Jesse Norman looks firmly towards a bright future, for both county and country
Jesse Norman certainly has a clear image of what he wants for the future of Hereford. The Tory politician is highly respected within the party, and considered as a true pioneer of compassionate conservatism. It is his fresh thinking approach the Tories will need to embrace in order to gain the necessary support to succeed in next year’s general election.
Jesse is obviously troubled by the lack of government money that we have seen here in the county of Herefordshire. “Our schools are the third worst funded in the country", he says. "But the same pattern of underfunding affects our hospitals, our public transport, roads and social care. I want to sort this out.”
Change is evident throughout Hereford at the present time. The debate about the Edgar Street Grid (ESG) has peaked in recent months, with the It’s Our City campaign gaining an increasing amount of public support in its opposition to the retail quarter of the grid. This was played out in dramatic fashion at The Sixth Form Debating Society, where student Alex Hempton-Smith and Cllr. Mark Hubbard successfully argued that the grid was not right for Hereford.
“The ESG debate was good; it was very enthusiastic and people were getting fired up. The problem is that we don’t know what is really planned for the retail development because the ESG team have not managed to communicate their plans. In many ways it’s a shame It’s Our City couldn’t have started two years earlier. We need an intelligent debate about the grid, and I have real concerns about the retail aspects of it.
“People need to be clear: we can go for the big retail city approach taken by Gloucester or take an organic, self growing, high value local shops approach. Personally, I’d argue that we need more of a local 'green city' approach. We should be looking at our heritage and basing our plans on that and tourism and leisure, as well as retail.”
Jesse emphasised that many improvements could be made in Hereford using our existing attractions and facilities, whilst stressing that there are some particular developments he is very passionate about.
“We should do something with Shire Hall; it has the potential to be a real cultural centre. We need to develop the Buttermarket in a thoughtful way. And it’s clear we need a second river crossing to try and tackle the horrendous traffic problem.
“Something I’m really keen on is the idea of a small university. If we can build a small new campus, working alongside the existing colleges and bringng them together, and adding student accommodation, that would be great. Really good for young people locally, and really good for social life in the city.
"We could attract newcomers as well. The university could focus on something like food science, where we are so strong as a county. There are other small universities that have been successful in other countries, so there’s no reason why that couldn’t be the case here.”
At a national level, Jesse is widely regarded as a very influential voice within the Conservative party. He has previously advised George Osborne and Boris Johnson, in addition to writing various books that describe the future of compassionate conservatism. His most recent work, “Churchill's Legacy: The Conservative case for the Human Rights Act” hit the news recently due to its opposition to Tory plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.
“The Human Rights Act is a conservative document, and we shouldn’t be seeking to replace it. When I say conservative, it’s with both a large and a small c. Its rights were pioneered by Sir Winston Churchill. And legally and philosophically, it contains the very basic rights and freedoms of our common law, such as freedom of speech and freedom of worship, and the prohibition of torture. I can see no reason why we would want to abolish it.”
After the party conference, many started to speculate as to what sort of Prime Minster David Cameron would be if the Conservatives succeed at the General Election.
“Cameron is not like Blair. Blair was an actor who was way too eager to please people, and in fairness he was very charismatic. But Cameron is more together, better organised and clearer about where he wants to go. He won’t run out of ideas on policy like Blair did. Cameron is very much a one nation Tory, in the way that he is a strong character but focused on public interest.
“For example, I think that Cameron will be tough on the City of London and other sources of private power.”
For many, a tougher approach to the City oif London would be a very positive move indeed. The anger towards bankers has been evident, and people feel deeply distressed at the lack of honesty and the level of greed shown by so many prominent bankers, leading for many to call for tighter regulations on the banking industry.
“We need a different and much tougher approach to regulation of the banks. The problem now is that you have an imbalance of risk and reward. People can make a huge amount in three years, then get the sack, then come back and get another hugely well paid job. If they succeed, they make a fortune; if they fail the taxpayer picks up the tab.
“Banks used to be very risk-averse. You just put your money in the bank and that was that. The beauty of that modelwas that it separated capital and risk taking. It's obvious that if you give the risk-takers huge amounts of capital, you have a serious problem.
“So yes, we need to be much tougher on the banks.”
It was the man that Jesse had formally advised, George Osborne, that vowed to cut public spending at the party’s conference this year. Sadly, Jesse feels that the worst is yet to come in the financial crisis.
“Nobody really realises yet how bad the situation is. If you haven’t been laid off, you may be even richer than you were a year ago because your mortgage will be cheaper. People talk of public spending cuts, but it's nt clear that they always know what that means. The truth is that the Government has borrowed an absolutely vast sum, which will undermine economic growth for decades if we do not do something about it. And the present levels of debt have made us very vulnerable to economic changes.
"Politics is very fragmented at present, and dominated by interest groups. So it is likely to be extraordinarily difficult to make selective public spending cuts, because every interest group will pile in to defend their piece. But eventually there must be some form of slowdown in public spending. George Osborne talked recently about a freeze on public servants pay, which has been very successful in Canada and Sweden.”
This has been a tough year for British politics, with the expenses scandals shaking Westminster to the core. The expenses scandal led to public uproar, with many demanding that MPs whose expenses claims have been proved to be controversial return the money. Jesse agrees this is the correct approach to a potentially volatile situation.
“Yes, it’s obviously right that the MPs repay that money, because they weren’t entitled to it. This is public money, and some of the behaviour has been contrary to the spirit of the whole thing. The Green Book of rules on expenses is very clear, and MPs know that their claims must be in accordance to the spirit of the rules.“ On a more local level, it will be the first time many students at the college have been eligible to vote in a national election. I wanted to ask Jesse why students should vote for him next year.
“The students at the Sixth Form are a very clever bunch. I’d just say look at the candidates' different websites and see their experience and skills.
“I certainly feel as if I have quite a lot to bring to the table, as I’ve had a great deal of varied experience in different walks of life. I used to teach at a university, I've been in business, and before that I ran an educational charity. I am not a professional politician, and what we need now in politics is people of independent mind and real experience.
“I’ve tried to help our local communities through the Small Shops and Save Our Post Offices campaigns, through helping on different charities, and through fighting for individuals who have problems with housing or benefits.
"I don’t make many of the things I do public because they are not political and I am not interested in using them for political purposes. But it's true that for almost three years now I have been doing everything I can to help the people of Herefordshire. Now I want to take that energy and independent approach into parliament, so we as a county have a stronger voice and get a better deal for Herefordshire."