Which of these challengers will be the next MP for Cleethorpes?

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 10 May 2017

Cleethorpes is known as a bellwether seat – the governments over the last 20 years have all had to win in the resort to get the keys to Downing Street.

Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly spoke to those hoping to win the influential seat in the coming snap election.

Labour ruled the roost when it came to winning General Elections in Cleethorpes between 1997 and 2005 – but when the country switched back to the Tories, so did the resort.

What Theresa May will know is that no Prime Minister has ever entered Downing Street without having the majority of the Cleethorpes' electorate on their side.

Will her candidate Martin Vickers, the Conservative MP for the last seven years, be able to hold onto his majority of almost 8,000?

Electoral Calculus, a prediction website run by pollster and mathematician Martin Baxter, predicts Mr Vickers – given the national swing to the Tories and local factors – will be returned with his majority doubled.

While the polls look good for the Tory Party, plenty of challengers have come forward in an attempt to take the Cleethorpes crown.

As well as Mr Vickers, Labour's challenger last time round, Peter Keith, has thrown his name back into the ring.

Another returning candidate is Roy Horobin for the Liberal Democrats, while Tony Blake steps up for Ukip and Loyd Emmerson for the Green Party.

Mr Vickers had originally been hoping Ukip would stand aside for him after leader Paul Nuttall signalled that he would not put up a fight against any Brexit-backing incumbents.

The transport committee member said his views were in tune with his constituents, with North East Lincolnshire voting by 70 per cent to leave at the referendum.

"My Brexit credentials are solid – I have always opposed EU membership", said the MP since 2010.

"I have made it clear from the first moment I stood that I was pro-leaving the EU. For those that support Brexit, the only guarantee we have for getting a robust deal is to give Theresa May a large majority and strengthen her negotiating position."

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The backbench MP said, while Brexit was the "biggest challenge the Government faces", he was ready to defend his party's record on education, the NHS, and law and order.

But he said the greatest help to the Tories was the man leading the opposition – Labour's Jeremy Corbyn.

"Jeremy Corbyn is at odds with his own party," said Mr Vickers.

"Can you really expect the British people to elect a leader who wants to throw away our nuclear deterrent? It is an honourable position but it is at odds with the British people and this totally unstable world we live in."

The Tories were the out-and-out victors of last week's local elections, seeing their own vote share go up, despite being the ruling party. They took overall control of Lincolnshire Country Council and totally wiped Ukip out in the process.

'The only guarantee we have for getting a robust Brexit deal is to give Theresa May a large majority and strengthen her negotiating position'

Martin Vickers, Conservative candidate for Cleethorpes

With the poll gap between Mrs May and Mr Corbyn's team alleged to be as much as 20 points according to some calculations, is there a danger blue voters will be complacent?

"I would seriously hope not," said Mr Vickers. "Tory voters will want to ensure that indeed we do give Theresa May that large majority.

"In Cleethorpes, I will fight an energetic campaign and there will be no complacency.

"There are 40,000 front doors and I and my team won't be able to call at all of them but I will be in every party of the constituency and every village. I will make myself as available as possible for people to come and speak individually to me," he promised.

He said Labour under Mr Corbyn were "divided" and questioned how "reliable" the party was on delivering Brexit, with front bench shadow ministers voting against Article 50 in March.

"They are flailing all over the place," he added.

Hoping to prove that sentiment wrong is Labour candidate Peter Keith.

He knows about Cleethorpes' history of being a bellwether seat all-too-well – he is married to Shona McIsaac, the ex-Labour MP who held the seat between 1997 and 2010.

The former sales director said he was determined to expose the failings of Tory rule and prevent Mrs May from having a "blank cheque" when it comes to Brexit.

Mr Keith, who has lived in Cleethorpes for more than 20 years, said the Tories had failed to get rid of the deficit as they promised, while taxes had increased, accident and emergency departments were more pressured and the economy had "stalled".

"By the targets the Government set itself, it has failed," said Mr Keith.

"What we have is a story of Tory failure over the last seven years. When I was a sales director, if I missed all my targets, I would be out of a job."

The 57-year-old said Brexit was "going to happen" after the "country and this area voted for it" – but he said the Prime Minister should be more upfront.

"The Conservatives are saying they won't say anything (about the Brexit negotiations) before the election," Mr Keith continued.

"They are asking for a blank cheque from the electorate. But are they going to pay the divorce settlement from the EU? And will that be 100 billion Euros, or will it be 60 billion, or maybe 40 billion? We don't know.

"They want us to give them the authority to do something that we won't have any say in."

With the PM signalling that Britain will leave the single market as part of the Brexit process, Mr Keith said that would make Labour's £500 billion infrastructure investment pot (half of which would be raised by borrowing) even more important for North East Lincolnshire and its offshore wind sector.

"We will invest in a high-tech and low carbon economy – that will help this area," he said.

'What we have is a story of Tory failure over the last seven years'

Labour candidate Peter Keith's verdict on the last two Conservative-led governments

With Mr Vickers increasing his majority last time round against Mr Keith, he said he was taking inspiration for this campaign from 1945 when "no one expected Labour to win" that year's General Election.

"We ended up winning a huge majority and were able to put in the foundations of the modern welfare state and introduce the NHS," he said.

"Out there at the moment, my colleagues and I are knocking on as many doors as possible – and it is to win. Nothing is pre-ordained."

Ukip came third in the 2015 contest in Cleethorpes and might count themselves fortunate to hold on to their 18 per cent share of the vote – an 11 per cent increase on 2010 – next month after its showing in the recent local elections.

But Tony Blake, the party's candidate, said voters should look to their party if it wanted Brexit done properly and for Westminster to take notice of the region.

