With just four days until the nation goes to the polls, Cameron Edwards gave his insight into the national election, and what is happening in the constituency that he hopes to represent in Westminster, Newport West.
When talking about local issues, Cameron Edwards attacked Labour legacy. The Labour Party has held the seat since 1983 and their terrible record as the governing party in Wales’ devolved parliament, has ensured that Wales is at the ‘bottom of the table’ in almost all areas, notably education and health.
The specific charge against Labour’s record on the NHS was note-worthy. Edwards condemned Labour’s record as the ‘devolved government have failed the Welsh NHS, and it is very rich of Labour to blame the Conservatives for this.’ He went further in claiming that waiting times have risen 400% in Welsh hospitals, and when comparing this to England, it is clear that those who treated in England are offered a far better service.
Specifically, for Newport, Edwards is a major advocate of the M4 Relief Road, which Labour has decided not to go ahead with. He said that the Brexit Party ‘will do all we can to get funding for the M4 Relief Road’, through investing £50 billion into local road and rail networks, the Brexit Party hope to revitalise Newport and other Welsh towns that suffered from deindustrialisation. Much of this will come from the £19 billion a year that the United Kingdom contributes to the EU budget. However, Edwards wanted to reiterate that ‘EU funding was wasted’ on cosmetic and meaningless projects, like a dragon statue in Ebbw Vale, and instead the funding would have a tangible impact on people’s lives.
He was also keen to support Nigel Farage’s decision to create a new party after Brexit is delivered. The so-called Reform Party will, according to the 18-year old, be the ‘only party offering reform to the democratic institutions’, and the current Brexit Party candidate believes there is real appetite across the United Kingdom for this radical change. As such, he stated that he would never rejoin the Conservatives, who he was a member of earlier this year because he was not a fan of Boris Johnson, and hoped that Dominic Raab or Sajid Javid would instead become leader. But perhaps more importantly, he highlighted that his trust in the party had deteriorated over Johnson’s failure to deliver upon his ‘do or die’ pledge.
Of course, it did not take long until the conversation changed to Brexit. Like many of his Welsh colleagues, Labour’s record on the EU debate came under direct scrutiny; he said that voting for his Labour counterpart is: ‘a vote for a second referendum’ and continuously referred to the ‘betrayal’ of Labour to the 53% of Wales that voted to Leave.
However, the Brexit Party have experienced division within their own ranks on their electoral strategy, with four defections over the week. Edwards claimed that the party ‘saw it coming’, and he directly called out Annunziata Rees-Mogg for always being a Tory, and just opposing Theresa May’s withdrawal deal. The issue for the Brexit Party is that this potentially represents a majority of their voters that they gained in the EU Elections, notably from the Tory tribe. He stated that in discussion with Nathan Gill they believed the defecting quartet lacked commitment and were ultimately swayed by their links and reward from the Conservative Party, implying that ‘they chucked away their principles’ as a result.
Nonetheless, the defectors did have some merit in their argument. YouGov predicts that there are at least eight-seats where the Brexit Party will cost the Tories gains. However, Edwards claimed that this is the fault of the Conservatives. He stressed he was more than happy to stand down and had been ‘begged’ by the Tories to do so, but a Leave Alliance ‘could have had a massive majority and crushing Labour.’ The failure to do this is an example of the ‘arrogant’ Tories, putting party before country.
Brexit Party literature in the Newport West constituency has insisted that the Brexit Party are the only party to keep Corbyn out. However, all pollsters believe that the Tories will be the closest pro-Brexit challenger to Ruth Jones. The YouGov MRP suggests that Labour’s lead is just four-points, down from 36% in 1997. When I challenged Edwards on whether he should stand down in order to let Matthew Evans have a better chance he retorted that: ‘I understand where that comes from, but this isn’t true in south Wales, where we take more votes from Labour’. This claim is used by Nigel Farage too. However, it is contrary to the evidence-based arguments of Matthew Goodwin, YouGov and Annunziata Rees-Mogg who believe that at a ratio of 2:1, Brexit Party backers side with the Tories over Labour. That could be enough to sway seats, including those in Wales.
Edwards was initially the candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan and was forced to stand down in order to protect the former Welsh secretary, Alun Cairns. Nevertheless, he supported the decision to stand down and transfer to the Gwent seat because that way ‘we can get Brexit done, and bring some necessary stability to the country.’ However, he and his colleagues are frustrated with the Conservatives for not taking reciprocal measures in standing down some of their own candidates. He argued that the Tories failure to negotiate a Leave pact would leave the Conservatives in ‘regret’ nationally.
So, what does Edwards want on the 12th of December? He accepts that winning is a challenge but hopes that the Brexit Party can pick up half a dozen seats. He said that in this would be a ‘nice to be in the situation where the Tories are short of a majority, and the Brexit Party push it over the line.’ Farage had desired this outcome since as early as 2015, when in his book, The Purple Revolution, he hoped to carry David Cameron to victory, with help from the DUP, to ensure a Brexit referendum was put to the people, as soon as possible. However, he also agrees with Farage that this would not be a coalition because ‘we are not Conservatives at all.’ And instead they would desire reforms to Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement.
Curious to know the changes desired, I asked Mr Edwards, ‘what issues he had with the revised deal?’ He replied that ‘It is Theresa May’s deal’. Even though I questioned him on the changes to the Irish backstop and the political declaration, he claimed that the border down the Irish sea is not acceptable, especially when defending the Union. However, he also said that little protection for fisheries and the lack of independence of the British military were vital issues. This is despite the Scottish Fisheries Federation supporting the deal and legal advice from Martin Howe QC, who says that, ‘an important change has been made to the defence cooperation clauses, explicitly making clear the right of the UK to determine how it would respond to any invitation by the EU to participate in joint action in the defence field.’
The interview ended with one last plea to voters in Newport West, to back the Brexit Party:
‘We will deliver Brexit, invest in Wales on a massive scale, reform the House of Lords, and most importantly create a fairer, more democratic and more prosperous nation.’
By J Walters