Put Partygate to one side for South Yorkshire mayoral election vote, Tory candidate urges

Clive Watkinson is standing for the Tories in South Yorkshire. He told Caitlin Doherty about his experience that he says sets him apart from the other candidates.

Clive Watkinson thinks “too many people sit there shouting at the TV and not doing anything about it”.

“I don’t want to be one of those people,” he says. “If there is a problem, we can try to solve it.”

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That is why he has put himself forward as the Conservative candidate for South Yorkshire mayor.

Clive Watkinson is running to be the next mayor of South Yorkshire.

“South Yorkshire is somewhere that I’ve lived for my whole life. I’m passionate about South Yorkshire, I don’t want to live anywhere else.

“Whenever I’ve been away, I’m always excited to come home, it’s where I Iive,” he says.

The Barnsley businessman says he has done “a little bit of everything” across the patch he is vying to represent, something he believes helps him to understand a variety of points of view alongside having lived “in a fairly rundown area” but also in “a better area”.

However, this is not his first foray into politics.

Clive Watkinson is a Barnsley-based businessman.

Mr Watkinson stood to be the MP for Barnsley West and Penistone in 2005. He came second, winning fewer than half the votes of the first-placed Labour candidate Michael Clapham in what was a safe red seat.

That constituency no longer exists following a number of boundary changes, becoming Penistone and Stocksbridge in 2010 and remaining a Labour safe seat until 2019.

It was one of the so-called ‘Red Wall’ constituencies that turned blue, helping to propel Boris Johnson to a huge Commons majority.

Until then, many would have claimed that South Yorkshire is traditionally Labour territory; outgoing mayor Dan Jarvis sits behind Sir Keir Starmer in Parliament.

But the last few years of politics have shone different lights on party lines which may have existed for decades and generations previously.

Mr Watkinson believes that “if you want to do something, you’ve got to get into politics”, and that necessitates joining a party.

He admits that “the easiest party to join locally would have been Labour, because that would get you straight into power”.

But he was never tempted that way.

“When you actually look at the policies, I think the Conservative Party had the nearest set to fit me,” he explains.

“No-one’s policies are perfect, and nobody is going to be a perfect fit for everyone, but they were certainly the nearest [fit] for me.”

He went on: “I always thought that the Conservative Party believes in giving you the opportunity to do something with your life.

“So you get your money and you spend it how you want.

“But to me, the Labour Party believe that they know better than you.

“So they take your money and spend it how they think you want to spend it.

“To me, that is the fundamental difference between the two.”

Mr Watkinson says that he is not a “tribal politician” despite his strong party loyalty.

He expresses little concern about the impact that the still unravelling partygate scandal may have on his chances of election, claiming that “frankly, there is little I can do about it”.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that people will vote locally on a national party issue,” he says. “I haven’t even met the Prime Minister – so how on earth have I got any influence over whether he’s been to a party or not? There is little that I can do about that.”

He goes on: “I wish people would vote for the person and the policies rather than the party, particularly when it comes to local elections. I understand in national elections – that is a different matter.

“But am I worried about it? No, I’m not worried about it. Because there’s frankly little I can do about it.

“And I don’t like to worry about things that I can’t do anything about it.

“I’d rather worry about things I can do something about.”

One issue he says he would like to do “something about” is “the problem with jobs” as businesses are operating with “full employment at the moment”.

“Businesses are having problems trying to find the right staff,” he says.

Mr Watkinson refers to his own experiences of finding it “very difficult” to know which techniques to use to find staff: “Do you advertise with the local paper? Do you put it on Facebook?”

He says he wants to establish a “jobs hub”, for the benefit of both employers and employees. It will be “where anyone that’s looking for a job can apply, they can come to that as one place.

“And indeed, all the businesses can do the same in one place. And we can try and put the right people with the right jobs.”

This business-minded approach, he says, is what sets him apart from the rest of the candidates for the mayoralty, and something that people should bear in mind when they head to the polls on May 5. I’m doing a job. I work six days a week, I know how difficult it is out there and I’ve experienced the same issues that you do.

“The other candidates don’t fit the bill for that.

“I understand the issues and know we need to do something about it, and I’m not going to tell you how to do something about it.

“I’m going to listen to what you want to do about it, and then together we will put that into action."

Pledge to cut 'pointless' bureaucracy

Mr Watkinson says that if elected the Mayor of South Yorkshire he would like to “completely change the mentality of local government” and get rid of “pointless” bureaucracy.

“I’ve sat in heaven knows how many pointless meetings, consultations with businesses when the decision has already been made,” he says.

“Just so we can tick the boxes.”

He adds: “One thing I want to do is have a system where any citizen of South Yorkshire can send me through any form that they’ve been sent by the council that they think is too long-winded or not relevant and I’ll either change it or scrap it.

“Give people a bit more confidence in the system rather than shouting at it.”

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