"It is almost as if we are the victims of our own success," said Mr Blake, the party's Great Grimsby branch chairman.

"People have basically said 'Thanks for the referendum and the result' and feel we're not needed. But we will keep soldiering on.

"I genuinely feel that Parliament would be a better place if it had – and we need to be realistic – five or six Ukip MPs to keep a watch on Brexit and prevent backsliding.

"The Tories are expecting to get 380 MPs. If Cleethorpes goes Tory, it won't even register on the Westminster radar – it would just be one of 380 Tory seats. But if it has a Ukip MP, that would definitely register."

Mr Blake, a retired civil engineer who ran his own company for 20 years, said he believed Mrs May was in her "honeymoon" period and that the "country would come back" to Ukip in time.

The father-of-two grown-up sons said he will be campaigning hard on health issues, with the decision to place Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust – which runs Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby – into special measures, a major issue.

'If Cleethorpes goes Tory, it won't even register on the Westminster radar – it would just be one of 380 Tory seats. But if it has a Ukip MP, that would definitely register.'

Tony Blake, Ukip's candidate in Cleethorpes for the snap election

The 67-year-old promised that Ukip would look to rebuild the fishing industry along the South Bank of the Humber, with returned control of British fishing waters creating a mini-jobs boom, given every additional fisherman would create up to 10 jobs on land, he predicted.

But the offshore wind sector, while it should be supported, must live without subsidies and also look to create more local jobs, Mr Blake said.

Ukip calculates that the average household forks out £200-a-year to help keep the renewables sector running.

"The industry should be made, more or less, to stand on its own two feet and I don't think it should be subsidised as much as it is," he added. "It is too big a cost for the ordinary person."

The Liberal Democrats had a disastrous outing in 2015 in the resort election, slipping from third to fourth and losing 15 per cent of their vote share.

The party was punished for their part in the coalition government but presenting itself as the opposition to a hard Brexit has given the outfit a revival under leader Tim Farron.

Teacher Roy Horobin has been selected to represent the party again and he says he will be running on a pro-skills ticket.

He said investing in science and high-tech skills to supply the offshore industry was a must, along with focusing on other key sectors.

"We are short of 20,000 nurses (nationally) and there is an 81 per cent vacancy rate in construction," said the 49-year-old.

"We need bricklayers. There are guys and girls in school that would really enjoy that but we are not introducing them to it. I'm interested in addressing that skills gap and in creating full-employment – that doesn't have to be a pipe-dream."

'The big message I want to put up is it is not a wasted vote – the more votes someone like me gets means the more Martin Vickers, if he wins, has to think about his position.'

Liberal Democrat's Roy Horobin on why people in Cleethorpes should vote for their number one choice

Mr Horobin, who taught in Cleethorpes for 16 years but now teaches history on the North Bank of the estuary, believes his greatest strength is his lack of ideological fervour.

"Martin Vickers is a nice man and a nice guy but he follows what the Tories say," said the former Croft Baker ward candidate at the local elections.

"I think our area needs a non-ideologically driven MP. There has got to be opposition and we have to have a real democracy. I'm opposed to a hard Brexit.

"(But) I would want to hear those hard Brexit views. If the case could be put that the economy will be better and that there'll be more money for the NHS, then I wouldn't oppose that. It is not an ideologically fixed position."

The married father-of-two said the EU "got it wrong" on fishing, saying the Common Fisheries Policy had been "terrible" for Grimsby's fisherman.

He stated that he supported a "sustainable" fishing industry as part of his bid to close the skills gap and cut unemployment in North East Lincolnshire.

Mr Horobin said supporters should back him if his party and ideas were ever to have a chance of securing victory now or in the future.

Since his loss in 2015, Mr Horobin has been involved in a number of local campaigns, including to ensure Cleethorpes library stays open and that the resort's toilets are open to tourist's during the summer season.

"Anything can happen in politics, as has been proven over the last year," he said, when talking about his election chances this time around.

"The big message I want to put up is it is not a wasted vote – the more votes someone like me gets means the more Martin Vickers, if he wins, has to think about his position. I'm not going to be going anywhere.

"If the Tories get a big majority, they will be constantly complacent. There would never be any change in politics if people didn't vote for it."

The Green Party are certainly the outsiders in the Cleethorpes election but will be hoping to improve on their debut outing in 2015 when they didn't get enough votes to get their deposit back.

Loyd Emmerson, a 24-year-old hospitality worker, is the party's chosen candidate. The left-wing organisation will not field a contestant in Great Grimsby.

Being part of a party that wants to ban fracking, turn away from nuclear fuel and phase-out coal, Mr Emmerson says his party would put the region front-and-centre of its "renewables revolution".

"The wind industry can create thousands of jobs to bring about a thriving and sustainable economy and secure a safe climate for our children and grandchildren," said Mr Emmerson, who joined the Green Party last year.

He said local campaigns in Barton – where the party has joined residents in opposing a new leisure development from Lidl – and Waltham, where he has campaigned against housing developments, meant he was well-versed in constituency issues.

"The development in Barton is too close to local homes and residents say they just don't want it, especially with big trucks coming through all the time," he said.

'Vote for us if you believe in change'

Candidate Loyd Emmerson on why only the Greens offer a true alternative at this election

"Plus, it would be national chains in the leisure and retail centre – it would squeeze out local businesses and any competition. It would be the directors of Lidl who will reap the most profit."

Opposing an "extreme Brexit" and fighting for the seafood processing industry to retain its access to the single market, Mr Emmerson said a vote for him was a vote for new ideas.

"You should vote for us if you believe in a vote for change," he said.

"If you vote for the other parties, it will just bring back the same politics which is tired, has run out of ideas and is full of in-fighting."

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