Neil Parish wasn’t the worst Tory MP – but he still let us down

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My column in this week’s Midweek Herald

Neil Parish

Neil Parish let himself and us all down badly and it is right that he has gone.

I have no desire to dance on his political grave but it is timely to assess his contribution, in order to weigh up whether we need to replace him with yet another Conservative or whether we need someone radically different as the MP for the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, which includes the Seaton and Axminster areas of East Devon.

Neil was by no means the worst Tory MP. After all, he eventually did the decent thing and left, while Boris Johnson, who broke the law and lied to Parliament on multiple occasions, and Matt Hancock, who with Johnson consigned tens of thousands of care home residents to avoidable deaths, are still brazening it out.

Neil sees himself as having been a good constituency MP. His last (Zoom) meeting before he was found out was, apparently, with EDDC leaders to discuss a ‘levelling up’ fund bid including Seaton’s seafront. He didn’t always follow through, however. When the New Devon Clinical Commissioning Group proposed to close the beds in Seaton and Honiton hospitals in 2017, he promised to ‘hold their feet to the fire’. But when his Tory colleagues on the County Council voted down the referral which could have kept the beds open, Neil was nowhere to be seen.

I found it was the same on other issues that came my way as Seaton & Colyton’s County Councillor. I sat with Neil in meetings with residents in Wilmington and Colyford to discuss crossings which would alleviate their road problems. Neil made constructive noises, as you expect your MP to do, but when the going got tough, he was no longer around.

Neil was pretty much the ultimate Tory loyalist, with all that implies. As a farmer, he knew that Brexit was a bad idea for the country and for Devon, and he supported Remain in 2016. But aware that most local Tories backed Brexit, he made himself pretty much invisible during the campaign. Afterwords, he jumped on the Brexit bandwagon, slavishly following the twists and turns of first Theresa May’s and then Boris Johnson’s policies. Only recently, as it became evident that Brexit is indeed a disaster for farming, fishing and small businesses, did Neil start to criticise it again.

Neil’s rare rebellions against the party line were often reactionary, like his opposition to same-sex marriage and rewilding. He would vote for the government every time when it proposed to take away people’s rights, recently backing its restrictions on the right to protest and voting rights and its cruel scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Whatever his good points, Neil was a parliamentary yes-man. In next month’s by-election, Tiverton and Honiton needs to get itself a no-woman, someone who will stand up against the travesty of a government which now rules over us, and standup for all the people in this area who are suffering from the mess it is making of living standards and the NHS. 

It’s a shame that the excellent Claire Wright has ruled herself out, but Tiverton and Honiton’s new MP needs to be independent-minded, even if they’re not an Independent. The by-election is the area’s opportunity to get its first non-Conservative after literally a century of Tory yes-men. By-elections are great levellers, and that 24,000 Tory majority could vanish if people who want change unite around a single candidate.

We will need to vote tactically to give the best-placed opposition candidate a real chance. Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and East Devon Alliance supporters should be prepared to abandon tribalism and back the best candidate to win. In the coming days we will find out who the likely candidates are. 

Meanwhile, make sure you’ll be able to vote – Register to Vote now! 

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