THE Coventry South constituency includes the city centre and two universities.
Long-standing ambitions to regenerate the economy with the city centre as a key driver could play a part in the election, as could parties’ respective policies on university tuition fees.
Labour’s Jim Cunningham has been the MP since it was created in the Labour landslide year of 1997 from a merger of the old Coventry South East and South West constituencies.
Coventry South also contains areas of relative affluence, and some campaigners have expressed concerns about potential cuts, including to libraries and children’s centres.
Protection of the Green belt including over the Warwick district border at nearby King’s Hill has also been a campaigning issue for years.
The Conservatives nationally targeted the constituency at the last General Election in 2010, when the then high-profile Tory candidate Kevin Foster narrowed the gap with Labour, but still lost by some 4000 votes.
Meet the candidates, in the order they will appear on the ballot paper..
JIM CUNNINGHAM, Labour Party
Mr Cunningham became Coventry South East MP in 1992 and has been MP for Coventry South since 1997 (see above).
In 1964, he became an engineer for Rolls-Royce at Ansty. He was a union shop steward at the plant and became a Coventry city councillor, rising to become council deputy leader.
Mr Cunningham says voters faced “stark” choices over the NHS, jobs for young people, Conservative austerity cuts, housing, the “cost of living crisis” and Labour’s plans to abolish zero-hours contracts.
He said: “Here in Coventry we still have higher than average unemployment amongst our 18-25 year olds who will benefit from Labour’s jobs guarantee.
“We have a hospital under strain missing its A&E targets and bed blocking caused by social care cuts. There is now a chronic shortage of GPs making it difficult to get an appointment.
“The NHS will benefit from our extra money raised by introducing a mansion tax, a levy on tobacco firms and clamping down on tax avoidance whilst scrapping ‘non dom’ status which is a moral outrage.
“We have a housing problem too. Selling off council and other social housing won’t help as the Tories want to do. Building new houses will help though whilst at the same time protecting our precious green belt in areas such as Kings Hill.
“We should maximise build on brownfield sites before we even contemplate green belt. I have a track record of standing up for the green belt and I reaffirm that pledge.
“We must get new jobs into the city including manufacturing to give our local economy a boost and give hope to our young people that Coventry is a place they can stay and prosper in.
“We mustn’t just go for elite high end jobs which benefit a minority of our citizens.
“Labour supports community led schools which we need in our areas of great need rather than the Tory plan of free schools in areas which don’t need them and put good schools under threat. This is total madness and is driven purely by Conservative doctrine.
“We need to support further education in our colleges which are under great strain and almost forgotten and not focus totally on universities where Labour will cut tuition fees.
“I have the experience and the desire to deliver a better Britain and a better Coventry.”
BEN GALLAHER, Green Party
Mr Gallaher is a history and politics student at Warwick University He is originally from Kent, where he was state-school educated and from a single-parent family. Aged 21, he says there needs to be more young people in Parliament given the voting record of 18-24 year olds.
He said: “Almost one in five children are in poverty here in Coventry, and fuel poverty here is higher than the national average. As someone who has experienced poverty first-hand, these problems are highly important to me. I believe Coventry has received a raw deal as a result of the coalition’s austerity programme.
“The Green Party wants to see an increase in social housing, to insulate homes, and renationalise energy companies, so that those living in poverty can afford to live adequately.
“This means making the minimum wage the level of the Living Wage (£7.85 an hour in Coventry), and investing in our public sector.
“Cutting our public services should not be the answer to this city’s problems, and austerity has only increased wealth inequality. I want to see more funding in our NHS, our schools, and transport, so that residents in Coventry do not pay the price for the financial mess of 2008 made by the very wealthiest in society.
“One reason why I’m running for Parliament is that Coventry South is one of the only constituencies in the country with two universities. As a history student at the University of Warwick, I think it’s important to represent the high student population in the constituency.
“It’s also important we revive our local communities, with support for our local economy – in the city centre and on high streets elsewhere in the constituency. Our Green MP, Caroline Lucas, has been an official Parliamentary champion of the Federation of Small Businesses.
