Mike was interviewed by journalist Charalampos Xekoukoulotakis for Brighton and Hove Free Press. The text of the interview is below.
Which issues do you regard as your priorities in your capacity as MP for Hove and Portslade?
The people of Hove and Portslade are in the same boat as everybody else when it comes to facing up to the realities of the economic mess that we inherited. My number one priority is to ensure that we come out of it in a much stronger position than when we went in. Additionally, the NHS will be a big challenge to improve. On other issues, I am keen to support small businesses, keep our high street independent retailers and actively encourage our creative industries to flourish.
Are you concerned over the impact that cuts have on your constituents?
Of course, and I am determined to do all in my power to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected as much as possible. If we had not taken decisive action, the long-term prospects for this country would have been much worse and job losses far greater. I very much expect our growth proposals, especially in relation to small businesses, to reduce the impact. On the whole, I think that the services provided by central government and councils will improve, especially when it comes to health. Plentiful employment is crucial though and I am especially keen to embrace and highlight the things that we are good at in Brighton & Hove. The creative industries certainly spring to mind here.
Which are your thoughts on local independent retailers and the competition they face from supermarkets and chain stores? Should the government provide any support for the local independent retailers?
This is an area in which I have been extremely active. I am a member of the All Parliamentary Small Shops Group and in the process of starting an All Parliamentary Group on Retail and Business Crime. I have also campaigned against the impact of too many large supermarkets on the small retailer. On government assistance – yes, we should do more but the help needn’t be in the form of financial assistance. Locally, the planning system could be a lot less friendly towards the supermarket giants by insisting on rigorous conditions for example.
Is it possible to tackle problems with our night-time economy and in which way?
Yes. The late night levy (where pubs that stay open later must pay for additional policing) is a good step. Those who misbehave late at night after leaving a venue in the early hours need to be held to account and stopped. Insisting that music is turned down to less than conversational levels after 11pm like they do in Madrid is another example. I genuinely believe that responsible venues would benefit from the support of residents and that can only come from pressure being put on bar owners to talk to their neighbours – and vice versa.
You have been campaigning for squatting to be criminalized. Are you satisfied by the way the government has responded on this occasion?
The jury’s out on this one. I was more than happy with the positivity of the initial response but I will be putting pressure back on if a proposal is not on the table over the next couple of months. This issue has two sides though. I am putting just as much pressure – if not more in fact – on the irresponsible owners of the derelict buildings that are blighting our streets. Medina House is one such example. I have been reassured by the police that the many criminal actions which go hand in hand with squatting such as criminal damage, breaking and entering, and illegally connecting to electricity and gas supplies can be investigated. I would be delighted to help any of my constituents who have fallen victim to squatters through no fault of their own.
The Prime Minister had set as his priority the National Health Service (NHS). Judging by the state in which the NHS is in your constituency, so far, do you think that this is the case?
The NHS is huge and reform will take years. I am satisfied that the envisaged structure which is going through the Commons now is sound in principle and am proud to support a government which has increased health funding. With extra funds and comprehensive restructuring, I would have serious questions to ask if a dramatic rise in the quality of care did not result. But we will not be able to judge this for a little while yet.
Which are your thoughts on the challenges faced by primary and secondary schools in your constituency?
My thoughts are with the teachers. They work incredibly hard at a time of great disruption. I hope ultimately to see smaller schools with smaller classes but it’s going to take time. I am keen to see new schools opening under the Free Schools programme and I just hope that it can be carried out in a manner that causes as little disruption as possible to those who work at our schools. Change is necessary though and I do feel for parents who are currently awaiting news on which schools their children are to attend in September. The opening of the Connaught School on Connaught Road is a huge victory for parents though and its central location will be a help to many.
You claim that you are fighting for the recognition of the unique identities of Hove and Portslade. In which ways could this be achieved?
It means lots of things to different people and I am open to ideas. My campaign so far has three strands. Firstly, I am ever so careful to remind everybody that I represent two towns – Hove and Portslade. The official name of my constituency is ‘Hove’ but I refer to it as ‘Hove and Portslade’. My fellow Members of Parliament now do too. I am calling for boundary signs to be installed at the key entrance points to both Hove and Portslade. They have to be decent signs though, not ugly traffic signs. I have written to the boss of Royal Mail to ask why residents of Portslade are asked to include the term ‘Brighton’ in their addresses. I am convinced that the requirement could be dropped. I am keen to hear from my constituents on this issue. Any request, however bizarre, will be considered!
Which steps should be taken by the government to ensure the improvement of the safety testing of new medicines?
Although many medicines are essential and save many lives, their side effects hospitalise a million Britons and kill more than 10,000 every year, making them one of our leading causes of death. Better methods to test the safety of new drugs could have a major impact. Current methods rely on animal tests, which often create a false sense of security, as with Avandia and Vioxx, which both caused many thousands of heart attacks, killing thousands, despite animal tests which indicated that they would protect the heart. Better tests need to be introduced – it’ll be worth it in the long-term.
What would you finally like to say to all those in your constituency who voted for you and elected you as their MP?
Mr. Xekoukoulotakis I have the same message for all of my constituents, whether they voted for me or not. I will never take for granted this great position of responsibility. These are the proudest moments of my life and I do not intend on wasting them by doing anything but working tirelessly for the good people of Hove and Portslade. I am not perfect. I do make mistakes. But I am honest, open, approachable and dedicated. I hope that these qualities come across loud and clear.