For the second time in this election campaign, I have been lucky enough to interview a parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth South in Gerald Vernon-Jackson. Vernon-Jackson is the Liberal Democrat candidate for this election and has long been involved in politics in Portsmouth, currently being a city councillor and leading the city council between 2010 and 2014. He ran for the seat in the 2015 General Election but lost out to Flick Drummond, who I interviewed last week, which you can see here.
I started by asking him whether he thought the timing of the early election suited his party, and Vernon-Jackson responded with a blunt “no. Let’s face it, the Conservatives are going to win a majority in this election and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. I was foolish enough to believe Theresa May in the eleven times she said she would not call a general election, but she has gone back on her word. Whatever she says, she has called the election because she feels things are starting to go badly for her government and she wants to secure a mandate before that. The other reason I think she has called it is that she wants an election while Jeremy Corbyn is Labour leader.”
Flick Drummond last week said that the Conservatives have given the NHS all the money they have asked for and that there is no crisis, but Vernon-Jackson disagrees with his opponent. He said “the NHS is definitely in crisis and it is being made much worse by the Conservatives’ policies on social care. This is an issue quite close to my heart as I worked in social care for a number of years. To give an example, there are currently 237 beds taken in QA hospital by people who could go home but have nowhere else to go because there is no social care and it costs between £400 and £500 per day to keep them in hospital. Flick Drummond rejected a deal to convert St James’ hospital, which is being emptied, partly into social care which would allow us to move people from QA to St James’, hugely relieving the strain on the hospital.”
Predictably, Brexit was a topic of discussion and I asked Vernon-Jackson about the Lib Dems’ policy to hold a second EU referendum on whether to accept or reject the final deal. He claimed that the initial EU referendum gave Theresa May a mandate to start negotiations with the EU, but that people should have a chance to choose whether to go ahead with Brexit once a deal is on the table. When asked whether he felt referendums diluted the role of MPs he answered “I would trust MPs with very little. Big decisions should be made by the people rather than MPs as MPs are in no better position to make choices than normal voters. The point of MPs is to represent their constituents: that’s the problem with Flick, she puts her party before Portsmouth. She has never voted against the government, and that’s something I would be prepared to do as that’s the sort of person I am.”
Flick Drummond was also asked last week whether she thought the voting age should be lowered, and she said she would be against such a measure. Vernon-Jackson, on the other hand, wholeheartedly supports lowering the voting age to 16 and said “the Lib Dem manifesto is very centred around the future of young people. If you look at the demographic of the EU referendum, the younger people were, the more likely they were to vote Remain. However, the vast majority of older people voted while young people cannot have a say in their future. As to the argument of 16 year-olds not being mature enough to vote, the same can be said for many people in their 30s.”
An example of one of the Lib Dems’ policies surrounding young voters is the legalisation of marijuana and Vernon-Jackson said he was in favour of legalising the drug. “It would be heavily taxed and the government would make a lot of money from legalising marijuana. At the moment the police just don’t have the resources to tackle marijuana, and people who use it are often scared of the police. Legalising the drug would prevent people being scared of the police and would free up the resources that are currently being spent on trying to prevent people using it.”
A topical issue at the moment is the possibility of the Conservatives passing a bill legalising fox hunting, but Vernon-Jackson said he will vote against that bill if he is elected. He said “there is a difference between killing foxes because they threaten livestock and killing foxes for sport. The first is legal but the second is barbaric and I would not vote for that bill if elected. More should be done to prevent animal cruelty, and I would not be against a public list being published of all people convicted of animal cruelty such as fox hunting.”
Homelessness is a problem that Vernon-Jackson has spent much time tackling and he would like to see more done to prevent it. “The problem is,” he said, “Tory policies actually encourage homelessness. It’s a big problem in this city and Conservative policies such as people with serious mental health issues having to live in shared accommodation is one of the main causes because often people would rather be homeless as living in shared accommodation can be very difficult for people with mental health issues. It is stupid to pretend that everybody’s mind works the same way and there are people whose lives are chaotic who need help from the government.”
Finally, I asked Vernon-Jackson whether he felt he would find it difficult to adjust from local government to Parliament, if elected. He replied “I don’t know because I’ve never done it before! I have mates who have been both and they say that you have more influence with real people as a councillor than as an MP. You have a much greater influence on your own constituency when you’re on the council than if you are an MP, but you have more influence nationally as an MP. At the moment I can walk around the city and look at things knowing “I did that” but I’m not sure that would be the case as an MP.”
Vernon-Jackson struck me as a very straight-talking person and I was encouraged that he would be prepared to vote against his party if he disagreed with the official Lib Dem position. I also appreciated the fact that he would, in his words, ‘put Portsmouth before party’, as I feel it is vital for MPs to represent their own constituents above all else. However, I disagree with the Lib Dem view that a second EU referendum should be held once a deal is negotiated as, whether people like it or not, a democratic decision was taken to leave the EU and holding a referendum now would set a precedent for giving people the chance to reverse future decisions they disagree with. However, I greatly appreciated his decision to take time out of his day to grant me an interview, and wish him the best of luck on his campaign.