“We support legislation to ensure small and growing businesses get paid on time. Big business has to be responsible in its dealings with small business suppliers. And we would improve access to finance for small businesses in Coventry South, something that hasn’t returned after the credit crunch, with a new network of community banks.”
JUDY GRIFFITHS, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Judy Griffiths was born in Ireland and has lived and worked in the Charterhouse area of Coventry for nearly 30 years.
She is a telecommunications worker and the elected secretary of the Coventry branch of the Communications Workers Union, representing nearly 1000 members.
In her years in Coventry she has been part of campaigns for working class people ranging from helping to organise the non-payment of the Poll Tax, to today fighting against library closures, cuts to public services and privatisation and PFI parking charges at Walsgrave Hospital.
Most recently, she was part of the campaign to save Charterhouse Fields and building, which has now secured millions of pounds of funding for a new heritage park.
Judy Griffiths says she is standing for TUSC to help defend the NHS and services from austerity, to fight for a £10/hour minimum wage, an end to zero hour contracts and a massive increase in affordable housing.
If elected, she has promised to take only an average worker’s wage, less than half of an MP’s salary – instead of joining the Westminster establishment.
She said: “30 years of free market dogma from all parties now means the next generation will be worse off than the last. Tories, Liberal Democrat, Labour, and now UKIP, all argue that working people must pay for the crisis of the market economy, rather than the minority who most benefit from that system.
“Britain’s richest 1,000 individuals own £519 billion – and they don’t even pay their taxes! TUSC stands for a new, democratic, socialist society run in the interests of the majority, not the billionaires. Then we could start to use the wealth of this country for the benefit of all, not just the super-rich.”
GREG JUDGE, Liberal Democrat
Mr Judge was born in Coventry, lived in Earlsdon and now Canley. He was educated at The Westwood Academy (then Alderman Callow), City College Coventry and University of Bristol, gaining a First Class degree and experience of political campaigning. He says he continued campaigning in his work, including for rights for deaf people and fighting for terminally ill people to choose how and when they die. He is also a school governor.
He says improving education is “at the heart of his liberalism”. He emphasises the Liberal Democrats announcing an extra £2.5bn for education, on top of the Pupil Premium for poorer children last Parliament.
He says in Coventry he “knows the cost of living and paying the bills is the hardest issue facing people.” The Lib Dems had already taken thousands of workers out of Income Tax altogether in Coventry and tens of thousands more receiving £825 tax cuts, he says, which would rise to £1200 yearly tax cuts for 49,200 in Coventry South and additionally take 5,600 out of tax altogether.
He said Coventry families would be further helped to “live within their means” with 20 hours free childcare for all two to four-year-olds.
Mr Judge also emphasised Lib Dem support on pensions, raising them by £800 since 2010 to around £144 a week and ensuring they rise by a minimum of 2.5 per cent or higher.
In Coventry South, he said 15,700 young people aged 16-21 would get a 66 per cent discount on their bus passes.
Greg said: “Coventry South needs a leader who cannot only deliver for people but also has the creative and political skills to fight for a stronger economy and a fairer society in our city. Creating opportunities for all is the core to changing Coventry for the next decade!”
GARY RIDLEY, Conservative Party
Mr Ridley was born at Walsgrave Hospital, educated at Coventry University and has made his home here. He is a former Coventry city councillor who was a leading cabinet member until the Conservatives lost power at the Council House in 2010. He stood for Parliament in Coventry North West in 2010. He works in PR for Conservative MEP Dan Dalton.
He says: “”The people of Coventry South deserve an MP who will stand up for them. As a local resident, the community matters to me as much as it does to you.
“As a former councillor in Coventry I have a track record of helping constituents and delivering successful outcomes. Much of the work to regenerate the city centre came from the Conservative-led council and I will work hard as your MP to ensure that regeneration continues while protecting valued green spaces from development.
“Over the last five years our economy has improved, unemployment has fallen and the future looks brighter. I’m standing for Parliament because I want these improvements to continue and they could be put at risk by other parties.
