Interestingly-worded survey, Sir Liam Fox. Excuse me if I answer it my own way…

Clevedon Pier, North Somerset. Photo by Eric Gates

An open letter to Sir Liam Fox MP

Dear Sir Liam,

Thank you for the North Somerset Residents Survey form, which you kindly sent me. It is a rather tasteful shade of green – an interesting change in Conservative branding. The party has, I think, traditionally used blue ever since my grandfather was a Conservative MP. Is there perhaps a reason for stepping away from the brand image associated with the party in power for the last 14 years?

I have never been very good at filling in surveys. Whoever designed yours seems to have watched Yes, Prime Minister, when Sir Humphrey gave Bernard a tutorial in designing questions to get the answers you want. Therefore, please forgive me if I answer the questions in the way that I want to answer them.

Question 1 asks about my priorities among ten motherhood questions – affordable homes, access to doctors and dentists, cost of living, etc. For almost anyone, all those issues are important. The key point, however, is that over the last 14 years, the outcome on all of them has got worse. The last of the ten – supporting farmers and food security – rings particularly hollow in a constituency with a large farming community, given the removal of European funding, the failure to replace it and the complete fiasco around import and export arrangements since Brexit.

Question 2 asks for any specific issues that I would like to raise. Unfortunately, the box is quite small, so I will just go for a short list.

  • Re-establish a constructive relationship with our European neighbours.
  • Implement electoral and constitutional reform.
  • Give regulators of monopoly utilities real teeth – and if that results in some utilities returning to public ownership, so be it.
  • Promote press and media that have a stake in the country and pay their taxes.
  • Publish the report on Russian influence on the 2016 referendum and, indeed, investigate the impact of oligarch and other foreign funding on UK politics.
  • Investigate of the misuse of public funds during the pandemic.

Question 3 asks a series of questions of local significance. I am not a great fan of North Somerset Council, but perhaps the greatest handicap that the Council has suffered has been the progressive reduction in the central government grant. There would be less pressure on the Green Belt if there had not been centrally imposed targets for house building that seem to ignore the areas of North Somerset that are potentially vulnerable to flooding.

Question 5 asks about my three priorities among ten Conservative commitments. There is a certain irony in the bit about reducing immigration, which your government has successfully increased. However, the real issue is that, on the evidence of the last 14 years, I don’t trust a Conservative government to deliver an acceptable NHS reform, protect schools and education, or to take a realistic view of our defence capabilities.

Question 6 asks for my views on Rishi’s five priorities. Since I suspect that he will be relocating to California in the near future, I am not sure that they are relevant.

Question 7 asks about priorities for the NHS. As a former doctor (sorry if you are still registered) I would hope that this is close to your heart. My wife tackled you at a constituency surgery on this topic about seven years ago and you suggested that we should be training more of our own staff to replace those leaving because of Brexit. The bottom line seems to be that your government has failed to ensure that the NHS is properly staffed, not least because many of those being trained prefer to emigrate, rather than work on the current terms. The introduction of Physician Assistants, with significantly less training than qualified General Practitioners, seriously undermines confidence.

Having lived in the United States and seen how its insurance-led system works, it is not a model to follow. Even with insurance, you can be left with a significant percentage of a very large bill. When my wife broke her hip on holiday the bill came to $100,000. Fortunately our travel insurance paid in full, but US health insurance would have required a contribution of some $10,000. And do you want to have to choose which prescriptions for your children you can afford to pay for ($600 for a week’s supply of a standard blood thinner)? At least look at some of the models in mainland Europe.

Question 8 asks if “I want a total change to a Labour Government, even if Rishi Sunak is making progress on the economy and other issues.” Short answer: he is not making progress and I really do want a change of government.

Question 9 is worth reproducing in full. “We’ve cut small boat crossings by a third and cut crossings from Albania by almost 90 per cent. While the Rwanda plan was delayed by the courts, we’re passing new laws to declare Rwanda a safe country.”

I had always considered you a reasonable sort of person, even if I disagreed with much of your politics. At the risk of being fair, you have been a far more active constituency MP than many of your colleagues and Mrs Ione Douglas has been a very effective assistant in dealing with your constituency correspondence. However, “passing new laws to declare Rwanda a safe country” is delusional. It makes no more sense than passing a law to say that black is white.

My view, which your survey asks for, is that the Rwanda plan has been a huge waste of money, aimed largely at placating a small right-wing faction. The objective could have been achieved far more effectively by co-operating with France – but, of course, that is anathema in the Brexit world. The Rwanda plan was delayed by the courts because it was against the law, and a key function of courts is to ensure that even the government acts lawfully. Furthermore, should you be in any doubt, I am not willing to give up my basic human rights, enshrined under the European Convention on Human Rights, which your government has so glibly proposed. Who would have thought that a Conservative government would be seeking to stand next to Russia and Belarus as non-members of the Convention? I find that a truly chilling prospect, which should be an awful warning of the authoritarian instincts of some in the Conservative party.

Questions 10 and 11 ask how I voted in the last two elections and my comments above may give you a clue. You may also deduce the answer to Question 12 about my preference between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer.

As for Question 13, “How will you vote at the General Election?” After over 30 years as the MP for Woodspring/North Somerset, I think you deserve to have more time to spend with your family. I shall be voting tactically to enable that and, between now and voting day, my choice may change. I will vote for a candidate who will take me in a better direction than you would, and my choice may change again at the next election. I am trying to find a bus that will take me towards my desired destination, not signing up to a partnership for life.

I hope that this will help with your survey.


Eric Gates