The final profile in our series is Coventry North East..
COVENTRY North East has for decades been considered among the safest Labour strongholds in the West Midlands region, and the country.
Its long-standing MP Bob Ainsworth – who received a massive majority over the Conservatives of nearly 12,000 votes in 2010 – is stepping down this year.
The local party chose his favoured successor, city councillor Colleen Fletcher, as his replacement.
National issues including pressures on the Greenbelt and NHS will be prevalent in the constituency, which is home to University Hospital in Walsgrave.
The Ricoh Arena, a job-creating project in an economically challenged part of the city, also sits in the constituency.
Some voters in the general and council election may have their say on the dispute between Coventry City Council and Sky Blues which affected local businesses in Holbrooks and eventually resulted in its sale to London rugby club Wasps.
Meet the candidates, in the order they will appear on the ballot paper..
NICKY DOWNES, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Ms Downes lives with her family in the constituency in the Upper Stoke area. She works as a teacher in a Coventry primary school. For many years, she has been an active trade unionist for the National Union of Teachers, and a socialist.
She says: “I am standing in this election as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition because I feel that all of the establishment parties – Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP – all support austerity. They want working people to pay for an economic crisis not of our making.
“I have been active in many campaigns against cuts, most recently in the battle to defend local public services including our libraries. I have campaigned against the privatisation of our education.
“People say all the parties are the same – I actually think that is pretty much right, all of the establishment parties are the same. “Just look at the NHS – the Tories introduced the Private Finance Initiative, the Labour government continued it and the health service is in crisis. All profiteering should be kicked out of the NHS.
“The big parties only disagree on the detail of how they would make the cuts, not whether the bankers should pay for the crisis that they caused.
“How am I different? Well for a start if I was elected I would only take the average worker’s wage and not the full MP’s salary, donating the rest back to local causes such as campaigns against the cuts and to support workers involved in struggle. “Secondly, I will be the only candidate who will be calling for a totally different type of society, a socialist system that puts people before profit.
“It is about time that our communities, jobs and public services were put before the needs of the wealthy few.”
RUSSELL FIELD, Liberal Democrat
Mr Field was born and raised in Coventry North East, attending Wyken Croft and Caludon Castle schools.
He has lived in Coventry for all but three years of his life and has worked for the last 21 years for a local building society in the city as a computer analyst programmer.
He says: “I was a councillor in this area, representing Upper Stoke for eight years.
“Rather than attacking my opponents, I took pride in helping local people with local issues and working to improve things.
“I am proud to be standing again for the Liberal Democrats. I believe the party has a strong record of achievement in government, from tax cuts for working families, to funding education for the poorest children, as well as various green initiatives.
“It has been a difficult time in government, especially as junior partners in a coalition, but we did so in the national interest.
“I believe the Lib Dems have learned from the experience and are in a strong position to make future coalitions work.
“Coventry needs MPs who are champions for this city and not just out to play politics at Westminster.
“In the past we had a Tory council draw up reasonable plans to improve Coventry city centre only to have Labour MPs attack it for party political reasons. Coventry will never move forward on that basis and I reject that sort of nonsense politics.
“The Lib Dems are proposing building houses to ease our housing shortage. For Coventry this means protecting our precious green sites and building on existing brownfield sites.
“I am also concerned about plans to develop on green sites in surrounding Warwickshire areas, with people commuting into Coventry to work but spending their money and paying their taxes outside the city.
“I believe if people look at what we have achieved and what we are proposing to do in the future, there are many good reasons to vote Liberal Democrat this time.”
COLLEEN FLETCHER, Labour Party
Mrs Fletcher was born in Coventry into “a loving caring socialist family”. Her father Bill Dalton worked in the car factories and her mother Dot at the GEC before she was elected to the city council.
She has always lived in Coventry North East, and went to Richard Lee and Lyng Hall Schools then Henley College. She is married and has two sons.
