Thank you all so much for coming along this morning, it’s great to be here in sunny Exmouth.

Lovely memories as a child playing on the beach and swimming year after year.

I launch my manifesto pledges as we count down from 100 days to the General Election – so today is a significant date!

I launched my parliamentary campaign seven months ago.

I said then that I would spend six months listening to people’s views before drawing up my manifesto. That time has now come!

Thanks to you, we have been able to leaflet the entire constituency!

That’s 40,000 leaflets!

And we are about to do that again with this (hold up leaflet)!

Since June I have also made it my business to find out what East Devon people are most concerned about, want to change, or want action on:

I’ve:
– Visited hundreds of town centre traders in Topsham, Ottery, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth

– Held street events in all the constituency towns and a variety of communities including:  Lympstone, Exton, Whimple, Woodbury, Newton Poppleford, Broadclyst, Cranbrook and East Budleigh. … and those visits will continue, from next month right up to the election.

– Many of you also were among hundreds who contributed to a survey, which will remain open until 7 May. Your survey responses, my conversations at events and my experience on the district and county councils have enabled me to form my pledges – to you.

You can see my full set of pledges in this leaflet, however, I’ll summarise what I learned from those conversations:

Firstly, many town centre traders are struggling to keep their heads above water, even in apparently affluent areas like Topsham and Sidmouth.  Many feel neglected by the government, which is pre-occupied with big business.

The key issues were:
– The lack of car parking and the cost of parking
– Business rates that are crippling for many – and in England, are the highest of any European Union country

As East Devon’s MP I would be a champion for independent traders and small businesses – and act for them on the issues that are of most importance to them.

Locally-run businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and we must do all we can to support them.

What else did you tell me?
– You told me that preserving and protecting the NHS is THE most important issue for you.

– East Devon’s community hospitals in particular of course, have NEVER been more at risk than they are now.  Ottery St Mary Hospital is set to lose all its beds and its minor injuries unit, Sidmouth Hospital is set to lose its minor injuries unit and Budleigh Salterton Hospital lost its beds and minor injuries unit more than a year ago.

– We hear every day of the postponement of hundreds of operations and of casualty departments not being able to cope.

– In five years time it is predicted that the NHS in Devon, will be over £400 MILLION in deficit.  This is largely due to the government dropping the growth funding from around 6 per cent, to around inflation levels over the past few years. 

– At the same time in Devon, demand has risen with a rising older population with more complex health needs.

– These are desperate times for our public services.

I would fight hard to protect local health services and argue for more funding for this area, which has also been historically underfunded, compared with other areas in the country.

Almost as important to you as the NHS – you told me that you wanted our countryside here in East Devon protected from over-development

Of course, with the introduction of the pro-development National Policy Planning Framework, and East Devon District Council’s inability to agree a local plan, we are at high risk of speculative and large-scale development.

Since I launched my campaign, I have heard from one community after another.  Places that are under intolerable pressure from rapacious developers, wanting to build enough houses to grow villages by more than half, or in Clyst St Mary’s case – more than 120 PER CENT!

That quite simply CANNOT continue.  Our infrastructure, such as schools, health services and roads are creaking.

BUT excessive and inappropriate development can only be fixed by considerable alterations to the NPPF. 

The importance of nature and our wildlife are sadly undervalued by central government, despite many people caring about nature and biodiversity very much. 

I am well aware of the local views on this through my work relating to the beavers and as the tree champion for the Woodland Trust in Devon.

Human beings cannot exist without a successful natural world and this would also be a priority area for me.

Many of you are understandably angry and upset by the swingeing cuts to public services, by central government austerity measures.

By 2017, around 40 PERCENT of council budgets will have disappeared.

This year alone, DCC cuts £50m from its budgets and around £30m is set to be lost next year.  This is on top of £100m of cuts in the last few years.

There have been threats to, or closures of, youth centres, libraries, care homes, day centres, children’s homes, minor injuries units and hospital inpatient beds. 

The numbers of people using foodbanks, even in East Devon, has shot through the roof. Across the UK, there are now some 500 foodbanks helping about a million people at some time during the year.

This year we will see many lollipop patrols and bus routes gone, among a whole raft of other cuts, including some to highways budgets.

Some key roads will no longer be gritted next winter which will cause more accidents and a higher demand on the A&E department at Wonford hospital.

Soon the House of Commons will vote on how much funding is granted to local authorities. We will see whether our current MP yet again votes in favour of the monumental cuts meted out to local authorities.

