believe there’s a shortage of housing in Bath? And if so, what steps do you think should be taken to address these?

There’s a shortage of housing across the country. We are not building enough housing, and I will be at odds with many Conservative voters by saying that. I believe that when you run for office, you need to say the difficult things, but we simply have not built enough housing. I’ve got two young children and when I think about what future they’ll have, I do worry that there won’t be enough housing for them one day to be able to move out. It’s simple maths. There are more people being born and moving to the UK than we are building houses. This isn’t a point for Bath because you can’t do it in Bath, but it’s about intensifying sustainably where there are good transport links. In Bath, you can’t do that, but in other parts of the country you can. So what I mean by that is that where you have a very good transport hub with good rail and road links, you should build more houses and build up. You can’t do that in bath. It is more in Bath about using existing housing stock better, so encouraging areas where there may be older housing that can be replaced. So we’ve done that well in the old MOD sites in Lansdown and places like that and then also looking at new developments. Obviously you’ve got the gas works which was approved yesterday and there’s an application that’s just gone in for the old Home Base store as well. Now there is a need to make sure that that is not all student housing because Bath does have an economy that needs to grow outside of just being student housing. But at the same time as well, we need to make sure that there is enough student housing of good quality available for students that we have.

Officers of our university’s SU denounced the state of university housing as ‘deplorable’, with many student houses described as being mould-infested and poorly insulated. What would you do to ensure that landlords in this country provide adequate living conditions for their tenants, specifically within Bath itself, where students are having issues with this?

I was a student and I remember we lived in an old people’s home that got turned into student accommodation. It was horrendous. There was mould. We did have a wonderful time living there. But actually looking back on it, we probably shouldn’t have been living there. One of the things that didn’t make it through Parliament was the Tenants Reform Bill under Michael Gove and was all about providing more security and clearer boundaries between tenants and landlords. Landlords provide an important service, and we shouldn’t punish people for providing what is required and I very strongly believe that that landlords are an important part of our economy and society. At the same time, there are people who take advantage of students and we need to make sure that students have the power to be able to demand better (standards) and that organisations like the Students’ Union are able to speak out on their behalf.

When it comes to students feeling disenfranchised by the current political system, how would you encourage students to visit the polling station on the 4th of July and to vote?

It’s a great time to talk about it. Yesterday we had the 80th anniversary of D-Day. We take our security and freedom for granted in many ways. People fought and died for our ability to determine our future. In Ukraine, there are people now fighting and dying to protect their right to self-determination. So your vote is hard won, maybe not by you, but by people who’ve gone before you. Don’t take it for granted. Even if you go to the polling station and spoil your ballot, that is a message. I think the best thing for future is a Conservative government which has got a clear plan that’s not afraid to take difficult decisions to deliver bold action to secure the future of the country. Even if you don’t agree with that, go to the polling station and exercise your democratic right because voting is something that people have died for and there are many people in this world who would love to have a vote who don’t. So don’t take it for granted.

In a follow-up question via email, seeing as he mentioned the prevalence of the D-Day anniversary, we asked Mr Wright if he would comment on PM Rishi Sunak leaving the D-Day commemorations early the day before to attend an ITV interview. In his reply, he did not respond to this particular point.

Student maintenance loans have not risen since the cost-of-living crisis struck the nation, leaving students with less to live on, and many have to work alongside their studies to finance their degree. On top of that, the Trussel Trust has reported that food bank usage has risen by a quarter since the last election. What can be done to make day-to-day life more affordable, is tightening inflation enough?

We’ve cut inflation from 11% to 2.5% and to do that, we’ve had to make really difficult decisions and that will ease the cost-of-living prices. Energy bills going up as well has added to the cost on students and hard-working families. This goes back to my point about why we need a strong economy. We need to have businesses who are able to employ students where required and pay well for it. The best way to do that is to have business-friendly policies and people in Parliament who understand business as well. I get a lot of emails from people who run food banks. I have previously volunteered and fundraised for food banks. They perform a really important part of work in society for people who fall through the gaps. But it shouldn’t be something that someone relies on for a long period of time. There have been times in my life where I’ve had no money in my bank account and although I haven’t used food banks, I know what it is like to be in that position. That shouldn’t be some efficient situation that someone finds themselves in every week. We need to make sure we have a society that has a strong enough economy to look after those that need support, but also doesn’t saddle those that can (support themselves) with high levels of tax. It is a balance.

