The last independent MP, a doctor who took Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to court and the brother of US Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders are among the supporters of an independent candidate running in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election.
Independent parliamentary candidate Sarah Stock, of Billingborough, invited three high profile guests to back her campaign at a press conference held this afternoon (Thursday) held at Kesteven and Sleaford High School, where she was educated and her daughter currently is a pupil.
As a campaigner with the Fighting 4 Grantham Hospital group, her ‘Lincolnshire Lives Matter’ campaign has drawn support from the Green Party and the National Health Action Party.
Ms Stock is a mother of three, a registered nurse, and recently recovered from breast cancer.
She was joined by Dr Richard Taylor, the last independent MP to be elected to Parliament, for Wyre Forest, winning two elections and serving from 2001 to 2010.
Co-founder of the National Health Action Party (NHA), Dr Taylor said the secret of fighting against the Westminster political machine was the importance of being locally known.
He said: “It helps enormously if you are a doctor because you know a lot of people having treated them. I hope the same goes for a nurse like Sarah.”
A trained nurse, she also ran a local care home in Billingborough for a number of years.
Dr Taylor said: “People need to know you are absolutely honest and will only say the truth and will not start using any spin.”
He said opponents had often tried to use ‘spin’ against him, but he was totally free to make his own decisions without a party whip. He said that party MPs had often asked him what subject they were voting on as they had simply been told which way to vote by their whips.
Despite being a lone voice, he said he could still make a difference having encountered votes that had been won by a majority of one.
Ms Stock was also joined by Dr Louise Irvine, a GP and chairman of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign and executive member of the NHA. She successfully challenged the Government in court on its decision to close Lewisham Hospital and also won in the Court of Appeal. She also stood against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in last year’s General Election.
As a GP she is very concerned that the NHS is being run down, underfunded and privatised. She said the latest threats were nationwide, seeing proposals to close hospitals, maternity units and A&E departments in a bid to shrink the entire NHS infrastructure.
She said: “In rural and semi-rural areas like this with long distances it really is a life-threatening situation where you may have to go 50 miles to get emergency care.”
Larry Sanders was also a guest. He is brother to US Senator Bernie Sanders who lost out to Hillary Clinton to run for President for the Democrats. Mr Sanders is an Oxfordshire County Councillor and is Health and Social Care Spokesperson for the Green Party.
He said Ms Stock’s knowledge and passion would make her a brilliant MP for this area. “Already the more profitable bits of the NHS have been privatised,” he said people were already scraping their money together to go private rather than endure the wait for procedure and it was in danger of becoming a two-tier system. He saw a vote for Sarah Stock as a turning point in that battle for a service the country could not afford to lose.
Asked if he had any advice for his candidate after his brother’s recent experiences up against President-elect Donald Trump, he said: “The underlying moral of the story - and for Brexit - is people of these countries are being treated very badly and the running down of the NHS here is an example of that. At a certain point people do get very angry and you don’t know where that anger is going to go. We need governments paying attention to the needs of the bulk of the people. This mindless destructiveness - if it doesn’t stop, we will have bad times.”
Ms Stock started campaigning with the Fighting 4 Grantham Hospital group back in August after undergoing radical breast surgery for extensive cancer. She was discharged with four breast drains just days after it was announced Grantham Hospital A&E would close at nights.
She said there would be no local emergency support if she developed complications. She said: “I was scared. I am 45, normally fit and healthy and I was scared that the A&E departments had been stopped and pulled away.”
She soon realised it was not just a local issue, saying: “The government is pulling the plug on these services and the national picture is appalling. We are losing one in three hospitals - in London it might not impact as much, but where we are, central to all three hospitals, 750,000 people have to go to the other two hospitals, travelling up to 46 miles on rural country roads, it is not good.”
She said things were worse by the ambulance service being overstretched and police having to take patients to A&E themselves. She said firefighters were also concerned about being called upon to be first responders too. She said plans by the Government to downgrade Boston’s hospital as well to create a ‘superhub’ hospital at Lincoln would leave too greater distances to be safe.
“Once they go we will struggle to get them back,” she said.
Mr Sanders and Dr Irvine both argued that there was no room to make major cuts in the NHS. It was not ‘bloated’ or inefficient and said the cuts were politically driven.
Dr Taylor suggested by stopping the bureaucracy of having to bid for health contracts, abolishing Private Finance Initiatives, putting 1p on income tax and really cutting down on smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse would solve the NHS’s problems.
Ms Stock did not believe the argument that it was difficult to recruit doctors, saying that when medical students did their rotations in Lincolnshire hospitals many chose to stay and this could return.
Although Ms Stock is focused on protection of local hospitals and the NHS from further cuts, she said she is not standing on one issue. Her other priorities include improved funding for emergency services, improvement of transport links for rural communities, protection and better funding for local schools, support for local businesses and farming communities post Brexit, development of an effective rural strategy for Lincolnshire and ensuring Lincolnshire voices are heard in Westminster.
She said the money to be spent on a single carriageway eastern bypass for Lincoln would lead to more accidents. She felt the county should have demanded more money for a dual carriageway to make it safer.
Ms Stock said she would see herself as a ‘soft’ Brexit person, saying: “It went to a democratic vote and it has to be pushed forward. I would like to see a relationship negotiated with the EU. There has been a lot of scare mongering on both sides but 17 million people cannot be wrong and have to be listened to. A second referendum seems disrespectful to those that voted.”
The by-election takes place on December 8. Other candidates standing are: Paul Coyne (Independent), Mark Suffield (Independent), Caroline Johnson (Conservative), Jim Clarke (Labour), Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independents), Ross Pepper (Liberal Democrats), Peter E Hill (Monster Raving Loony Party), David Bishop (Bus Pass Elvis Party), Victoria Ayling (UKIP).