THE battle for votes is now in full swing with just three weeks before voters hit the ballot boxes in the general election on May 6. This week we asked the three main Bucks candidates to tell us where they stand on some of the hot topics in the district
QUESTION: The burning issue in Bucks is the high-speed rail proposal for the Chilterns.
Where do you stand on the proposed route and do you back our campaign to get it diverted away from the Chilterns?
Cheryl Gillan: I give all residents my pledge that I am actively opposing the HS2 route proposals. The proposed route is
Labour's choice. Conservatives will look at alternatives. The Liberal Democrats nationally have accepted this route which means that they will not be using the valuable consultation time to challenge this route and to establish alternatives.
Anthony Gajadharsingh: The government has selected the route on the primary basis of cost, balanced against the calculated reduction in travelling times. If we can build up a case which proves the costs of necessary changes to the existing plans make it more expensive than the slower, but less environmentally damaging, alternative routes, we can win. I have reached out to the Liberal and Green candidates with an offer to pool our resources so we can fight this together and win. I also suggest all the candidates for Chesham & Amersham get together to develop a joint proposal to mobilise all those who genuinely want to oppose this threat to our environment with the right arguments.
Tim Starkey: I strongly support the Bucks Examiner campaign against high-speed rail passing through the Chilterns. It is not enough simply to oppose a route through 'our backyard'.
I am against any route passing through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is the only AONB between London and Birmingham and could have been avoided. I want to work with people from all political parties and groups who share this aim. Any proposal must be subjected to an environmental cost-benefit analysis, taking into account both the impact on our communities and countryside and the impact on CO2 emissions. This proposal fails in all these respects - the route, the proposed technology and the failure to directly link HS2 to HS1 and the European network.
Q: What do you feel will be the other key issues to be tackled in the ward over the next five years?
CG: Our NHS should work for patients, not bureaucrats. The health service has been historically under-funded in Buckinghamshire. Bucks, like Britain, would benefit from becoming the most family-friendly country in Europe, by raising the basic state pension, recognising marriage in the state system, backing couples in the benefits system and supporting young families.
AG: I chose to fight in this constituency because I saw the complacency of the local MP and her cosy relationship with the local council. One of the important roles of any MP is to hold local councils to account and I just don't think that happens nearly enough here. The fact that less than 50 per cent of parents and children in Bucks got their first-choice school this year is woeful and needs to be addressed with smarter thinking and a focus on results, not dogma.
TS: It is a scandal that at the same time as there are plans for thousands more houses in the Chiltern District, some 84,000 homes lie empty across the south east, including 952 in this constituency. Lib Dems plan to provide financial incentives to the owners of these properties to renovate them and rent them out. This is greener and cheaper than building new houses.
A current review of tuition fees is expected to result in a massive increase. There are also fears of a two-tier system with top universities charging astronomical fees. Many young people from our constituency will find their university options severely limited, not by their ability to learn but by their ability to pay. Lib Dems will oppose any increase in tuition fees and phase them out over a five-year period.
Q: What would your message be to first-time voters who may have been disillusioned by the expenses scandal and shying away from politics?
CG: As a woman I am always particularly heartened when other women refer to the fact that it is less than a century since women achieved the vote and that they will always cast their vote because it was hard-won. I apologised sincerely for my own mistakes and accept all the rulings of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
AG: I am not a career politician; I am chief of staff for a UK stock market-listed multinational. My business experience means that I understand accountability and I have the skills and experience to challenge ministers, whatever their political colour, to ensure that the voice of the voters in this constituency is heard loud and clear.
TS: The political process is dominated by a handful of wealthy donors who are rewarded with seats in the House of Lords. A fair voting system, putting a cap on the size of political donations, having an elected Upper House, giving voters the right to sack corrupt MPs could change this. The more ordinary people get involved with politics, the more democratic it will be and the less dependent on cash from trade unions and big business.