A lawyer is looking to overcome the odds for the Liberal Democrats in Lichfield and Burntwood at the general election on May 7.
Paul Ray, 52, has lived on Birmingham Road with his wife and three children in Lichfield for 14 years.
Conservative Michael Fabricant, who enjoyed a 17,683 majority last time out, is the overwhelming favourite to retain his seat according to bookies William Hill. The Liberal Democrats’ Ian Jackson came second in Lichfield in 2010 with 20 per cent of the vote.
But despite the odds and negative opinion polls – Mr Ray believes he has a good story to tell to the local electorate – and claims that the Liberal Democrats will be the “comeback kids” at this election.
He said: “It is going to be a tough election. Last time in 2010 in Lichfield we came second with 20 per cent of the vote, and we got 23 per cent of the vote nationally. But we wont be wiped out at this election – we are going to be the come back kids on May 7.
“I think people are starting to realise that the Liberal Democrats have achieved a lot of good things in coalition. Whether that is the pupil premium where we have put more money into schools for disadvantage kids, the increase in the state pension, the increase in the personal tax allowance to £10,600 or free school meals for Primary School children under the age of seven.
“Unlike our opponents claim, we have been in government for the past five years, we haven’t been sitting on our hands. Liberal Democrat ministers have been running their own multi-billion pound departments, and after generations out of power people now know that the Liberal Democrats have a good story to tell.”
The coalition’s decision to raise tuition fees to £9,000 a year in England in 2012 led to a drop in support for the Liberal Democrats.
At the May 2010 general election the party had pledged to abolish tuition fees, before ditching the policy in government.
The Liberal Democrat candidate for Lichfield has apologised to young people for the broken pledge – but he claims the party was “naïve” to make the promise in the first place.
He insists the current system where graduates don’t pay back until they are earning over £21,000 a year is better than the old system.
Over 592,000 young people have applied so far to go English universities for the academic year 2015-2016, which Mr Ray believes shows that the policy has been a success.
He said: “The Liberal Democrats are sorry and we have said sorry repeatedly over tuition fees. We were perhaps naïve as a party to make abolishing tuition fees our flagship policy. But as the junior party in a coalition government, we didn’t have the mandate to get that policy into the coalition agreement.
“It was the Labour Party who first introduced tuition fees in 1998, and they were the ones who set up the Browne Review which recommended there should be no cap on tuition fees and that universities should charge what they please. We as Liberal Democrats said no to that because we believe there should be a cap on what can be charged.
“In my opinion the system we have now is more progressive than the old system. No graduate will pay back until they’re earning over £21,000 a year and the numbers speak for themselves – more young people than ever before from disadvantage backgrounds are going to university.”
Mr Ray believes that the Labour Party’s proposal to reduce tuition fees to £6,000 a year will only benefit wealthy graduates.
However, in the tightest election in decades – the Liberal Democrats claim no party will have a mandate to govern alone.
On May 7 the Liberal Democrat candidate for Lichfield believes that voters face a clear choice.
Mr Ray claims his party will be the anchor in another coalition government and will stop either the Conservatives from cutting public services to the bone or Labour from borrowing too much.
He said: “The difference between ourselves and the Conservatives is that we as Liberal Democrats believe in fairness and that those with the broadest shoulders should contribute a little bit more to reducing the deficit.
“The Conservatives want to cut £50 billion more than us, as they want to wipe out the deficit through public spending cuts alone, while we have said we will not eliminate the deficit off the backs off the poor. While the Labour Party haven’t set out clearly what they believe in, they want to borrow £70 billion more than us when under Labour we just had 13 years of debt and overspending.
“This is going to be a crucial election and the likelihood is we are going to end up with another coalition, and I believe the Liberal Democrats will be round the table again negotiating with either the Conservatives or Labour as part of that.
“Our negotiating power will come from how many MP’s we get elected in May and secondly by the percentage of the vote we achieve. So a vote for the Liberal Democrats in Lichfield and elsewhere is absolutely crucial in being able to give our leader Nick Clegg the ability to negotiate the best government for Britain.”
The candidates standing in the Lichfield constituency in May are:
- Andy Bennetts – Class War
- Michael Fabricant – Conservatives
- Robert Pass – Green Party
- John Rackham – UKIP
- Paul Ray – Lib Dem
- Chris Worsey – Labour