Are you unsure how to vote on May 7 and need some information on your local candidates?
THE Observer this week begins our profile of all the candidates in the three Coventry general election constituencies.
We begin with Coventry North West and then Coventry South.
Next week we feature Coventry North East and the Coventry City Council elections, taking place on the same day, Thursday, May 7.
We asked all candidates to provide us with a summary of their key campaigning issues and what matters to people in the constituency.
COVENTRY North West is traditionally a Labour stronghold where former Jaguar and Coventry City Football Club chairman Geoffrey Robinson has been the MP since 1976.
Among prevalent issues are the Greenbelt under pressure from housing targets, Labour council plans for population growth to become “a top ten city”, and controversy over recent leaks which indicated Mr Robinson came close to standing down at the eleventh hour in favour of an Ed Miliband aide.
He won in 2010 with a 6000 majority over the Conservatives, a smaller victory margin than in the Blair years when he was briefly as Treasury minister.
Meet the candidates, in the order they will appear on the ballot paper..
PARVEZ AKHTAR, CONSERVATIVE
Mr Akhtar works in Coventry for Jaguar Landrover where he has had responsibility for testing and signing off the new 2.0Litre diesel engine for the Jaguar XE. He stood in Bedford, where he lives, in a mayoral election in 2009. His son studies at Coventry University.
He says: “With a 19-year career in the automotive industry behind me I am pleased to be standing in a city which has a long and proud motor car heritage.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr Robinson. But the legitimate question people should ask is, ‘How long will he serve as MP if he is elected again?’
In questioning if Mr Robinson “wanted the job anymore”, he said he would “serve the people with as much energy and passion as a young Mr Geoffrey Robinson use to.”
He added: “I am from a working class background and just like many people in Coventry I know what it is like to make ends meet. This personal experience means I will always promote policies which help ordinary working people.
“The possibility of new homes on green belt is causing considerable worry for residents. Instead of fighting amongst themselves, Labour councillors need to look harder to bring more brownfield developments into being to help solve our housing needs, and they need to be less hypocritical on the green belt issue because in the past they have told the electorate they will protect the greenbelt.
“I am not against building more housing but the shear complacency, shutting down debate by branding opponents racist and not taking into account pressure on Coventry’s infrastructure from 36,000 new homes is not the way to act on an issue as important as this for local people.”
ANDREW FURSE, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT
Mr Furse joined British Rail after leaving school and now works as a chartered engineer in the rail industry.
He says: “For too long Coventry has been let down by its sitting MP. The city needs new energy to drive the local economy forward, ensuring support for local industries and help create more opportunities.”
He advocates a ‘brownfield first’ policy on housing to protect green spaces.
He describes himself as “instinctively Liberal” and “passionate about protecting personal freedom and empowering individuals through education and work opportunities.”
As well as getting young people into “meaningful” work and training, he believes in the “strength of community” and says he seeks to stand up for the “more disadvantaged and those that need representation”.
He would seek to “tackle poverty by ensuring that those in work have a decent wage, removing the injustices of zero hours contracts.”
Given his career experience, Mr Furse says he understands the challenges of large infrastructure projects and supporting the supply chain, the need to generate jobs and skills into the future, and strengthen industries by promoting exports and investing in training.
He has campaigned to highlight the plight of those Not in Employment Education or Training (NEETS).
He says the Liberal Democrats in government have delivered more apprenticeships, raised the tax threshold and are the “only party that has fully costed increased support for the NHS”.
He adds: “By building a stronger economy we will continue to drive down local unemployment..and tackle pockets of deprivation.”
He also supports the arts, sports and leisure.
DAVE NELLIST, TRADE UNIONIST AND SOCIALIST COALITION
Mr Nellist is famed for only taking the average city skilled workers’ wage when he was a Coventry Labour MP between 1983 and 1992, and he once shared an office in Parliament with a young Tony Blair. He was expelled from the Labour in 1992 in a party purge of socialist left-wingers.
He served for 14 years as a Socialist Coventry city councillor, losing his seat three years ago. His work has included advising vulnerable people for a Coventry charity.
He is now national chair of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which is standing candidates for Parliament and local councils in 117 towns and cities including Coventry.
He said: “This coalition opposes any further public spending cuts and locally calls for the restoration of lost funds to Coventry City Council claiming that otherwise, over the next year, the local authority plans to cease funding and probably close every library, children and family centre, community and adult education centre.
“TUSC would find the money for reversing public spending cuts, for a £10 an hour wage, and for a major national council housebuilding programme, by chasing what it claims is £120billion a year of unpaid tax from wealthy individuals and corporations.
“It also calls for public ownership of gas, water, electricity, rail and Royal Mail, and the extension of public ownership to banks.
Mr Nellist added: “It’s frankly immoral for bankers whose gambling and speculation triggered the recession to have received the same £80billion in bonuses over the last seven years as a total of all cuts to essential public services.
“On May 7 it matters little which big party you vote for as. There’s already a wide pro-austerity coalition in Parliament. For example in January 515 MPs from all major parties voted in favour of an extra £30billion in spending cuts by 2018. Only five of Labour’s 256 MPs voted against.