“Under this government unemployment has fallen by 32 per cent over the last year in Coventry South and 40,000 residents have seen their Income tax bill fall. The next Conservative government will create over two million new jobs and improve training and apprenticeship opportunities.”
He said tackling the deficit had been achieved while still investing in public services including protecting NHS spending which would get an additional £8billion by 2020 under the Conservatives, a pledge not matched by Labour.
He says he opposes plans for a “Greater Birmingham” West Midlands combined authority which could see Coventry and other councils joining together to shape regional policies on such issues as job-creation, business investment and transport.
Mr Ridley said the Conservatives would invest in housebuilding, including with a £1billion brownfield redevelopment fund. But Coventry’s Greenbelt should be preserved including Kings Hill, he says. He pointed to Labour councillors breaking previous election promises to protect green space in the city, including by recently backing 800 homes on Greenbelt land in Keresley.
CHRIS ROONEY, Mainstream
Mr Rooney lives in Cheylesmore, Coventry, with his family, and his children go to school locally. He works as an IT consultant in a variety of industry and commerce, in Britain, Europe and the Middle East.
He says: “There’s a big empty space in politics. There should be a party which can poll at 60 per cent – there isn’t. The establishment parties each get at most about 33 per ent. That’s why I created Mainstream – to fill this vacuum, and stand for the majority, instead of minorities.
“In my profession, outsourcing has made it difficult to find work locally for most of the current century. As a parent, I see our children being indoctrinated by politicians, and pressured in the media by rich and powerful minorities, to accept as ‘normal’ their fascist policies of genetically engineered children, and legislation which undermines the family as the basic unit of civilisation.
“But the biggest local issue is the crisis in frontline health and education, as Coventry (like other cities) struggles to cope with a huge increase in population. We can’t tell all the new people to go away. They’re here – we need to make the best of it.
“But we need to urgently put more resources into GPs, primary schools and maternity services. So let’s spend all our existing tax money right here in Britain – there’s no spare cash now, to throw away in gifts to Brussels or other countries; or for fighting wars in the Middle East.
“The ISIS we should be fighting. MAINSTREAM wants to get back to the situation where the politicians do what the people want, not the other way round.
“I’ve got a family to support and can afford to take just the one week off work, the final week before the election. Then I’ll be campaigning on doorsteps – I’m looking forward to this. Unlike all the established politicians, I’m saying what most people agree with – so I will get votes. How many? I don’t know – at least I’m trying.”
MARK TAYLOR, UK Independence Party (UKIP)
Mr Taylor has lived and worked in Coventry for over 35 years. He has been a leading UKIP activist and organiser in Coventry since before its rise in recent years, and has stood in previous elections in the city.
He says: “I’ve always believed in accountability in politics, with political representation listening to and acting on behalf of those who have selected them to make a positive change in their community.
“I would like to serve the people of Coventry South by standing with a party that has a common sense approach to resolving difficult issues.
” UKIP will act with compassion but ensure everyone has somewhere to live – from scrapping the under-occupancy charge that penalises those who cannot find the shortfall in Housing Benefit (the so-called “bedroom tax”) to ensuring affordable housing is built on Brownfield sites without destroying Greenbelt land.
“Coventry City Council, like other councils, is being starved of funds. Essential services such as Sure start centres, school crossing patrols, libraries and street lighting all require adequate funding.
“Why spend billions on a vanity high speed rail project HS2 (UKIP would scrap it) or give money to Europe when we could allocate more funding towards local councils, including Coventry?
“Our precious Health Service should remain free at the point of need. I say NO to privatisation of the NHS and UKIP will provide an additional £3billion a year for the NHS.
“Many people I meet often say they feel they are working hard for little reward. It is essential that the personal tax allowance is raised to £13,500. Time people had a little more money in their pockets! As for zero hours contracts, they simply have to go.
“All seems sensible to me.”
Jim Cunningham (Labour)
Ben Gallaher (Green)
Judy Griffiths (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition)
Greg Judge (Liberal Democrat)
Gary Ridley (Conservative)
Chris Rooney (Mainstream)
Mark Taylor (UKIP)