Somerset Labour is pulling out all the stops in 2013 and fielding its most impressive slate of candidates in recent memory. While some might be relatively new to elected politics, they can draw on decades of invaluable life experience to take the fight to the Tories across the county.
Local government veteran Richard Hampson is one such candidate of experience, spearheading Labour’s efforts to re-take Bridgwater West from Wembdon based sitting Conservative Ann Bown. Bridgwater West contains the traditional Labour ward of Victoria and the currently Tory ward of Wyndham but not long ago it was one of Labour’s four Bridgwater County seats. It is now a key marginal which Labour needs to win.
A father and grandfather, Richard was born in Bridgwater, went to Dr Morgan’s Grammar School (now Haygrove), and found his first job with the former Bridgwater Rural District Council.
‘A Long and Distinguished career’
It wasn’t long, though, before the local boy decided to fly the nest: “I served with the Councils in Taunton then Seaton in Devon before moving to the London Borough of Hillingdon, where, after various promotions, I became the head of a large department with 225 staff and a £5million budget”. But after a long and distinguished career, the Conservatives intervened: “When the Tories took control of Hillingdon huge savings were required, and I took voluntary retirement on the grounds of redundancy. I am proud that I achieved the savings required from my department without any compulsory redundancies”.
Richard’s decades working in local government have left him with an enduring commitment to high-quality public services – and enough frontline experience to know the kind of damage done by reckless Tory cuts. “My department at Hillingdon was responsible for co-ordinating responses to major civil emergencies, and I worked closely with Police, Fire and Ambulance services. While the unnecessary cuts to Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue weren’t directly decided by the County Council, they were backed by Somerset Tories, including Cllr Ann Bown. These cuts are a major cause for worry and could put lives at risk. As a councillor I would do whatever I could to have them reversed.”
Passionate about ‘defending and improving care service’
But the County Council is directly responsible for serving some of Somerset’s most vulnerable people. Richard is particularly passionate about defending and improving quality care services in the area: “my father spent the last years of his life in a residential home run by Somerset County Council and he enjoyed most excellent care. I accept there may be a need for privately-run residential homes – albeit with a robust inspection system in place – but those who cannot afford to pay the very steep charges for private care should be looked after in homes directly ran by the County Council. You only have to look at the scandals in private homes ran for profit to see the logic of this approach. We need to ensure those in any kind of need receive the support and care that would allow them to lead as happy and comfortable a life as possible – through, for example, grants for house adaptions or specialist equipment, day centres, lunch clubs, respite for carers and so on.”
Richard also has his eye on Bridgwater’s future. Now that a third nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point looks inevitable, its eventual arrival will add extra strain to the town’s infrastructure: “we face major traffic problems if Hinkley C goes ahead. Much of the traffic generated will go through the Bridgwater West division and, if elected, I want to ensure that the arrangements for dealing with it work as efficiently as possible – especially monitoring the number of heavy lorries”.
‘Young people are our future’
Even after retiring from local government work, Richard’s public service continued – he moved on to working as a bursar in a state school in Lancashire, and education remains one of his big priorities: “It is vital that our schools – 4 in the Bridgwater West division – are adequately funded and supported by the Council. I am visiting each of these schools to find out more about them, and, in particular, to see how they view their future. I’m also interested in Youth Services more generally – young people are our future, and we must encourage them to make the most of their potential. I’m saddened to see the effects of the cuts that have already been made, and I will fight any further reductions in spending”.
Labour offers ‘ the only real alternative’
County and country-wide, the Conservatives have shown their blatant disregard for the welfare of the most vulnerable members of society, cutting taxes for the richest while making life harder for the majority. The Lib Dems have thrown away their credibility by jumping on the cuts bandwagon. For Richard, and thousands of others across the country, Labour offers the only real alternative: “the Labour Party is concerned for everybody’s welfare. If elected, I will do everything I can to help anyone and everyone living in Bridgwater West, regardless of who they voted for.”
The Tories and their Lib Dem bedfellows will continue the policies that have caused disruption, uncertainty and distress, helping a wealthy minority while hurting the majority. Labour is the only Party that can make a difference.”