Interview: Sir Alan Beith MP

Following the second anniversary of the Coalition Government, the Gazette spoke to your MP.

Sir Alan Beith has been north Northumberland’s MP for nearly 40 years, but the last two have seen him involved in the hustle and bustle of the Coalition Government.

So does he have any regrets after the Liberal Democrats joined up with the Conservatives? Not at all, he says.

“Now looking at what’s happening in Greece and Spain, the country had to have a stable Government which could take really difficult decisions to stop us getting in that situation,” he said.

“The level of deficit was so high that we were exposed to very much the same dangers unless you had a Government who could get a grip of the situation.

“At the same time it’s been an opportunity to get Liberal Democrat policies from the front of our manifesto implemented.”

He points to the pupil premium and the people on lower and medium incomes who are paying less tax or have been taken out of tax altogther, among others.

He continued: “The Government is much more open under the Coalition, it has to be really because there’s two parties.

“There’s no concealing that we come at things from different standpoints, but the processes of government are more in the public eye.

“Ministers have got to persuade members in both parties that what the Government’s putting forward makes sense.

“It’s unfortunate that the Lib Dems have the opportunity to prove coalition government works well when the economic situation is as serious as it is now, but that’s precisely the situation when you need a coalition government.”

But has the Coalition affected people’s views of the Liberal Democrats? Elsewhere in the country in the recent local elections, both the Lib Dems and the Tories lost seats.

“I never had any illusions that there wouldn’t be a negative effect at least for the first couple of years, because the people who vote for us, if they didn’t vote for us, would vote for Labour, as they have a deep distrust of the Tories,” said Sir Alan.

“Our job is to make sure the Government is a coalition and therefore that their fears don’t happen.

“The other factor we have to contend with in the elections is that any Government in the situation that the country’s now in would be making very unpopular decisions.

“If Labour had won a majority they would either be doing things similarly to what this Government is doing or the country would be heading for disaster, and I think it would be the first one.”

Austerity is a big part of the tough decisions that the Government is taking but Sir Alan says that people they talk to do appreciate what has to be done.

“Talking to people on doorsteps – as even though we didn’t have elections, we made a point of getting out and doing quite a lot of canvassing – people do understand that difficult decisions need to be made.

“And they welcome things like cutting down on tax and benefit fraud and reforming the benefit system so that it’s fair.”

Being part of the Coalition Government has also helped him take north Northumberland’s issues right to the top – three ministers in the Government used to work for him.

And Sir Alan is clear on the issues that matter to people in his constituency.

“Unemployment has continued to go down in our area but that doesn’t make it any less serious of an issue for the person without a job or whose son or daughter doesn’t have a job,” he said, highlighting the need to attract employers and create jobs.

“We don’t have enough houses for young people.

“I welcome what the Government is trying to do with this but there’s an enormous amount of ground to make up.

“We still have high fuel prices both for cars and, in many cases, for domestic heating so the Green Deal is important.

“Some of the most serious poverty is among people in privately rented older property which is very expensive to heat and who are travelling long distances to work.

“The Government is keeping petrol prices 6p lower than they would have been under previous plans but it is still a real struggle for people who have no alternative but to use their car to get to work.”

And of course, Sir Alan has continued to pester the Education Secretary Michael Gove and roads minister Mike Penning regarding the A1 and the rebuilding of the Duchess’s High School in Alnwick, the latter of which came to fruition this week.

So Sir Alan can now concentrate on pushing for the dualling of the A1.

“There’s a crucial economic case for improving the A1 which in my submission answers the charge that there are so many roads in the south that are busier and have more accidents,” he said.

“In my view that’s part of the problem – over-development in the south, because we haven’t developed the infrastructure in the north over the years to attract more of that business to this part of the world.”

And another issue that seems to be a big talking point in north Northumberland is wind turbines.

“A lot of people have genuine anxieties about the impact of wind turbines on the outlook around the villages in which they live,” he said.

“I don’t think it should be a party political issue.

“The right way to deal with it is to enable the local planning authority to make careful rational decisions about where we can site wind turbines.

“I want the Government to do all it can to develop other renewable energy forms.

“Some people get the impression that all the wind turbine applications are happening in Northumberland, but I can assure them I have many MP colleagues who raise the same issues and, in some cases, who are getting significantly more applications approved and built than we are.”