Harrogate MP's warning on 'economic crisis' to come and why his attitude won't change

Interview: There was a slight feeling of ‘clutching at straws’ this time a year ago following a General Election when - it was pointed out by some - that sitting Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones had seen his majority cut.
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While the majority had indeed been reduced (29, 962 votes in 2019 compared to 31, 477 votes in 2017), the facts still pointed to Mr Jones taking 52.6% of the vote, enabling the former junior transport minister to secure a fourth victory on the bounce.

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A lot has changed since the party he represents swept to power in undisputed fashion under Boris Johnson last December - the worldwide pandemic seemingly affecting everyone and everything.

Flashback to the count in Harrogate in December 2019 -  Tory Andrew Jones has successfully stood for the Harrogate and Knaresborough seat four times since 2010.Flashback to the count in Harrogate in December 2019 -  Tory Andrew Jones has successfully stood for the Harrogate and Knaresborough seat four times since 2010.
Flashback to the count in Harrogate in December 2019 - Tory Andrew Jones has successfully stood for the Harrogate and Knaresborough seat four times since 2010.

But one thing, Mr Jones insists, has not over the last Covid-blighted months, and that is his own approach to the job.

In the second of a series of interviews with leading figures from the main political parties in our district, Mr Jones said issues may change... but he doesn’t.

He said: “I was very honoured to have won again. I fought a positive and honest campaign on my local record.

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“My vote was only down by a whisker. During the campaign it was the best reaction I’ve ever had on the doorstep.

“When I speak to constituents and businesses these days, whenever that is possible to do safely, the reception feels as warm as ever.

“Issues will always change but my attitude will not. People don’t want politics, they want things done.”

Mr Jones, who was speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser after raising questions in the House of Commons in support for war veterans and Harrogate Army Foundation College, did not back Boris Johnson in last year’s leadership election, favouring Jeremy Hunt instead.

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If it’s been a challenging 2020 for the nation, it has not been an easy ride for the Prime Minister either, as hostility to easing and strengthening restrictions on daily life has grown and headline grabbing pledges have come and gone.

When asked whether the Government had had a “good Covid”, Mr Jones defended their record, insisting that dealing with such an unprecedented crisis had given them little choice but to make rapid changes throughout the year.

He said: “There is no such thing as a “good Covid.”

“The virus has caused significant loss of life and suffering, as well as its economic impact. I think some things could have been done better by the Government but some things have been done well.

“There has been an astonishing increase in testing to help keep the spread of the pandemic under control.

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“Some of the communications from Government could certainly have been improved but people’s appetite for news these days is such that they want to know everything right away. There have been some occasions when we have seen abrupt changes of direction - but to not have changed at all in a situation where virus figures have risen, would have been far worse.”

The launch of a vaccination programme earlier this week does not mean the focus should shift from beating the virus yet, says Mr Jones.

But the time is fast approaching when the question will be how to re-emerge from the pandemic successfully in a “profoundly different world”.

Mr Jones said: “Covid has compounded some of the trends already there in Britain - the growth of the digital economy, the problems of our high street and empty shops, the switch to cards rather than cash.

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“What had been a health crisis is going to turn into an economic one.

“Now is not the time to stand still. We need to look at more options for change.”

Options Mr Jones highlights include:

Making town centres less dependent on retail, more pedestrian-friendly with more people living there and more independent businesses;

Increasing the housing supply and getting more young people on the housing ladder;

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Encouraging a move from car use to improved public transport and new cycle lanes to tackle congestion and climate change;

Winning back confidence in using public transport.

As a junior transport minister not once but twice in the last decade, Mr Jones was delighted to visit Cattal railway station last week to see real improvements finally taking place for Harrogate and Knaresborough passengers.

That aside, Mr Jones is reluctant to look too far down the line about winning the seat for a fifth time in 2024.

“Things have changed so much this year that prediction can be a bit of a mug’s game. Whatever happens, I will be keeping an constructive and open approach. You can only apply yourself to the problems that are there at any one time. It isn’t really about issues for me. What matters is working to make our area even better.”

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Harrogate & Knaresborough seat: How electoral battle has evolved over last 20 years

The last General Election where the Conservative Party failed to win in Harrogate and Knaresborough was 2005, when Lord Willis held the seat for the Lib Dems for the third time with a majority of 10,429 votes over his Tory rival.

Current Conservative MP Andrew Jones first won the seat in 2010 by a slim margin from the Lib Dems of 1,039 votes.

Since then, he has built a far bigger majority, rising to a 16,371 vote margin in 2015 and 18,168 in 2017.

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Away from the two-horse race, the fortunes of other parties in the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency have ebbed and flowed in the last decade.

The high water mark for the Labour Party came in 2017 when their candidate Mark Sewards received 11,395 votes, taking 20.1% of the overall vote. But last December saw Labour slip back to its pre-Millennium level, winning 5,480 votes as its share fell by 10.5%.

The Green Party first made an impression in the battle for Harrogate and Knaresborough’s seat in 2015, when their candidate Shan Oakes won 2,351 votes for a share of 4.4%.

Other smaller parties whose star has waxed and waned here include:

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the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) whose best showing came in 2015 when the party won 5,681 votes for a 10.6% share.

Other parties whose results have been marked in the hundreds since 2000 include the Yorkshire Party, BNP and ProLife Alliance.

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