Max Wilkinson was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Cheltenham in the 2019 Election. He lost out on becoming Cheltenham’s MP by less than 2% of the vote to the current MP of Cheltenham, Alex Chalk.
Mr Wilkinson does not believe that the countries government has been in a stable state since 2015, the year the coalition ended. Mr Wilkinson supported his argument by describing the events of the last 5 years that have taken place in parliament. I questioned him on the failures of the Liberal Democrats during the coalition and under Jo Swinson’s leadership. He stated that mistakes had been made during the coalition however the government at the time was stable.
Mr Wilkinson admitted failure of the party when referring to their stance on Brexit. He went into detail about how the party’s approach was far too drastic. He stated that a softer approach that rallied for a second referendum would have gained more votes for the party. He used the phrase “high on our own supply”, when describing the parties flawed attitude to Brexit. Mr Wilkinson believes that further research should have been carried out before committing to such a hard stance on such a vital issue for voters. Mr Wilkinson also stated that “we are a pro-european party because Liberalism is about internationalism”.
Mr Wilkinson was not afraid to criticise the Conservative government and Cheltenham’s Conservative MP, Alex Chalk. He claims that Mr Chalk’s statements are very different to his actions. A clear example of this being the MP’s statements over fairness within the community and his contradictory action of voting against free school meals for kids. Throughout our discussion on Alex chalk, Mr Wilkinson did not seem to be favourable to the most of the local MP’s actions. He also questioned how far he would go to fight for the struggling A&E department in Cheltenham.
As we went further into detail about other parties, Mr Wilkinson was not completely critical. He said that there has been more investment into renewable energy by the government. Wilkinson mentioned that this further investment is partially as a result of Ed Miliband’s actions at the end of the Labour’s most recent term. However, he did claim that there is far too much investment in fossil fuels by the current Conservative government. He explained how there should be complete investment in sustainable forms of transport and renewable energy.
When questioned about the Conservative government’s dealing with Coronavirus, he immediately responded with “the 10pm curfew is a disaster”.
Mr Wilkinson did not seem impressed with Mr Johnson and the Conservative party’s handling with the coronavirus and believed that far more support was needed for the hospitality sector during this difficult time. Something he believes the Liberal Democrats would do and he also stated that the Liberal Democrats have repeatedly stood up for the hospitality sector.
When I posed Mr Wilkinson the question “what does Ed Davey need to do to grow the popularity of the Liberal Democrat’s?”, he replied that it was essential for Mr Davey to find a unique selling point for the party.
A reoccurring topic throughout our conversation was, as Mr Wilkinson put it, is the UK’s “unfair voting system”. He believes it prevents the Liberal Democrats from having a larger stance in the House of Commons and is what makes Ed Davey’s job so much harder.
When questioned about the Liberal Democrats reputation and position on the House of Commons, Mr Wilkinson stated that “we are the third party”, despite the SNP’s having the third largest amount of MP’s in parliament. He furthered his statement by referring back to the UK’s flawed voting system and how the SNP’s unfairly have such a strong position in parliament due to the higher representation in Scotland.
The final question I asked Mr Wilkinson was “Do you blame yourself or Jo Swinson for your losing the Liberal Democrats seat in Cheltenham?”, he simply replied “neither”. He then stated that he “received more votes than any candidate in Cheltenham since 1992 – apart from Alex Chalk in 2019”. He referred again to the party’s stance on Brexit as a contributor to his loss. He also mentioned the Labour candidate in Cheltenham, George Penny and his failure to secure the £500 deposit, meaning that Labour failed to gain over 5% of the vote share in the local area.