Caroline Ansell: Eastbourne’s new MP on Brexit, Curzon closure and the A27
Caroline Ansell has given her first in-depth interview since winning the General Election.
The new Eastbourne MP spoke to the Herald about being reelected, her priorities, and whether she will remain a local councillor.
Reflecting on seizing her seat back, she said, “I’m totally and utterly honoured to be elected. I’m so ready now to really advance those campaigns and see real progress.
“We had some confidence in the campaign, door to door, speaking to people – we managed to engage with hundreds of thousands of people.
“On election night I get this call ‘you need to come right now’, then we are hurtling towards the town hall and we arrive in a huge flurry. It was nail biting.”
Mrs Ansell received 26,951 votes, a 4,331 vote majority over the previous MP Stephen Lloyd, who got 22,620.
“It’s a comfortable place,” the Conservative says, “I’m very grateful to all those who voted for me. What I’m going to set my sights on is earning the respect of those who didn’t.”
For many years now, Eastbourne has been bouncing between the Lib Dems and Conservatives each election – with a slim margin between the victor and the runner up.
So why does she think she gained such a substantial majority this time? Was Brexit a major factor?
“I think it’s a cocktail of reasons,” says Mrs Ansell, admitting Brexit had a part to play, “People were very concerned about a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.”
And now that she’s won, Mrs Ansell says her plan for Eastbourne is ‘opportunity, prosperity, and no one being left behind’ and her priorities are health, the economy, and the environment.
“I’m really going to invest in health and have a plan to put Eastbourne on the map,” she says, “It’s very exciting, there’s so much to do. I think this place has such tremendous potential.”
Brexit and EU Nationals
In the latest vote on Boris Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement, the majority of MPs, including Mrs Ansell, voted for the Bill.
However, there was some critisism as Conservatives voted against amendments to the Bill which would have pledged to secure EU citizens’ rights and the rights of refugees.
Eastbourne’s economy is bolstered in a significant part by tourism, and 60 per cent of which is people visiting from the EU. The town also benefits from thousands of EU citizens who live and work here.
The Herald asks, what does Mrs Ansell have to say to those who may be concerned about their future because of Brexit?
She says, “I’m for you, I represent you to serve you, I value the contribution that you make. Some of them have lived her longer than I have, they are totally part of Eastbourne. They are Eastbourne through and through.
“There will be votes coming down the line with debates that are really important. I have got to vote with the Conservatives, I have been elected as a Conservative on a Conservative manifesto. It would be very strange thing if I didn’t work with the manifesto I got voted in on.
“The worst result in any of these votes is if people think I don’t care and can’t approach me for support.
“You can feel the temperature rising on social media, that’s not healthy when people feel they can’t come for me because I’m not for them.”
On Brexit, she says, “It’s challenging because it’s change. “We’re hurtling towards that date now. We are not walking away.
“It’s a new relationship, it’s new and it will be different. We are still a European nation.”
Moving on, we ask whether she will she remain a councillor in Sovereign Harbour.
Mrs Ansell says her plan is to continue as a councillor, but says she will no longer receive her councillor’s allowance.
“There’s precedent of that happening,” she says, “It’s having that voice in local and national government.
“For me this can only be a really good thing. When I stepped into that role there were things I wanted to deliver, and I want to continue to do that.
“There’s important work for me to still do at that local level. I’m going to work to see that this can be a huge positive.”
The town centre divide and public transport
After the closure of The Curzon cinema, Debenhams, and TJ Hughes – giants of the southern end of Terminus Road – we ask what can be done for huge sections of the town which seem to be struggling.
“We need to be very proactive about these really important strategic decisions,” she says “We are trying to cope with lifestyle change and work with that in the town centre to offer something new and different.
“We are going to have to look at business rates and review the differences between high street and online. You can’t legislate to make people [do things], we have got to work with the grain.
“There has been really good work for smaller businesses and smaller independent cinemas. To try and keep that vibrancy. We need to look at some of the anchor stores too. It’s making sure people want to come into the town centre.”
She says improving transport across town is key, particularly between Sovereign Harbour and the town centre.
“The connection between Sovereign Harbour and the town is important,” she says, “This is Eastbourne too, it’s one of the largest harbours in Europe.”
Another plan is to introduce a shuttle bus to the hospital. She says, “Public transport is not fit for purpose. We were hearing stories about people taking three hours to get home. That’s something I’m going to look into.”
The issue of homelessness in Eastbourne was brought painfully to the forefront when a homeless man was found dead in a tent in the town centre back in autumn.
“It’s a huge problem,” Mrs Ansell says, “Every situation and backstory is different. Very often what’s in the mix is family.
“We need to provide housing and one of the things I want to see in town is not just provision during the winter months, we need greater provisions than that.
“It’s undeniably complex. There’s good work being done. Housing is a massive challenge in Eastbourne.
“There’s a new community drop in for homeless people in Seaside, where people can be warm and comfortable and have a good meal.”
A major route into Eastbourne, talk of dualling the A27 has been on the lips of politicians for years now.
She says, “It’s really unsafe, it’s dangerous, it’s an absolute strangler on the town’s economy and was one of my biggest campaigns before.
“On the environmental front you can draw off the business traffic and the existing road can be a slower, safer South Downs way. We are not going to go backwards we are doing things in greener ways.”
What do you think should be the MP’s priorities going forward? Email [email protected]