LDV Interview: Liz Leffman. Witney Lib Dem candidate on Brexit, NHS, Buses – and puppies and biscuits, too!

Liz LeffmanI spent a couple of days in Witney this week. Events since my return have prevented me from telling you too much about my trip – but I would say that if you can get there before the by-election on October 20th, do go. We have a brilliant candidate and a huge team doing an incredible job. I spent Tuesday canvassing with Liz and some of her team in Eynsham and  I was surprised by the warmth of the reception on the doors and it’s clear that the more people who go to help, the more people we can speak to, the better the result we will get. So, what are you waiting for? If you can’t go, phone! All the info you need to help is here.

Before we headed out, I sat down with Liz for a chat. She is an incredibly impressive candidate. I’ve known from working with her pretty closely for some years now that she is one of those people who can come into a situation where everyone is running around panicking and just sort stuff. She has the knowledge, the authority and the passion to be a brilliant MP for Witney. She understands the issues facing local people, from the threats posed by Brexit, to cuts in bus services which leave people trapped in their villages to the huge problems in accessing NHS services.

I am very grateful to John O’Neill from Northern Ireland Lib Dems, who very kindly transcribed it for me. 

CL: We are sitting in the Lib Dem office, currently a hive of activity, with Liz Leffman. You’ve been a by-election candidate for a week now, what’s it been like?

LL: Well, it’s been quite a journey! It started off on Tuesday when I was selected. The following day I went straight off to Chipping Norton with Tim Farron. That was very exciting, and then I was on television that evening. So, it’s been all go actually, and I think probably I haven’t really stopped since then.

CL: So, what sort of reception are you getting on the doorstep?

LL: On the doorstep, very, very good. It’s helped that we’ve been canvassing in my own ward, where actually, I’m incredibly well-known. It’s also very encouraging. When I went out with Tim on that first Wednesday, I met two people almost immediately, that I knew, in the street in Chipping Norton, so that’s great. And the message has definitely got round that I am the candidate, and I’m getting lots of people saying, “Great!”, and, “We’re really hoping for you and rooting for you and hoping that you’ll win.”

CL:  I’m hearing people are now actually recognising you in the street as well!

LL: Well, yes they are, actually! The other day I got out of the car in one of the villages and as I was getting back in again, somebody said, “Ooh, that’s Liz Leffman over there!”, and I got out and said hello, and they said “Yes, we recognise you from your leaflets!” It’s thanks to the huge number of leaflets that have gone out over the last weekend. That first weekend was fantastic.

CL: People have just been flocking here, haven’t they?

LL: They have! I think we’ve had over a hundred people in the first weekend.  I think the Party is really putting all their effort behind this, and everybody is very, very excited about it.

The biscuit question

CL: Now, I asked the Lib Dem/newbies group on Facebook to put out some questions for you, and the first one was the obvious one that every politician has to answer: What is your favourite biscuit?

LL: Well, actually my favourite biscuit is a biscuit that I buy – and you can’t get this anywhere else – the only place you can buy this biscuit is at the WI Country Market in Chipping Norton on a Saturday morning, and there is a lady there who makes Anzac biscuits, and if you are in Chipping Norton over the weekend, please go from 9 ’til 12 to the WI market and buy those biscuits. They are fabulous!

On making sure rural areas don’t get left behind

CL: The other thing, more seriously, that people have asked is, if you do get elected as MP, what will be your policy priority?

LL: Absolute priority – making sure rural areas don’t get left behind in the way they have been. We are in a very rural area here in Witney. Now, a lot of people think of Witney as a very rich constituency because it’s where the Prime Minster lived, and everybody talks about the “Chipping Norton Set”, but, the truth is that actually Chipping Norton is a town with a significant number of disadvantaged people in it who, despite their best efforts, are really struggling. Actually, the rich and famous people live outside Chipping Norton, and a lot of people have lost jobs over the years. We used to have factories in Chipping Norton. There are no factories anymore. As a result, people feel very let down, I think.

We’ve got a County Council that is consistently cutting things like bus services; there are villages now in our area which have no buses at all. No buses, and elderly people have to rely on their neighbours to get out and about. To me, that is completely wrong. When we think about the way that older, rural residents are being treated, these are people who’ve been paying their taxes all their lives, and they’re being sidelined by the Conservative government, and I want to make sure that stops. It’s just not fair.

Witney’s high-tech companies need relationship with EU to survive

CL The other thing that I was thinking, because I am a massive Formula 1 fan and I know that a lot of people in Witney constituency will have jobs based at one of the teams or one of the suppliers. It’s massive for the economy, and somebody wrote on Lib Dem Voice the other day on the threat that Brexit, particularly a Hard Brexit, would cause. What do you think about that?

