After a day of canvassing and lengthy hustings, James Frederickson is full of energy as we sit down in Leon for a ‘short and snappy’ chat. With everywhere else already shut, a sign that it’s far too late for chit chat, we launch right in with the obvious: Brexit.
With a background in digital technology, Frederickson is a new candidate in Oxford West and Abingdon taking the reigns from previous Conservative MP, Nicola Blackwood who lost by 816 votes to Layla Moran in 2017 after 7 years in office.
In such a marginal constituency that has been passed between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats for the past 40 years, this election could go either way but it is sure to be dominated and determined by Brexit.
Frederickson guesses that from “the mood music on the doorstep”, there will be a thousand votes in it again. Frederickson voted and campaigned for remain across Oxfordshire in 2016. His position has changed considerably since, stressing not once but four times in 15 minutes, that the country must respect the outcome of the referendum.
The Green candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon stood down earlier this month to unite the remain vote in the constituency. With Frederickson representing the ‘leave’ vote, I ask why a constituency, of which 70% chose to remain in 2016, should change their vote three years later.
“Well, bear in mind that I not only voted to remain but also campaigned to remain as we talked about in the hustings,” he says. “When we were campaigning in that referendum there was a very clear promise at that time made by every single political party who was engaging in that referendum.”
“Paddy Ashdown famously on the night said: ‘Woe betide any political party that seeks to frustrate this outcome, the country has given its steer and all politicians should work together to deliver that.’ And I remember knocking on doors, regularly during that campaign and the importance that people placed on how they were voting in that referendum transcended party lines and I promised that whatever the result was I would respect it.”
A Council Member for West Berkshire since 2015, Frederickson is relatively new to the political scene in Oxford, but he sees no disadvantage between him and the incumbent MP, despite the potential for the leave vote to be split between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party candidate, Allison Wild.
“Across all parties, I think there is a lack of people that have a good grasp of digital tech, and bearing in mind our MPs are the people that make the decisions about how that’s regulated and understood and legislated on, I think people welcome a new generation with that background coming into Parliament.”
“It’s for each individual political party to make their decisions, every single politician that stands to be elected should do it on their own grounding, don’t go and blame people for voting one way or another, you should be convincing them about why they are voting for you,” he adds.
I steer the conversation away from Brexit towards, arguably, a more pressing issue. The Conservative party has moved away from green policies in recent years, but Frederickson outlines the importance of smaller units of housing in Oxford’s city centre to advocate more sustainable travel and affordable housing in one. More broadly, he sees the Conservative environmental policy as the most realistic because of the need to restrict debt.
“If you look at Labour and the amount of money that they proposing to borrow to £28 to every £1 that the Conservative plan, your debt ratio to GDP is going to sky-rocket, and money doesn’t grow on trees,” he says.
“Ultimately, debt is just borrowing from a future generation. So if we’re talking about actually we need to have a future generation in mind, you’re kind of undermining your argument if you’re going to saddle them with enormous amounts of debt.”
Campaigning for the Conservative Party in 2019, Frederickson faces opposition because of the controversial nature of its leadership. Boris Johnson’s reputation fails to phase the candidate, however.
“I always look to judge them by the policies that they have actually backed and pushed,” he says, using the examples of gay marriage and London’s public transport to highlight the former Mayor’s more favourable political positions. Frederickson adds that Johnson is a much more favourable option than Jeremy Corbyn even though “he’s got a certain style, he shoots off the hip more often than he should, but a lot of people admire that he isn’t this kind of robotic politician that’s just going to spout out lines.”
Corbyn is not the only party leader Frederickson criticises, referring again to the need to uphold the need to respect the result of the Brexit referendum.
“The idea that Jo Swinson, calling herself Liberal and Democratic said, ‘Oh, if there’s a second referendum and the result is leave, we would not support it. Our MPs will always choose remaining in the European Union, no matter what the result.’ That’s just ripping up liberal democracy. That is the most appalling position for me, and I imagine many people won’t be voting Liberal Democrat this time.”
We finish with the doorstep pitch, why should people vote for him over Layla Moran or Rosie Sourbut? His first response is to focus again on the Brexit argument. “If you want your politicians to stand by their promises then elect one that says they still stand by it, even though their own view was different to it, finding one that stands by the promise that they make you I think is key if we’re going to fix politics in our country.”
“I think I have something to say to both sides of the referendum, dogma is ugly, I think it alienates people. If you feel like your MP isn’t even approachable you can alienate half your constituency already, so I’d hope that my honesty in regard to my position on the referendum gives that,” he adds.
But, despite Brexit somehow seeping into every aspect of our conversation, we finish on a more unique note with his experience in digital tech.
“[Digital tech] can resolve the environment problem. It can play a big role in fixing some of the issues in regard to protecting our environment, by enabling people to live longer in their own homes, particularly in light of an aging population, how we think about building homes etc.”
“It is an area of expertise that is massively underrepresented in the House of Commons. It’s where our constituency is a leading innovator and it would be my honour to represent it.”