The interview didn’t seem to start too well, as the Tory candidate for the Winton East by-election declared his knowledge of the Breaker and described it as “sensationalist”.
“I don’t want it to be sensationalised,” Conservative hopeful Pat Oakley warned me. “Don’t hang me out to dry.”
I asked him to point to an example of the Breaker’s sensationalism but he declined. Somewhat ironically, this was probably most sensational thing he said to me.
Pat Oakley is in the running for the Winton East council position alongside five other candidates. The by-election was called following the resignation of Tory councillor Anniina Davie. The vote takes place on Thursday. Oakley has been chair of local residents’ and businesses’ group the Winton Forum for the past 18 months.
“I can do more now to support the community from within the town hall,” he said. “There’s a time to move and for me that time is now.
“I think I can do a better job locally than my opponents. I won’t say my opponents have no track record but I think it’s less.”
“Lots of people are cheesed off with the coalition government” – Pat Oakley
I ask if he feels confident about winning the election.
“I feel confident, but not complacent,” he replied.
“Eighty-seven votes separated Labour and the Conservative candidates at the last election.”
“Lots of people are unhappy with spending cuts,” Oakley admitted, and “lots of people are cheesed off with the coalition government”.
“There is a protest going on – a protest vote – that manifests itself as UKIP. Some people want to give government a bloody nose and see the way of doing this as voting UKIP.
“The more people who vote UKIP the less chance I’ll be elected. It eats into the Conservative vote. It makes it more likely a Labour councillor [will win]. That’s the irony of democracy I suppose.”
He mentioned issues including immigration, the European market and nuclear submarines as issues over which he would have no influence. “It’s almost comical.”
Oakley has lived in Winton for the past 30 years, and was originally from London. He said that retirement has allowed him to concentrate more on local issues and running for the council.
He is also a member of the Bournemouth University Students’ Union board of trustees, and has worked closely with the Student Wardens scheme – an attempt to bridge the gap between “town and gown” – locals and students – in the area.
Oakley said he was proud to be part of the scheme, adding that “it needs to be four times the size next year”.
“There is a marked decline in anti-social behaviour being reported in Winton,” he said. “One thing that came out is that much [reported] student behaviour is not students at all.”
“We’ve had complaints of anti-social behaviour from students as well,” he added. “It’s bad for young mums with children being woken up, but it’s bad for students as well.”
Oakley raised the issue of local landlords, and a new scheme for a landlords’ registry that requires those renting out their property to go through training.
“I think students are taken for a ride by rogue landlords and money-grabbing letting agents,” he said.
“Ninety per cent of students get to end of the year without getting their [full] deposit back,” he estimated.
There has been a recent war of words between Oakley and Lib Dem candidate Matt Gillett. Gillett put out a leaflet that featured quotes from local residents attacking the council on issues like the cost of demolishing the Imax cinema near the beach.
Oakley responded in his own leaflet, saying that the Lib Dems were “having a pop” at the council. Gillett then responded to that, defending the right to “have a pop”.
I asked Oakley whether it wasn’t the right of people to challenge council decisions.
“Yes it is,” he said. “The council has a big budget and people are paying a lot of council tax.
But “it depends what you mean”, he added, saying that it could mean “criticism for criticism’s sake”.
“There are things wrong with council that could be improved,” he said. “But the track record is good.
“The financial management is excellent.
“What I mean by having a pop is during the period when the Liberal Democrats controlled the council they built the Imax. It was the most unpopular building in the world. The Conservative council decided to take it down.
“I can walk around Winton now. I can show you graffiti…mattresses in people’s gardens. It’s healthy to be critical, it’s healthy not to accept, and to probe.
“But it’s sometimes having a moan for a moan’s sake.
“I’m not going to get it all right,” he added, “It’s a challenge with financial restrictions.” But, “we haven’t seen library closures, old people’s homes closing for financial reasons”.
We next discussed the controversy around Tory councillor Sue Anderson, who made several comments last May which were deemed racist – including tweeting to an Asian woman, “If you don’t like it here go back to where you came from.” Anderson also praised the far-right English Defence League (“nobody else except the EDL stick up for the English”).
Anderson suspended herself from the council, underwent diversity training, and was allowed to resume her position following investigations by both council and Conservative Party.
Oakley said he did not want to comment on the case, but said, “I’m not racist.”
“I don’t want to go there,” he added.
Next, I asked Oakley about the cost of living in the ward. I raised the case of reports from the Winton food bank, which has reportedly seen demand increase as much as three-fold over the past year. What could he do as a councillor to help people in this situation?
“The most direct way is to keep council tax down,” he said, saying it was important “not to be seen as loose with the town’s money, to spend it very carefully, that’s about prioritising”.
Oakley went on to discuss his views on how the university could play a more active role in the commercial life of the town.
“Both universities are getting rewards left, right and centre – in design, in digital industry,” he said. So, he suggested, “Set up a digital park – not Silicon Valley but Silicon Beach – something like that.
In the wake of Russell Brand’s attack on mainstream politics, which has sparked a debate on the political class and who they really represent, I asked Oakley why people should bother to vote.
“Everything you do – you come in here and buy a coffee, it’s political,” he said. “Was that coffee fair trade? Would it make a difference if it’s a local shop or Starbucks?
“It’s what you do personally, where you buy your clothes from.
“Young people find it difficult to think they have any control over what’s happening” – Pat Oakley
“The cheapest clothes are from Primark – but at what price?” he said. “They all have mucky fingers.
“All these things are relevant. It’s not all about nuclear submarines.
“I don’t want to sound like the Green candidate, but there’s a trade off.
“There are some terrible things happening in the world – Iraq, Syria – dreadful things.
“Young people find it difficult to think they have any control over what’s happening.
“I’d encourage all young people to get involved in politics, no matter what colour of badge.
“It’s easy to take a pop at the council, but it’s not so easy to do a better job.
“The question locally is, when you’re electing a councillor what do you want him to do? You want him to look after something local.
“Good councillors in Bournemouth are not necessarily Conservative councillors.”
After our interview, Oakley emailed me to mention that his rallying call for young voters: “Think global act local!”
“I can’t remember who I stole it from,” he wrote. “It doesn’t sound very Thatcherite does it, might even be Marxism?”
In a brief to-and-fro we discuss the phrase’s origins, which he suggests – probably correctly – as the Paris riots of 1968.
I suggest to him I headline our interview: “RED TORY IN ANARCHIST SLOGAN SHOCKER!”
“Nice headline, nothing sensationalist about that one,” he responded. “Ho hum.”
The Winton East by-election takes place on 14 November. Also standing are Matt Gillett (Liberal Democrats), Laurence Fear (UKIP), Sandra Hale (Green Party), Michael Goff (Labour and Co-operative Party) and Kathleen Mortimer (Independent). The Breaker will provide further profiles of those standing in the run-up to polling day.