LL: The thing about this area is, 54% of people voted to Remain, and that’s quite important, because that means an awful lot of the Tories here voted to Remain. And, I think they recognise that if we come out of the EU, and we are forced to renegotiate a trade deal with the EU, that is going to have a major impact, not just on F1, which is very big round here. The teams here will suffer.

But the really important thing is it’s not just those sort of jobs that will go – we’ve got Siemens in Eynsham, for example, a high-tech company, there are a lot of high-tech companies round the area, and they’re dependent upon that relationship with Europe to survive, and I think that the people who are negotiating Brexit for us don’t really understand the ramifications of what they’re doing. They really do not understand. And I fear very much that unless we’ve got powerful voices in Parliament on our side, I think we’re going to be in real trouble.  I’m happy to say that Nick Clegg is a very powerful voice, and is making the case for continuing membership of the single market.

This is one reason why I’m very keen to be elected. Because I think I can add to the weight of our team in Parliament in making the case.

“I will campaign vigorously against NHS cuts”

CL: One of the big issues round here is the NHS, and that features quite heavily on your leaflet – tell me a bit more about the problems people are facing

LL: Well, I’ve seen problems around here over the last ten, fifteen years. There’s been an increasing reduction in services. For example, when I was the candidate in 2005, we had a problem with the Chipping Norton Hospital, which was threatened with closure, and I was part of the Hospital Action Group that actually kept that hospital going, and got it rebuilt. So we’ve now got a facility there, but even that is now under threat, because the CCG is removing money from community hospitals. So it’s quite possible that we may be fighting another campaign in the future to keep that hospital open.

The problem is that that’s got a maternity unit, and if that closes, then people have to go all the way into Oxford to have their babies, because the one in Banbury is also under threat of closure. And, I think, Caron, you have seen how bad the roads are going in and out of Oxford  (she’d clearly seen a message I’d written about the A40 being a slightly mobile car park while stuck on it the previous day). And, if somebody’s in the throes of child birth and they have to drive from far across the constituency, practically on the Gloucestershire border, to get into Oxford in order to have a baby, that is going to be a major problem. That’s the sort of thing that I’m going to be campaigning against.

And we’ve also got a doctor’s surgery in Witney, which is growing rapidly – Witney’s got another 1500 houses planned – and yet they’re closing a doctors’ surgery there which has got 4,500 patients. Goodness knows where these people are going to go.

So, there are all sorts of issues, and that is entirely to do with budgets being cut, because they have put out a tender which is 25% less than the previous tender. So, how they’re supposed to manage with 25% less? And that’s why the surgery’s shutting; because nobody wanted to tender for it, they couldn’t reach an agreement. So there are all sorts of threats to our health service round here, and I will be campaigning vigorously against those cuts.

And those cute dogs

CL: The other participants in this campaign are your beautiful dogs…

LL: Yes! Freddie and Oscar! I haven’t got them here today, in fact Oscar’s gone off to Puppy Class this morning!

CL: How old is he?

LL: He’s just coming up to one. He’ll be one next week.

CL: He’s so cute!

LL: He is, he’s absolutely adorable!

CL: Have they been out canvassing?

LL: Oh yes! I’ve ordered yellow collars; they haven’t yet arrived. And a friend of mine who is…we have these people in Charlbury called the Yarn Bombers who make crochet things, and on Valentine’s Day they go out and hang them on people’s doorknobs, and they’ve crocheted some rosettes for them; they’re nice and soft and will hang off their collars nicely.

CL: And I understand they’re very affectionate dogs, and anyone who likes dogs may get the chance to meet them…

LL: We’ll certainly bring them into the office  and we’ll make sure that people get to know them, yes, absolutely, but I’m hoping they’ll feature heavily in the campaign; there are an enormous number of people with dogs around here, so many of my friends are dog-walkers, so yes, I think the dogs are going to feature quite heavily!!

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Stevan Rose 2nd Oct '16 - 7:57pm

    The very best of luck Liz. We need you in Westminster.

  • In elections, if all else is equal, vote for a woman – they’re under represented and better at human compromises, on average…

  • James Crease 3rd Oct '16 - 5:30pm

    It might be a help to know where Liz Leffman will be in the coming weeks, rather than where she’s been ! Perhaps her calendar is lurking but I haven’t found it.

  • David Faggiani 4th Oct '16 - 3:22pm

    ‘human compromises’? 🙂

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