This post marks the start of my by-election series where I will interview the candidates standing in Chesham and Amersham this month.
To kick off the series, we have a local candidate and the leader of the national party. I sat down with Alex Wilson, the candidate, and Richard Tice, leader of Reform UK. This was also their first in depth interview since beginning the campaign trail.
The other candidates, who will be featured in the next two weeks, are: Sarah Green, Liberal Democrats, Peter Fleet, Conservatives, Carla Gregory, Breakthrough UK, Natasa Pantelic, Labour, Carolyne Culver, Green Party, and Brendan Donnelly, Rejoin UK.
Any views expressed in this post are not my own, but those of the interviewees.
- Looking beyond Brexit
- Tax policies
- Public services
- Housing crisis
- Climate change
Looking beyond Brexit
You may know Reform UK as The Brexit Party, which was run by Nigel Farage. After the UK officially left the EU at the end of last year, the party renamed itself Reform UK. Mr Tice became the party’s leader in March 2021.
Moving away from Brexit, the party now campaigns to reform the economy, the public sector and institutions like the House of Lords and the Civil Service.
Their aim is for the UK to be “lowly taxed, smartly regulated and to have higher growth.”
Locally, they are trying to position themselves as the anti HS2 party – a difficult task as the vast majority of candidates are stating their opposition to the new railway line. Mr Wilson used to work for HS2 and says he has seen the bureaucracy and wasted money first-hand.
When asked what he would do about the Northern areas which would benefit from high speed rail, he said he is in favour of localised schemes, which he believes will improve infrastructure in a more cost effective way.
Mr Tice said he is focused on cutting and simplifying UK tax policy.
The UK tax code is one of the longest in the world. At around 17,000 pages long, it is 5 times longer than the whole Harry Potter series. Contrastingly, the Hong Kong tax code is just 276 pages long.
One of Reform’s key policies is to lower taxes.
Mr Wilson believes that lower taxes can lead to higher growth, meaning that – after an initial dip – there will be more money to spend on public services. He was also keen to stress that they weren’t lowering taxes for the very wealthy – who have disproportionately benefitted during the pandemic – but for ordinary workers.
That is why Reform want to raise the Income Tax threshold to £20,000, with the basic rate staying at 20%. This means someone earning £20,000 a year would save £30 a week.
The higher rate tax threshold would be raised from £50,000 to £70,000. There would be a flat 40% tax rate on earnings above this sum. The additional tax rate band would be abolished.
Reform want to increase the Capital Gains Tax threshold from £12,300 to £20,000, with a 20% flat tax rate above this.
The Corporation Tax threshold would be increased to £100,000 – which would mean around 80% of companies would not have to pay Corporation Tax. This rate would increase from 19% to 20% – below the Conservative Party’s planned 2023 increase to 23%.
Mr Tice said the NHS is the “most loved public service, but it is not the best managed”.
Sticking with their ambitious targets, Reform want there to be no waiting lists at all for appointments.
They would seek to achieve this by offering free vouchers for private clinics if you can’t get an appointment within 2 to 4 weeks depending on the medical problem. Reform thinks that greater harmony between the NHS and private practices would speed up services and improve the patient experience.
The NHS “must always remain free at the point of delivery,” he stressed. But, he would like to see the NHS’ operations reformed.
“Pouring money into an unreformed NHS won’t work,” Mr Tice said.
Reform also want to tackle policing.
Mr Tice said the technology used by police in New York puts the UK to shame. He believes we should be embracing technology to fight crime and also having more police on the streets to help rebuild trust within communities.
On a local level, Mr Wilson said Reform wants to tackle smaller crimes, like graffiti.
“If you deal with the low level disturbances, you can move up the chain of crimes much more easily,” he explained.
“We want to get back to normal, not a new normal,” Mr Wilson said. The goal posts keep being moved, which Reform UK finds worrying as the party is determined to see all restrictions lifted on 21 June.
The party is against any further lockdowns.
The pair pointed towards the Sweden model, which saw far lighter restrictions imposed on individuals by the government. Instead, the government encouraged individuals to make their own judgments.
Given vaccine take up has been so much higher than originally predicted, they don’t want to see vaccine passports introduced.
They don’t believe “zero Covid” is a realistic policy to follow. “We have to learn to live with this,” Mr Wilson said.
When asked what they believed an “acceptable level” of Covid-19 would be for us to live normal lives, Mr Tice suggested a similar number of deaths to those we see from flu each year.
“A healthy economy means healthier people. It’s not an either or decision,” he added.
Having begun his career at a housing developer and more recently running property investment firms, Mr Tice is aware of the housing crisis.
His solution is to make much better use of brownfield sites, converting buildings where necessary.
“So many are underutilised,” he noted.
Affordable housing also needs to be simplified. He believes there should be a set rate of affordable housing across all developments.
For young people trying to get on the property ladder, he thinks there should be an increase in shared ownership schemes with housing associations. However, many people are currently wary of these and prefer to avoid them.
Policies to tackle climate change “should not come at the cost of industry and jobs.”
“We understand the need to make changes, but it’s got to be done in a smart way,” Mr Wilson stressed.
Pointing to the recent news that gas boilers could be banned in favour of electric boilers from 2025, they said this will affect the poorest members of society the most.
Instead, Reform wants to focus on developing technology in the UK that can help fight climate change.
Are there any questions you’d like me to put to the candidates when I speak with them? What issues most concern you right now?
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