The government is prioritising dubious schemes like HS2, yet the Exmouth to Exeter line is crying out for investment.
£70 million has been wasted setting up the pointless system of police and crime commissioners.

The turnout was JUST 13 per cent for those elections. That’s £14 per voter!

It has spent £3 BILLION of OUR money on yet another confusing and TOTALLY misguided reorganisation of the NHS.

Just a year or two later, the NHS is in huge financial hole and the government pleads poverty.

There have been tax breaks to big business – these things are costing US BILLIONS of pounds, while local people, many of whom have busy jobs and children to look after, are struggling to prop up our social and community structures.

Around 100 FTSE company bosses were paid an average of £4.3 million last year, while the UK average income was £26,500. 

The cynical phrase: “We are all in it together” has never had such a hollow ring.

As the Green Party has said:  “SURELY POLITICS SHOLD BE FOR THE BENEFIT OF US ALL, NOT JUST THOSE WHO SHOUT THE LOUDEST OR HAVE THE DEEPEST POCKETS.”

We have the fifth largest economy in the world. It is SHOCKING that some people in this country have to choose between food and heat. 

I picked up widespread anger about EDDC and its arrogant bulldozer attitude to local people’s views.  Consultation seems to be meaningless.

EDDC will go its own way, even if it means harming people’s livelihoods, as in the case of plans to redevelop Exmouth seafront.

Because the council and our MP are members of the same political club, challenges to either are few and far between.  This damages democracy, the credibility of local government and its parliamentary representatives.

The East Devon uprising, as I call it, and the formation of a large number of campaign groups, should have sounded alarm bells to both our MP and our local council… but they appear to be deaf and blind to the threat that this local public fury poses.

I would provide a healthy challenge to EDDC AND Devon County Council and would speak out publicly against their plans, if that was the right thing to do. 

And in these times of austerity, I would continue to condemn unnecessary expenditure, such as spending thousands challenging decisions of the Information Commissioner, as EDDC has done during its unpopular office relocation project.

In addition to EDDC’s overview and scrutiny committee, which has proved time and time again, that it is toothless and biddable, I would push for people’s scrutiny panels, so that local people have a chance to formally examine issues of public interest.

Sadly, our young people are forgotten about by most politicians. Policy tends to be written for older people. But people under 25 ARE interested in politics – they just tend to be more issues driven and less interested in party politics.

It is really important that elected representatives make an effort to listen to our young people. And if I were elected I would make sure I did listen to those voices, as well as backing the campaign to reduce the voting age to 16, which many young people have told me they support.

People of 16 can get married, join the armed forces and pay taxes.  Why should they not have the vote?

Youth unemployment rose by 30,000 to 764,000 in the three months to last November.

They should be represented.

Many people have asked me what an Independent MP can achieve.

– An Independent MP has all the rights of any other backbench MP.

They can:
– Table questions on matters of importance to constituents
– Take part in debates that are of importance to East Devon residents
– Initiate debates to further the interests of their constituents
– As I do as a councillor already, I would work with others who have the same interests as I do, to get my constituency issues heard
– I would have more time to represent East Devon’s views precisely because I AM an Independent and not interested in climbing the ministerial career ladder
– Without a party whip to tell me what to do and how to vote, I would be free to speak out and act on behalf of my constituents.
Contrary to what some people mistakenly believe, an Independent has far MORE scope to effectively represent their constituents than a party politician.

I would never have to choose between my conscience and a party line.

IN A PHRASE, I WOULD BE FREE TO SPEAK AND FREE TO ACT.

Perhaps I should add that I have not accepted any donations from big business, nor would I.

I sincerely thank those who have so kindly donated funds for the campaign.

I could not have achieved all that I have so far in my campaign without those funds.

And thank you so much for your enthusiastic role in my campaign so far – and for the work that you are about to do in the coming weeks.

Make no mistake, I have EVERY intention of getting elected! I am VERY determined. And from the way Mr Swire has reacted to my campaign, he KNOWS I am a threat!

Even Ladbrokes have cut their odds on me winning from 66/1 to 12/1!  Hopefully the odds will reduce further in the coming weeks!

And today I am wearing the Westminster Dress!

People all over the constituency have told me that they are fed up with the main political parties. Voters are looking for something else. Something different and someone they can trust to fight for them.

From that feedback it is clear to me that I am the main contender for the East Devon parliamentary seat.

My manifesto is unique. It is driven by what you have told me is important to you.

If elected I would work hard to achieve my manifesto pledges that I have made to you.

And I would be a free-thinking, free acting MP who puts YOU first.

THANK YOU