As the Deputy Mayor of London and a seasoned London councillor and Assembly Member, Kit Malthouse – the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservatives in North West Hampshire – brings with him a set of qualities and experience that many parliamentary candidates could only dream of having.
Kit says that he’s never off the record, “Everything you ever hear me say is suitable for publication, otherwise… I think it brings politics into disrepute a bit” he starts by telling me as we sit in the shadow of the war memorial in the churchyard of St Mary’s.
Having applied to only a small number of constituencies for the opportunity to stand for parliament, Kit says that the main criteria for him are compatibility and having issues that he can use his experience to help with: “It matters to me that the fit was good and two of the things that really struck me when doing my research was, firstly Andover is growing well, with thousands of new houses in and around the town and all of the villages and secondly it’s teeming with small business, I’ve had my own small business for 20 years and I understand the problems, the pleasures and the pains of dealing with that.”
Kit’s views on Andover, in particular the town centre, are refreshing and indicate that he’s hoping to promote the town as somewhere worth visiting, rather than running it down. “Some people have got a bit of a downer on Andover, unnecessarily. I know the UK well and have been to a lot of towns and I think Andover is pretty good, it’s still got independent retailers, it’s still lively, the local people use it and so I think it’s good.”
Shortly after being selected he had a conversation with Chris Gregory, the new Town Centre Manager, who agrees that part of the problem is the image of the town, which in many ways is false. Kit does recognise though that there are issues with regards to the Chantry Centre and hopes to encourage the landlords to show some interest and investment: “We’ve got to keep the product polished” he says.
Kit has experience working with town centres in London such as Kingston and Bromley and understands what works and what doesn’t and hopes he can put that experience to good use.
Having been the chair of governors at a school in the middle of a housing estate, Kit also brings with him a great deal of experience in knowing how schools should work for the children they are there to serve. “The most important thing you can do with schools is have a good head teacher” he explains. “It doesn’t matter what type or form of school, it’s really about good leadership. Attracting and retaining the best heads to lead schools is a good start, but you also need to talk to schools in the area and find out what they need from government and the job of the member of parliament is to try and get that.”
An issue that persists in Andover is that of the location of the war memorial and the question of moving it back to it’s original position in the high street. “Often it’s a good idea to put yourself in the position of the families” he says, “If it were my grandfather represented there how would I feel about it? I think I would be less concerned about the location than I was about the status and respect that the monument holds among the townspeople. The churchyard is lovely, if you want to spend some time quietly reflecting or holding a private memorial ceremony then maybe it’s a bit more convenient, I don’t see what the problem is really.” Kit goes on to explain that both of his grandfathers fought, one in the artillery and one in the far-east and says he would be happy with the current location.
With two Conservative county councillors losing their seats to UKIP in 2013 I ask Kit what he thinks he can do to engage with voters who are swaying toward UKIP. “I can understand why a lot of people would look to UKIP for some kind of solution to the european issue, it’s very important to a lot of people and it’s very important to me and the most important thing surrounding the issue is that we get a say. It’s time now for people, some of whom had the chance to have their say last time, but many like me who didn’t, to get to have a vote. The only way for people to get that chance is to vote Conservative, we’re the only party that can both promise and deliver a referendum in 2017 and I have a lot of faith in voters who I think will see that.”
Kit goes on to say that though some will view the issue of Europe as the most important thing to them at the general election, there are many other issues such as business, housing, health and education – which he says: “In the end, make a bigger difference to people’s day to day lives and which is never spoken about by UKIP other than to tick the box to give the impression that they have some kind of policy there.”
If elected, and as Kit constantly reminds me, it is a big ‘if’. While North West Hampshire is seen as a safe Tory seat – he tells the story of Winston Churchill who lost his Dundee seat although it was seen as a stronghold – the Malthouse family will need to find a home in the constituency. With regards to location, he says it’s like choosing from a box of chocolates. “I’ve had some time in the constituency and I just keep discovering these beautiful spots, I never get anywhere on time because I keep stopping to look at the view, my camera (he shows me) is full of pictures of views!”
As our time draws to an end I ask Kit about the first issues he would like to speak on in parliament, he chooses two. “One would be about small business, in my business life it’s always frustrated me that when politicians have stood up and talked about business, they always talk about big business, whereas business for me is about people out on their own, using their own capital and their wits and they don’t get the help that they need – we’re making some progress but not enough so I’d like to talk about that.” He uses the examples of small businesses that he’s encountered so far on his travels around the constituency from small barns to businesses on the Walworth Estate.
“The other area that’s been of concern to me for sometime now is that of child cruelty, I have three children and obviously i’m interested in their future, but we haven’t for sometime looked at the whole structure and the way society protects, prevents and deals with child cruelty. We’ve heard some horrific stories, but it extends to questions like; what are our children being exposed to on the internet? I know that Claire Perry [MP for neighbouring Devizes] has done a lot of work on this, but also the commercialisation of the world around our kids…nowadays it’s 24 hour, fast-moving TV for kids with developing brains. You look at social services departments and think ‘are they fit for purpose?’ – I just think it’s time to dig out the foundations and have a look at what our kids are exposed to, how cruelty is detected and how do you deal with it and prevent it.”
Kit Malthouse comes across as very genuine and someone who wants to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to help make North West Hampshire even better for those who live here.
No other party has announced their candidates for the 2015 general election at present.