Last weekend, the final weekend before the Sawley County Council by-election on July 7th, I was out canvassing with Cllr Chris Corbett, who was standing for the County Council seat after a dozen years on the Borough Council. We had quite a team out with us, and got a pretty fair reception on the doorstep.
But sadly, on the day, in this seat where we had reasonable expectations of winning, Chris was beaten by Labour by a margin of 152 votes. And the reason, according both to Chris, and to other Derby Conservatives whom I met over lunch today (July 8th) at an event at the Morley Hayes Golf Club, could be put in one word. Bombardier.
There is still, quite rightly, great anger in Derby over the awarding of the Crossrail rolling stock order to Siemens in Germany, which seems to be the death knell not only for Bombardier in Derby, where they have just announced 1500 redundancies, but for the railway construction industry in Britain.
Pauline Latham, the excellent MP for Mid-Derbyshire (and former MEP candidate), has raised the issue repeatedly with the Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond. I have written to Transport Minister (and former MEP colleague) Theresa Villiers, while the other East Midlands Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin put the question to Theresa at our ECR Study Days in Windsor the week before last. The answer we are getting is that the government is bound by both EU procurement rules, and by the bidding conditions set by the previous Labour government, which apparently did not allow consideration for local social and employment impacts.
Of course we all know that we are bound by EU rules, and that the government has an obligation to seek best value for the tax-payer. But governments are there to govern, and the impact both on Derby, and more generally on British manufacturing industry, is profound. The key question, it seems to me, is why French and German orders virtually always go to domestic bidders, while in the UK some half or so go abroad. In my remarks at lunch, I blamed cricket. We in the UK have a tradition of sportsmanship and playing by the rules, while those pesky Europeans seem to bend the rules to their national advantage. But as long as we are stuck in this nightmare of a European Union, we have to learn to compete on equal terms if we want our economy to survive, and pensioners to get their pensions, and our children to have jobs.
MPs are continuing to make representations to the government, and I hope that Philip Hammond and Theresa Villiers will grasp the seriousness of the problem. The Sawley by-election result should help to clarify their minds, and if it does, I believe that Chris Corbett will feel that his efforts were well worthwhile, even if he has to wait till next time to win the seat.