She says: “When my mum passed away in 1992 I was honoured to be chosen as a candidate for Wyken to replace her.
“My greatest life experience comes from raising my family, and from serving the community as a city councillor for 14 years.
“My working life has also encompassed the GEC, factories and shops, home care and the social housing sector.
“Working with people who are disabled, elderly or struggling to bring up their families has given me a deep understanding of the issues that people face every day.”
She says the “hardship and poverty” she has witnessed in Coventry is what motivates her to seek to be an MP.
She adds: “Coventry is my home. I live here, work, shop, have my hair cut here, my doctors and my dentist are here in Coventry North East.
“I am proud to be part of a council which has started paying its workers the living wage.”
She said Coventry city centre is being “transformed” with office development Friargate and European funded initiatives including the Broadgate revamp, and as an MP she would work hard to attract jobs, innovation and expertise especially from the two universities, while infrastructure was key to attracting investment from firms such as JLR and LTI.
She strongly supports Labour’s policies on the NHS, extending GP opening hours, hospital waiting targets, abolishing the ‘bedroom tax’, and helping working families, particularly by extending supported childcare arrangements including more help with nursery fees.
She says she supports the council’s leadership in building “more homes, both social and aspirational” and she believes in “a better regulated private sector”. The council proposal has been to use up to 10 per cent of Greenbelt land to meet housing targets.
She also wants to continue to tackle “health inequalities” which mean people in Coventry North East live up to ten years less than those in south Coventry.
MATTHEW HANDLEY, Green Party
Mr Handley says he moved back to Coventry six years ago, and he plans to raise his family in the city.
He has worked in the private sector for the last 13 years, most recently in the building/renewables merchanting industry.
He is also a trustee for a small charity engaging with children from underprivileged backgrounds.
He says: “I want to represent the people of Coventry in order to deliver real change for their lives.
“Our current political system is broken and our councillors and MPs have been ignoring what the people of Coventry truly want for too long.
“I completely oppose the idea of the “greater Birmingham authority” (the proposed combined authority of West Midlands councils coming together to decide on some economic policy), believing as I do that nothing should be done centrally if it can be done equally well or better locally.
“The cuts put in place by this government have had a devastating impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our city and need to be reversed immediately.
“Putting proper funding back in place to essential services such as the NHS and welfare is an absolute must and I would work across party lines to see compassion and care put back into policy.
“Locally it is essential that we invest in building high efficiency social housing that will benefit those in Coventry who really need it.
“We can do this on our extensive brownfield land without having to destroy our precious greenbelt.”
He also emphasises the need for a Living Wage to prevent Coventry people resorting to food banks; and abolishing buy to let tax breaks “which have made finding quality family accommodation in this city harder year on year”.
He opposes Labour council budget cuts which will see “key services to the most vulnerable being slashed” and its Greenbelt housing policy, which he says is “in the name of building high-end housing for the better off.”
MICHELLE LOWE, Conservative Party
Mrs Lowe says she developed her “passion for helping people” while studying politics and history at Coventry University, where she lived in Clay Lane in Coventry North East.
After graduating, she worked as a marketing communications specialist for not-for-profit organisations. She is currently a councillor at Sevenoaks District Council in Kent, and is married with two children.
She says: “The Conservative Party has a plan to build on the economic progress that we have already achieved. We have created 2.2 million apprenticeships since 2010, including more than 15,000 in Coventry, and we have created 1,000 new jobs every day – more than the rest of the EU put together.
“As part of our economic strategy we want to rebalance the economy so it is not so dependent on London and the South East. As a result we will back business by investing a record £52 billion in better transport, upgrading the M1 and M6, and electrifying the Midland Main Line from St Pancras to Sheffield – putting the Midlands at the centre of a modern, inter-connected transport network for the UK.
