This first appeared in NORTHERN LIFE magazine
April 2015 ISSUE
We don’t normally do politics here at Northern Life as you know. But this story is right up our street!
We are living in very strange times. Our politicians are ignored and laughed at, and our comedians are taken seriously and applauded. Surely it is supposed to be the other way around? Britain’s politicians have never been so out-of-favour and unpopular. The endless scandals of the last few decades have seriously eroded the public’s trust, and, let’s be honest, any interest in them. People just can’t be bothered taking any notice anymore – the most common complaints are that “they’re only in it for themselves,” and that “they’re on another planet.” This might explain why only 30 per cent of folk bother to go out and vote nowadays.
Well, one man has had enough. In the Ribble Valley, a local businessman has decided that he is so fed up with the local MP – he is going to stand against him in the upcoming general election. But, what place does an ordinary, hard working family man have amongst the privileged, spoilt MP’s from down in Westminster? I popped along to meet David Brass, owner of the most colourful shop in Clitheroe town centre, to find out the full story of his campaign to swap his career in his successful town centre business to become the next Ribble Valley MP.
How long have you lived and worked in the Ribble Valley for?
I’m proud to say that I’m born and bred in this lovely part of Lancashire. I was born at Bramley Mead maternity hospital in Whalley and have lived in Clitheroe all my life. My first work was as a paperboy for Bob Ainsworth, a local independent councillor and newsagent. I started work in this very shop after leaving school at 15, when it was called Dawson’s fish mongers.
You’ve been heavily involved in a lot of community events during that time, such as personally funding a half price ticket initiative in support of Clitheroe FC when they were facing a financial crisis. Please tell us a few more examples of your support for the town through the years.
My wife Mary and I have done all sorts of things down the years. We were enthusiastic members of Rotaract in the town and were significantly involved with the community bonfire and torchlight processions. I also had my head shaved raising several hundreds of pounds. We’ve done loads of quizzes, treasure hunts, raffles and sweepstakes and all manner of fundraising things for local groups and events. My wife and daughter Su have raised hundreds for the poppy appeal by making crocheted poppies.
What is the key message that you are saying to the Ribble Valley people on your election campaign, and what can people expect from you if you were elected as Ribble Valley MP on May 7th?
Hundreds of our customers have expressed their dismay at the negative images associated with our area due to the M.P’s involvement in his recent court case, and they are amazed by his re-selection. In the event of my being elected, I won’t be making promises that I can’t deliver. I will simply do my best.
You are a normal working class family man from the north. There are not too many people like that representing the public in Westminster nowadays. Why do you think that is?
I think it is certainly difficult for individuals to reach Westminster as opposed to career politicians within a party structure. But there are still a fair number of what you could call ordinary folk with their own wealth of life experiences doing a good job in Parliament.
You run one of the best known shops in Clitheroe, and deal with thousands of local people and tourists face to face all day, every day, seven days a week – so it is fair to say that you are in touch with ordinary people – which many people argue is the problem with our politicians nowadays. What are the main things that you hear people saying that they are unhappy about?
Certainly one of the main gripes that people have is the feeling that as individuals, we are becoming less important. Politicians, banks, utility companies all seem to do as they please, with little regard for the consumer. People are annoyed about lots of things, such as waiting times to see their doctor, unsolicited phone calls and the state of the roads and pavements. These are the topics that come up every day when I’m talking to folk.
You will of course be facing several other people in this contest, but the most high profile candidate will be the previous Conservative MP for the Ribble Valley constituency, Nigel Evans who has been the MP for over twenty years. Your campaign slogan is “Back Brass – No More Nigel.” Do you think that people have had enough of Mr Evans now?
It’s been pretty obvious that the majority of people were appalled at the behaviour and other elements of Nigel’s character that were widely reported from the trial. But on top of this, there is a strong feeling that his record as an MP is no great shakes and lots of people that I’m in conversation with on a daily basis think that it’s time for a change now.
It must be a very exciting time for you, knowing that there is a very real possibility that you will swap your job selling newspapers and magazines, to walking the floors of Westminster Palace in just a few months time. Are you not nervous about this?
I’ve not really given it too much thought at this stage! If it happens then I’ll deal with it to the best of my ability. In the meantime, my wife and I will continue doing what we always do, which is running the family business and enjoying family life.
How do you think that the general election will go over all?
Hopefully the Conservatives will win an overall majority, or at least form the majority of the government in a coalition. UKIP will make a few gains and the Liberal Democrats will have a few losses. I think the Scottish Nationalists will have a bigger influence on English matters than they should have! Hopefully, there will be at least one Independent MP elected to the house.
UKIP seem to be swallowing up the dissatisfied voters around Britain who are sick to death of mainstream political parties and the scandals that MP’s are being caught up in, as well as capitalising on the fears people have around immigration. How do you think that UKIP will fare in the Ribble Valley?
If there was nobody standing as an alternative for Conservative voters, then I don’t think many people would vote at all. UKIP doesn’t have a lot to offer in this area. Some folk will vote UKIP, as it’s too much of a stretch to contemplate voting for Labour with their abysmal record on the economy.
If you were elected, would you buy a breakfast for £39 and then claim it on your MP expenses like the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith did?
I’d expect breakfast for a week at that price! But no, I wouldn’t expect the tax payer to pay for my food. But it must be said that expenses should be claimed for where they are justified. It’s only fair.
What about some new socks?
I suppose if you had worn out your socks by pussy-footing and tip-toeing around the issues of the day, then maybe. But even then, you’d have to be pretty tight to put in a claim for a new pair of socks!
Joking aside, it’s very easy to see why politics is such a turn off for people with the stories we are constantly reading. Do you think that it is possible for somebody like yourself from the real world to stay “down to earth” if you became part of the Westminster bubble?
You’d like to think so. Some MP’s come across as being down-to-earth types and some appear to be in love with themselves. I’d just carry on being myself.
Who is your favourite politician of all time?
Margaret Thatcher. She was the best peace-time leader we’ve had, and she gave Great Britain a presence at the top table of international politics. She achieved this by being strong and purposeful.
And who has been your least favourite?
Chris Patten. In the Ribble Valley by-election campaign of 1991, when Nigel Evans lost, all the great and good of politics were in the area, trying to win votes. You could stand and talk with the MP’s of all the main parties. I tried to talk to Chris Patten and he just turned his back on me. That is a serious lack of manners in my book, so he is my least favourite politician for that reason.
You have a very distinctive suit that you are wearing for the election. What’s the story behind this?
Oh, yes, my “Humbug” suit. I’m wearing this to reflect the nature of politics. It seems to me that if you are in politics, you are able to get away with outrageous behaviour both inside and outside of Parliament, such as the cash for access, sexual misdeeds, expenses scandals, and the list goes on and on. The suit is of course also a nod to Martin Bell’s successful Independent MP campaign in Tatton and his trademark white suit!
What would you like to say to our readers across the north of England who might be one of the 70% of people who don’t bother going to vote?
People have died for the right to vote, both in this country and overseas. I think that it should be a public duty to vote, certainly in General Elections, so as to give a better mandate. It is particularly heartening to me that dozens of people who never vote have said that they will vote this time, and they will vote for me because I am someone who they know and who is approachable, rather than a remote politician.
Good luck with your campaign David and thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to tell us all about it. This is a real David and Goliath fight, and I’m sure that all of the Northern Life readers will be watching the results very closely on the morning of May the 8th.