Conservative candidate Karl McCartney talks to The Linc about battle busses, education, and being a parent…

If you could have dinner with three celebrities, alive or dead, who and why? 

Marilyn Monroe (to see if any of my chat up lines still work), James Dean (the epitome of class and fast cards) and thirdly, Michael Jackson. Thriller was the first album I ever bought and music – I suppose ‘dad music’ – is very important to me. Even if my kids have to put up with my dad dancing.

After Manchester, the country is in a particularly vulnerable state. We’ve even seen armed police in Lincoln. How would you and the Conservatives guarantee our safety? 

The security services have foiled many attacks since 7/7, and it’s proof that they are working that we don’t hear about them at the time. Whenever there are events like the Christmas market I talk to the police and they inform me of the emergency procedures. It’s my job as an MP – as any MP – to know these safety procedures. And I would argue the Conservatives are much stronger on safety than say Labour, and the people they choose to associate themselves with.

Is there anything you would say to reassure students at the university in terms of safety? 

I know that the support is there at the university, and that they ensure student welfare. And as an MP my role is to speak to students in individual sessions, like this, group sessions, talking to senior members of staff such as the Vice-Chancellor. At the end of the day the students here are my constituents, whether the vote for me or not.

One of the issues I found with the Conservative manifesto is there aren’t really any policies that appeal to young people and students. How would you represent us as an MP? 

I think, to be frank, the manifesto focuses on our core demographic – just as Labour’s manifesto focuses on their core demographic – and really, our core demographic hasn’t been young people. But with the manifesto, I’m still at the bottom of the pile really. For me as a Lincolnshire MP, the most important thing is people voting. When I first stood in 2005 it was a 50% turnout and I lost – which I obviously wasn’t happy about because nobody likes to lose. The last election turnout was up to 66%, which is good, but it means 33% of people aren’t voting.

“I want to be a flag waver for education.” Photo: Jamie Sleep.

What is the most important issue for Lincoln going into this election? 

Devolution argument. To have a Greater Lincoln Mayor was a missed opportunity and a lot of money was invested in it – which was then wasted. It’s not something that will be quickly forgotten in Westminster and I think we’ll be forced to the bottom of the pile for it in the future.

After a ‘threatening’ letter which you sent to the other Lincoln candidates, regarding the battle bus controversy, do you feel nervous going into this election? 

In terms of the battle bus, as I’ve always defended my innocence and the Crown Prosecution Services found me innocent. It was one day and one visit from the national battle bus – which has always been written as a national expense rather than a local expense. But when the Electoral Commission asked to look at my expenses, they should have investigated the other six candidates at the time because they filled out their expenses the same way I did. As to the letter, I don’t believe it was threatening. In fact, it was wilfully misconstrued for a catchy headline. It was simply my wish that candidates would refrain from defamatory claims regarding the Crown Prosecution Service’s investigation and most candidates replied with kind words and understanding. It’s my right to undertake the campaign without having to worry about hurtful comments, just like anyone else.

And in regards to the Electoral Commission, you called for it to ‘be abolished’ and that ‘heads will roll’…

The Electoral Commission was completely partisan, and I had my reputation dragged through the mud. I believe that the Electoral Commission should have investigated all parties who had recorded battle busses as a national expense and not just the Conservatives.

To come back to the manifesto, and the controversial ‘Dementia Tax’. This is the first time ever that a party have made a U-Turn on a manifesto pledge. Theresa May talks about ‘strong and stable’ but this doesn’t seem so strong and stable.

There hasn’t been an actual U-Turn on the tax, and Theresa May has said there will be consultations on how best to pay for social care. We’re not hiding away from this issue, or sweeping it under the carpet. Each issue has good and bad points. For example, it’s good that the amount your assets are worth before you start paying for your own social care has risen from £23,000 to £100,000. The question to ask next is how it should be funded.

Coming back to students, many parties are offering lowered or even scrapped tuition fees as well as the reintroduction of maintenance grants. What do you think about this? 

Realistically, grants would have been scraped under any party, and loans are the fairest way to help students. Theresa May’s pledge to increase tuition fees with inflation is a good thing, and will increase the number of students. Universities will be able to have USP’s almost, and this is a fantastic thing. One of the reasons I went to my university was a guest lecturer in Geography, whose name escapes me. This was what informed my decision, and I’m sure some of the guest lecturers here are why you wanted to come to Lincoln.

Another concerning part of the Conservative manifesto for education are the pledge to replace free school meals with free school breakfasts, and that international students will be kicked out of the country unless they meet ‘higher’ requirements. Any comments on these pledges? 

I want to be a flag waver for education. I’ve been very lucky with my chances in education and hope those opportunities are available for all. In terms of free school meals, they will still be there for those who need it, but many children are leaving for school in the morning without having eaten anything. Do we make them wait until lunchtime? No – we give them the best start to the school day possible. But this brings me on to a wider social issue. Is it the role of the state to feed young people? Or teach them how to sit at a table, use a knife and fork? That’s a parental issue. And I’m not saying I’m the perfect parent – nobody gave me lessons – but I’ll always try to make sure my children eat before the leave, even if it’s honey on toast in the back of my car. My youngest one actually makes the most bizarre sandwiches – Blackcurrant jam, Marmite, and peanut butter – but he always eats before he leaves the house, and for children who don’t have this opportunity a free breakfast is vital.

In terms of international students, it’s fantastic that Lincoln in particular has so many students from all over the world. What is troubling is ‘cowboy students’ who will be using education as a way into the country and many years ago there were pseudo-education institutions that were fuelling this. People can stay here – we’re not kicking anyone out – but we must be careful of ‘cowboy students’.

Education is clearly something you feel very passionately about. What would you like to see change in the education system? 

Theresa May used an interesting phrase when she made her first speech outside Downing Street – ‘working class white boys’. I didn’t use this, and I have my own issues with this phrase. Education is great, but you have many children aged eleven reaching secondary school not knowing how to read or write, and this is a terrible failing. Many people will go back to evening classes to learn these basic skills and fair play to them for taking this initiative, but my main issue is education is failing boys. Half a million more girls go to university than boys, the drop out rate for boys is double that for girls. What is the social issue at the bottom of all this? I think schemes such as STEM are fantastic, and similar vocational schemes should be introduced for boys. I don’t want to drag girls down to the level of boys, but bring boys up to an equal level of education.

What are your thoughts on lifting the ban on grammar schools? 

I think we should. I’m definitely in favour of them. I think they’re a vehicle for social mobility. The issue we currently have in Lincoln is parents are voting with their feet and going to schools ten or twenty miles away because they don’t offer what their children want. Lincoln is a great educational map, but these opportunities are being squandered. Grammar schools can offer fantastic things to children, such as more of an emphasis on vocational subjects. Give a boy an iron and a solder and he can do great things. Really, we must accept that some people simply aren’t academic and I think grammar schools are a way towards that.

One of the arguments against grammar schools is that pre-grammar school, wealthy parents are able to afford 11 Plus tutors, or that grammar school uniforms and equipment can be quite expensive. So even though grammar schools can be positive, what about children left behind in monetary terms? 

This is an issue we certainly need to consider. Something that could potentially work would be sponsorship for exceptional students, like a scholarship. This is one way in which we can ensure young people are given as many opportunities as possible, and I think schools are the right place to do this – many parents aren’t exposing their children to these opportunities. What I would like to say is that to young people, the world is your oyster.