“We will back the Midlands’ strength in advanced manufacturing, engineering and science with major projects such as the Energy Research Accelerator and support for innovation in the motor industry. This has already begun with the announcement that Geely’s London Taxi company will invest £250million to create a new factory at Ansty Park (recently visited by the Prime Minister David Cameron, and Mayor of London Boris Johnson) and that Jaguar Land Rover are doubling their presence in the area.
“In Coventry North East the green belt is very important to local residents, and Coventry Conservatives have made it clear that if we are elected as MPs for the city we will work with local councillors to protect green belt land. Hungerley Hall Farm (the land at the back of the hospital) is at particular risk since the city council put it in their local plan.
“Traffic chaos around the hospital is another big concern for residents which is why I am campaigning with local Conservative council candidates for a multi-storey car park to create more parking spaces to take pressure off the local roads.
“By concentrating on building on the economic recovery we can not only make sure everyone has a job; but we can afford to have the excellent public services such as the NHS and schools that we need.”
WILLIAM SIDHU, Christian Movement for Great Britain
Mr Sidhu has lived in Britain for 52 years. He went to schools in the Foleshill area of Coventry, studied Dental Surgery at University of Sheffield and gained a Master’s Degree from University Of Birmingham.
He set up a dental practice in the Longford area of Coventry in 1988, and has provided NHS dental services for the last 37 years.
He also has “good links with the different churches in Coventry”.
He says: “Great Britain has been known historically as a Christian country. This was quite true even 50 years ago when the churches were thriving and used to be full with number of worship services. There was much trust and mutual respect. “However in the 1960s with the implementation of the Abortion Act, the seeds of family destruction had been sown.
“Subsequently through greed and selfishness, there has been breakdown of family structure and community life. Successive governments have placed the emphasis on the individual, rather than the role of the individual within family life and the community.
“Nowadays young people are having difficulty owning a property of their own, because governments have not been investing adequately in the infrastructure, which will aid family life.
“The organisation Christian Movement for Great Britain has been developed to promote Christian values in society.
“The aim is not to make Britain a theocratic state; but to provide values in society which will make the society stable and mutual respect for everyone in Britain.”
The party also emphasises repealing legislation so “the true definition of marriage according to the word of God is maintained” – with Civil Partnerships for same sex relationships.
Priorities would including schooling based on British values rather than developing faith schools, “investing in children” including by reducing and eventually eliminating tuition fees; controlling immigration, improving Defence, eliminating financial waste in NHS, and an immediate EU referendum. Affordable Housing should be available for the young.
AVTAR TAGGAR, UK Independence Party (UKIP)
Mr Taggar says he was born, went to school, grew up and “spent a large proportion (but not all) of my life living in the constituency”.
He is an IT professional with more than 25 years experience working in the industry, locally in Coventry, nationally in London for five years and 13 years working overseas in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
He says “I have real-life experience of this country and others.
“I attended local state schools in Coventry North East and in later life, completed an MSc eBusiness Management at the University of Warwick.
“I became actively involved with UKIP over two years ago, for the main reason of our EU membership and the referendum promised by all three parties in their 2005 manifestos, but has been continually reneged on.
“I believe the UK will be better off outside the strait jacket of the EU. Free trade, not political union is what we were promised.
“On a local level when talking to people in the constituency, the main issues that are raised time and again are the NHS, immigration and the EU.
“On the NHS, UKIP will keep this free at the point of use and pump an extra £3 billion a year into frontline services. We will fund more doctors and nurses and reduce managers and non-medical staff.
“On immigration, UKIP will introduce an Australian style points system. We want only the brightest and the best to come here. We don’t want to pull up the drawbridge but control who comes over it.
On the EU, this is the one issue that affects all of the others. UKIP propose a free and fair referendum on our membership with a simple in/out question. We cannot plan for housing, the NHS, GP appointments, school places, public transport etc if we have no control over numbers.
“Our manifesto is the only one that is fully costed and independently verified by a neutral, external organisation. Only UKIP will listen to people’s concerns and act upon them because we ‘Believe in Britain’.