Tim Archer is the Conservative PPC for Poplar and Limehouse. Why did I ask him for an interview? Well, apart from the fact that Poplar and Limehouse is my constituency, it’s also a very interesting seat. Over to UK Polling Report:
Poplar and Limehouse is perhaps the most surprising seat on the Conservative target list, requiring a swing of just under 6%, the same sort of figure as more obvious targets like Reading West, Ipswich or Stirling. It has come to this for two main reasons – firstly the rapid gentrification of the area surrounding Canary Wharf, and secondly the rise of Respect and the consequential splitting of the Labour vote.
It is Conservative target seat number 105 and the fact that made my ears prick up and become suddenly very interested in (my) local politics was that if the Tories are to have a majority, they must win this new seat. If this happens it is likely that P&L will be seen as a benchmark, as evidence that Cameron’s decontamination project has worked. Until 2004 the Tories had never held a single seat in Tower Hamlets. A casual glance over some of P&L’s socio-economic statistics suggests a seat more reminiscent of such Labour strongholds as Salford and Eccles than of a marginal with Tory potential.
But the goalposts have been moved, literally. Poplar and Limehouse, previously Poplar and Canning Town, now incorporates the relatively affluent area of Wapping and no longer incorporates the relatively less affluent area of Canning Town. You can say what you like about stereotyping and lazy generalisations, but Jim Fitzpatrick’s (Lab) majority, 7,129 in 2005, has been notionally reduced to 3,942, or, if you believe The Times, no longer exists (at the time of writing). So, it’s game on.
CHT: How is your campaign going? Any particular successes/difficulties?
TA: It’s going very well. We are getting very strong support on the doorstep and very strong recognition for me personally too. One or two people have been worried about the prospect of Galloway winning – but he really is a busted flush. You’ve only got to look at the bookies’ odds (Ladbrokes have him at 10-1 a rank outsider, and myself on at evens, ahead of Labour). I carry around a recent local newspaper article about it which seems to do the trick.
How is David Cameron’s tax break for married couples playing on the doorstep?
It’s going down well. People appreciate the principle and with the current dire economic situation the prospect of a tax break for hard pressed married families is very welcome. It’s especially strong among the local Muslim and Christian community groups who have very strong traditional family values.
Your campaign leaflet states that the Shadow Housing Minister promised you at last year’s conference that a Conservative Government would build more homes than Labour have done. What will you do if they don’t deliver on this promise?
I believe we will. Labour have built fewer homes every year bar one since they have been in power than the Conservatives when they were in power. Labour has let down those at the bottom of society by not investing in the affordable homes we need. If we are elected and don’t fulfil this pledge then I will become the biggest thorn in the side of the Housing Minister possible.
Because of the boundary changes your constituency now includes an extraordinarily diverse range of people in terms of socio-economic statuses. What would you say to those who feel it is somehow inappropriate for a Conservative, or indeed any politician, to both represent some of the poorest and richest people in London?
It’s a fair question – but why shouldn’t a Conservative be able to? I represent as a councillor a ward in Tower Hamlets that’s diverse in terms of wealth and status, and I have the reputation as being the most effective councillor on the council. I certainly undertake more resident casework than any other. I didn’t get elected by just well-off people voting for me – that’s impossible here. I got elected by residents from across our society voting for me and I’ve worked hard for all parts of our community. Residents need someone who can actually stand up for them. Your effectiveness is not about your class, upbringing or job, it’s actually about your ability to do the job and I’ve proven I’ve got the skills to stand up for local people.
Are there any issues that broadly unite people in P&L, investment bankers, Respect voters and students alike?
Concern about crime and anti-social behaviour. It doesn’t matter if you live in a posh estate or a sink estate, we’re all affected by crime and crime in P&L has gone up 8% in the last year and that’s in an area that has already got a high crime rate. We need to get more bobbies on the beat and we need them at the times when there is trouble, not ten o’clock on a Monday morning but when the schools turn out at three thirty, in the evening and at night and Friday and Saturday nights in particular. We need to cut the paperwork and get the police out of the police stations and onto the streets.
Of the other seven candidates standing in P&L, which do you feel there is most support for on the doorstep and if there is a specific policy of theirs that attracts this support, what is it?
It’s certainly not Labour, whose support would appear to be collapsing. I have heard some support for the Greens and specifically their green policies, but in reality they are not going to get anywhere, and the Conservatives have a really progressive agenda on green issues.
What are your thoughts on the Lib Dem surge in the opinion poll ratings and if you were David Cameron, what would your strategy be?
We need to stick to our core messages (dealing with crime, dealing with the deficit, dealing with the broken society) and not be too distracted by the Lib Dem bubble. I firmly believe that when push comes to shove, people will not want a hung parliament and they certainly won’t want a Labour government propped up by Clegg, and they will vote accordingly.
George Galloway’s battle bus has been driving up and down my road for some time now. Any reason you haven’t invested in one yourself? (Optional question: any ideas how I can legally make him stop?)
The pollution coming out of that bus is something else and I’m not necessarily talking about the exhaust! I’ve had lots of complaints from local residents fed up with the noise and traffic problems that this bus is creating.
I’ve not spent money on a bus for two reasons: one they are very expensive on a very limited campaign budget, and I’d rather spend the money we’ve got on more meaningful communication with local residents. Secondly I think it turns people off politics and it does more harm than good.
Can I persuade you to join Twitter?
Not at this stage in the campaign!! I am actually already on twitter, but have just not got into it [I tried and failed to find you.]. If elected then I will force myself to start using it seriously as I think it would be a great tool to let my constituents know what I’m up to. I have also committed to publishing a monthly timesheet, detailing who I’ve met and what I’ve been doing.
Thanks Tim, and good luck.
(Interview conducted by email. Image of Poplar & Limehouse from ElectionMaps.co.uk. Image of the old Poplar & Canning Town constituency stolen from Jim Fitzpatrick’s old website, which he only updated to reflect boundary changes two weeks ago. Keep up Jim.)