“Sending an independent socialist to the Commons could begin to hold the establishment parties to account.”
GEOFFREY ROBINSON, LABOUR
Mr Robinson is standing for his tenth term as the consituency’s MP following the recent ‘will he, won’t he’ saga.
The Coventry Observer broke the story of his late plans to resign in favour of Ed Miliband aide Greg Beales. We exclusively revealed email correspondence between the two exposing plans, and the local party had called a meeting initially confirming Mr Robinson’s resignation.
The 76-year-old now says he intends to serve the full Parliamentary term if elected, health allowing.
He said: “I want to be the next MP for Coventry North West, because politics is always about the next challenge and Coventry faces many challenges ahead.
“The 2011 census revealed that Coventry had fallen from 11th to the 13th biggest UK city after growing much slower than our neighbouring rivals.
“We must develop a strong local economy, by supporting environmental technologies, developing creative and media industries, emerge as a leading centre for research and production and by building on advanced manufacturing and aerospace.
“We need to think innovatively about tackling barriers to growth and act relentlessly in the pursuit of this aim. Above all, we need to lead a fundamental culture shift, looking outwards to the private sector and not up to central government.
“Cities that provide an attractive lifestyle are better able to attract and sustain a skilled labour workforce. So Coventry will also need to dramatically improve its cultural and historical assets, public spaces, shops, restaurants and leisure facilities.
“Since 2010, the council has had its budget cut by this Tory Government by more than a third.The £64million funding cuts to the council have clobbered our city with better-off rural areas fairing better.
“If the Tories win again, my real fear is that by 2020 local authorities will only be able to afford the most basic elements of their services, such as statutory minimum levels of service in children’s and adults’ social care.
“… Conservative cuts and welfare reforms are having a devastating impact on the lives of many families across Coventry. Many of the changes are likely to lead to an increase in government expenditure as the amount spent on preventing problems reduces.”
HARJINDER SINGH SEHMI, UK INDEPENDENCE PARTY (UKIP)
Mr Sehmi used to be a Labour Coventry city councillor. He switched allegiences to UKIP last October, saying more should be done to control the UK’s borders. He was an immigrant from India after studying for an arts degree at the University of Pubjab. He is now a British citizen after moving to Britain to marry wife Guljinder. He worked at GEC and was a union shop steward.
He said: “Green belt is an important issue in Coventry North West. UKIP is determined to save the Green belt.
“There is a need for housebuilding but our leader Nigel Farage has said if we can control our borders there should be no need to build more houses on the Greenbelt. We can used brownfield instead and there is a lot of brownfield available.
“If we left the European Union we cold solve the housing problem.
“I was a councillor when the Labour council pledged to protect all Greenbelt and Green fields from housing development. I was in favour of that.
“But since Ann Lucas became council leader (in 2013) they are now in favour of building on the Greenbelt.”
He added: “An MP should be a local person, working in the local area who is accessible to local people. I am one of them.
“I believe in Britain and I am British. I’m in favour of an Australian-style points system to control immigration. People who can benefit the country should not be refused entry, but people who are not beneficial for this country should be stopped.
“Foreigners should bring with them insurance as a condition of getting a Visa.
“We can only control our borders if we leave the European Union.”
He believes the UK could still trade with European neighbours, and should expand trade with Commonwealth countries.
Mr Sehmi also advocates abolishing tuition fees for students studying for the top professions, while reducing tuition fees for others.
He is against NHS privatisation and believes threatened community services including libraries, children’s centres, school crossing patrols and street lighting at night can be saved from council cuts.
LAURA VESTY, GREEN PARTY
Ms Vesty is a Green Party campaigner who lives in Coventry, is a Coventry University Environmental Science graduate, and had her first child last year. She has previous stood in Coventry council elections.
She says Coventry people should be granted a local referendum to decide on the future of Greenbelt.
She said: “To me as a resident, it doesn’t feel like we’re being listened to by politicians and councillors.
“I want to increase local democracy by enabling people to have their say on local issues such as using referendums where issues like the greenbelt are at stake.
“I want to work hard to improve the lives of the people of Coventry for the long term. Our public services need to be properly funded, jobs protected and everyone paid a living wage. Cuts to council services and in the NHS are already having an impact on peoples’ lives.
“We need to build more socially rented homes on brownfield sites close to amenities and protect our valuable green spaces.
“We need to bring over 3,000 empty homes in Coventry back into use.
“The railways should be nationalised and run for the benefit of the public, not shareholders.
“I’d support more investment to make the Coventry better for walking, cycling and using public transport.
“More 20mph zones would actually improve traffic flow and reduce congestion, as well as making areas more pleasant for walking and cycling.
“We need a more integrated transport system, so people can catch buses and trains to get around even though they are run by different companies.”
Parvez Akhtar (Conservative)
Andrew Furse (Liberal Democrat)
Dave Nellist (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition)
Geoffrey Robinson (Labour)
Harjinder Singh Sehmi (UKIP)
Laura Vesty (Green)