Have you got any proposals that you would like to put forward to help combat this specifically for students?

It goes back to that point of housing and making sure there’s sufficient housing, good enough quality, making sure it’s well-insulated. What would you say to that? What would your students want for specifically for Bath-based policies?

There is a discrepancy between Wales and England on the amount of student loans that students receive. In England, they don’t receive nearly as much maintenance loan as potentially other students do in Wales. In Scotland, Scottish students attend Scottish university without paying tuition fees. Potentially there’s maybe something more should be done within England around this – maybe increasing the number of people that can access hardship loans because a lot of students aren’t dependent on their parent’s income, a lot of them still have to work independently.

I worked through university, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with working through university. I think actually working whilst you’re studying is a really important life skill and lesson. I take your point about the loans not rising with inflation and that would be something that as your MP, I would like to explore more.

The BBC reported over the past week or so about the Conservatives promising to rewrite the Equality Act so that protections it enshrines on the basis of a person’s sex apply only to their biological sex. So it’s specifically about single sex spaces that are determined by biological sex definitions. Do you have any comment on this?

Definitions are important and knowing that single sex spaces are protected is very important. At the same time, we do need to have safe spaces for people who do identify as different genders as well. So it is a two way street. What the Conservative policy is, is making the definition clearer and protecting those single sex spaces and at the same time ensuring that there are safe spaces for those who do identify as a different gender.

So are you saying that there would be plans in place to help those who are not included in biologically female definitions?

The Equalities Act definition change doesn’t change the requirement to provide safe spaces for people who identify (as otherwise), it just ensures that those spaces for people who identify as this single sex have safe spaces.

You mentioned that with the housing crisis, people are coming to the UK and that is partly why we’re not having the space within the country (to house people). So are you talking tighter border controls, tighter immigration controls? What is your policy on that to ensure that enough people have access to housing?

I mean that’s a different question. For enough people to have access to housing is to build more housing and we spend a lot of time arguing about where we put houses. And I think we should spend much more time talking about that types of houses we build, the infrastructure that goes with them, the types of communities we’re looking to build. That’s where the energy should go when we talk about housing, not where you put them because you know, the house that you live in, the house that I lived in was not around 400 years ago. We should spend much more time talking about the way they’re built, not where they’re built. I mean I’ve been a Councillor and a Cabinet Member. I know how difficult decisions are around where houses go, so I’m not being flippant.

Illegal immigration is illegal. The current situation we have is that people are coming over the Channel, risking their lives, risking the lives of their loved ones for what they think is a better future in Britain. It is wrong to encourage it. It’s wrong to support it, and we need to control illegal immigration because it will save lives, because we will not have people making a difficult and dangerous journey over the Mediterranean and then also making that a similar journey through the Channel. The only way we’ll stop people from dying in the Channel is to stop illegal immigration.

On the broader point, announced last week was our commitment to have an annual cap for legal migration agreed by Parliament and giving Parliament control of the amount of people coming into the UK. This is a really important part of our democracy. People have lost faith in our ability to control our own borders. Parliament, ultimately, will be the ones that will decide that figure, and then it will be a legally binding target, so there will be no wiggle room to get out of that.

When one of the main priorities (of the Conservative Party) is stopping the boats, can you guarantee that if we are to send asylum seekers to Rwanda or anywhere else in the world, that you can guarantee their safety once that they have left British soil?

The Rwanda bill clearly outlines the commitments of Rwanda to those people we are sending back, and genuine asylum seekers will be protected. We have passed an act that means that Rwanda is a safe country and that’s the commitment that we have made and that Rwanda makes to these people.

For further information about this contested bill, read the following about the UK Supreme Court’s opposition to the bill: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-61782866

Is there anything else you would like to add?

This election is a clear choice. It’s a clear choice between Sir Keir Starmer and his unchanged Labour (let’s not forget that Starmer twice tried to put Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10) and then  Rishi Sunak and his clear plan for the economy. We’ve seen how that’s improved the inflation situation, easing the cost-of-living crisis. (He’s) not afraid to take the bold and difficult decisions to secure the future of the country and that is the simple choice at this election. What do you want? Do you want a more uncertain world, or a government would track record of securing the country’s future.? Well, that’s what I want and why I’m standing as the Conservative candidate for Bath.

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