Who gets your vote?

Tunbridge Wells Business Magazine asked local parliamentary candidates of the three main parties to share their ‘mini manifesto’ ahead of the General Election on July 4. We received responses from both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party but not the Conservatives. Here we present the visions of both Mike Martin of the Lib Dems and Hugo Pound of Labour, if they were to be elected MP for Tunbridge Wells… 

“Regenerating Tunbridge Wells has never been more important”

Mike Martin 
Prospective Lib Dem MP 
Tunbridge Wells 

“What makes a 21st century town flourish? What are the key ingredients for a lively and public-spirited community, supported by prosperous businesses creating fulfilling jobs? 

As a young Tunbridge Wells parent, deeply invested in the community, and – I hope – your new Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament from July 5 – I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I want as bright a future for my family in this very special town as I’m sure you do for yours. 

Regenerating Tunbridge Wells has never been more important than now, following years of complacent drift under Conservative Borough Councils and with a Tory MP – now quitting – at Westminster. The decline of our town centre stands as a monument to collective Conservative failure. 

Yet brighter times are coming. In last month’s local elections, my Liberal Democrat colleagues won an absolute majority on the Borough Council, having led a coalition of ruling parties for the previous two years. This will allow us to deliver change as speedily and effectively as possible. 

If I am elected to the House of Commons next month, this will ensure the strongest possible voice in Parliament to fight for Tunbridge Wells and the needs of residents, speaking as one with our LibDem council leaders. 

We are a young, energetic and forward-thinking team, which is important in tackling the fast changing economic pressures of 21st century life and creating the best framework for businesses and the community to prosper. 

Over the next 10 years those pressures will include more hybrid working from home and office; no let-up in digital shopping, which threatens traditional bricks-and-mortar shopping centres; a renewed enthusiasm for town-centre living and with it a much greater focus on the quality of the environment. 

Change can be much more an opportunity than a threat if tackled intelligently. I envisage a renewed town centre that is as much about doing things, and having experiences, as about shopping; that offers more leisure activities for all ages; and that creates new communities – such as the retirement village being built, with council backing, on the site of the ABC cinema which, under the Tories, remained derelict for over two decades. 

To encourage visitors, the town centre will need a greener and more pedestrian-friendly environment, less traffic and better public transport. Crucially, it also means joined up thinking between the community, local government, housing developers and service providers to ensure we have the homes we need and the infrastructure and public services vital to a healthy, vibrant community – including good roads and enough schools and doctors’ surgeries. 

All this can produce the environment in which new and established businesses can flourish – and with them the enterprising community spirit that has reinvented Tunbridge Wells so successfully over the centuries. 

“There is a need to balance the 

issues and expectations”

Hugo Pound 
Prospective Labour MP 
Tunbridge Wells  

“If I’m lucky enough to be elected as the MP for Tunbridge Wells, my first thought will be about balance. There is a need to balance the issues and expectations of 57% of our residents who live in Tunbridge Wells town and its immediate surroundings and the 43% who live in other, smaller towns and villages and more rural settings. To balance the needs and aspirations of younger people and young families with the needs and aspirations of older people and those who have lived here a long time. 

So, not an easy task but a challenge I would relish facing. My focus as an MP will be on three areas I know to be of great importance to many. They are areas in which I have experience and some expertise, both as a long-serving Borough Councillor and school governor and as a chartered psychologist. 

[1] Opportunity: We need to provide young people with opportunities to flourish, to earn good money, to be happy in their work, to feel that they are contributing to their community. The Conservatives have turned our education system into a postcode lottery. Labour has a plan to boost young people’s school outcomes and to ensure every child receives world-class teaching; five more years of the Tories will result in more teacher vacancies and worse outcomes for our children. 

[2] Affordable Housing: Tunbridge Wells needs more affordable housing. We are the only constituency in Kent whose 25-49-year-old population is declining. Young people can’t afford to stay here as they grow up, nor can they afford to move here. The problem is national planning policy. We need more density in our towns, more starter homes, and more contributions from developers for community infrastructure. 

[3] Health and wellbeing: Children are being sent to East Grinstead Hospital for teeth extractions because they haven’t seen a dentist for 3-4 years; GP appointments can be three weeks away; waiting times for much-needed surgery can be years away; our local children and adolescent mental health service is broken. I believe only a Labour government can fix this appalling level of service and I will advocate strongly that Tunbridge Wells gets the quality of service it deserves. 

Voters in Tunbridge Wells know that Britain is a great country but it has been badly let down over the last 14 years. There is much that is good here but many people across our constituency know that the Conservatives have left the country worse off than when they started and are ready for change. I am confident that I can help deliver it as your next MP. 

Party picks an ‘authentic’ Tory to defend Tunbridge Wells seat 

Businessman Neil Mahapatra has been chosen to stand as the Conservative candidate for Tunbridge Wells. 

He was on a short list of three and managed to secure more than the required 50 per cent of the vote at a party meeting attended by 100 members. 

Former MP Greg Clark quit the race after almost 20 years representing the town on May 24. He enjoyed a 14,000 majority. 

Treasury adviser Simon Finkelstein and former Maidstone borough councillor Louise Brice were unsuccessful. 

Mr Mahapatra, 44 was born and brought up in the village of Leeds, just outside Maidstone and is the son of two immigrant Kent doctors. He attended Oxford University and was President of the Union. 

He describes himself as ‘an authentic Conservative with two decades of grassroots activism’ who launched the UK’s leading free school and had advised Cabinet Ministers. 

Tunbridge Wells Business Magazine approached West Kent Conservatives for comment… 

The candidate that never was… 

The Conservatives’ naming of Neil Mahapatra as their election candidate for Tunbridge Wells ended days of rumour and confusion for the party.  

It all started on May 24 when Greg Clark quit after almost 20 years as MP for Tunbridge Wells – clearly not relishing the possibility of years in opposition at best.  

Rumours then circulated of ‘a big beast’ running as the local Tory flag bearer. Along came political pundit Iain Dale who announced he was leaving his high-profile job as host on LBC to run as the Conservative candidate.  

The cut and thrust of politics then reared its head. Someone, fingers point at Lib Dems, unearthed a 2022 podcast of Mr Dale commenting that although he lived in Tunbridge Wells with his long-term partner, he was actually not much fond of the town. On the audio – which was taken from the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith – Dale is quoted saying: “I’ve never liked the place and still don’t – I would happily live some where else.” 

Following hours of soul-searching Mr Dale announced a change of heart. He had taken the decision to stand down even though some had urged him to ‘tough it out’. 

He reasoned: “What if they’ve got something else I’ve said. I wasn’t willing to suffer death by a thousands cuts.” 

Mr Dale added that he had recognised the ‘political reality’. And for him it was all over before a single vote was cast…

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