The Liberal Democrat Party’s new candidate to fight the next general election, Mike Martin, says he believes “my chances are pretty good” of defeating the area’s current Conservative MP, Greg Clark.
Mike Martin is a former British army officer who now writes about resolving conflict.
Mr Martin (pictured below) gave an extended interview to West Kent Radio and the West Kent Talking podcast in which he promised to “reflect the values” of the people living in the constituency if he is elected.
Mike Martin said that the area’s demographics are changing and – of those people moving into the Tunbridge Wells constituency – he argued “very few of them vote Conservative”.
Mr Martin won the selection vote among local party members, replacing Ben Chapelard who fought as the Liberal Democrat candidate at the last general election.
Another general election needs to be held sometime in the next two years and the Conservative Party’s opinion poll ratings have collapsed since the replacement of Boris Johnson as leader last year. Greg Clark won 55% of the local vote at the last general election.
Following the breakdown in the water supply system for many local residents before Christmas, Mike Martin is highly critical of what he believes to be weak regulation of the privatised water industry by the Conservative government, which has led to a lack of investment in the network.
Mike Martin said: “If you dig into South East Water’s corporate structure, you can see these financing vehicles in the Caymans and in Luxemburg. And effectively what the company has been doing is swapping out debt for equity, or asset stripping, so that rather than using money to invest in the network, which would stop some of these problems, they’ve taken the money and given it to shareholders for profit and that’s completely unacceptable.”
He continued: “If you have a situation where the pipes freeze and then they thaw; and then we have water leaks and we are not able to detect all of them and so the network goes down for six days; and then pumping stations go down and all the rest of it, I would argue that is a clear case of under investment in the network.”
Mr Martin described Greg Clark’s actions in trying to improve the company’s crisis response and push for quick compensation payments as: “Bolting the stable door after the horse has fled.”
Mike Martin said: “If you are going to privatise something – particularly something that is a natural monopoly like water – then you need to regulate it appropriately.”
The Liberal Democrat candidate continued: “It is quite clear that the regulator, OFWAT, allows the companies to determine their own financial structures and it also appears that the government is very very happy with that. So effectively what the government has allowed…is these companies to underinvest in the network, allowing the ridiculous situation where people didn’t have water six days before Christmas.”
In response, South East Water’s Chief Financial Officer, Andrew Farmer said: “Between 2020 and 2025 we are investing more than £480 million in upgrading our infrastructure which includes our water treatment works and pipeline network. South East Water is resident in the UK for tax purposes.”
In a half hour interview, Mike Martin also discussed Afghanistan, Ukraine, climate change and public sector strikes.
On the issue of relations with the European Union, Mike Martin agreed that most people wanted to move on from the Brexit debate. He accepted that the party’s policy was eventually to rejoin the EU “single market” regulatory system, but he said he was not going to be campaigning on the issue – and rejoining the EU would need what he called “some sort of democratic mandate.”
You can hear his answers in full by downloading the West Kent Talking podcast, which is available on Spotify and Apple podcasts.