Second time around for Yorkshire MP who claims voters 'rejected the hard left'

Among the new Tory faces fighting for Yorkshire in the House of Commons is one which looks a little more familiar. Geraldine Scott quizzes Colne Valley’s MP on what it is like returning to politics after two years away.

Jason McCartney returned to Parliament in December, having previously been the MP for Colne Valley between 2010 and 2017.

But although once defeated by Labour’s Thelma Walker, in what he calls a push from the “hard left”, Mr McCartney said: “People have now rejected that. I got the most votes ever in my constituency and I’m very proud if that, and the constituency is over 100 years old.”

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He added: “In 2017 I lost with my most ever number of votes, because all the other parties collapsed.

MP for Colne Valley Jason McCartney pictured at Honley, near Huddersfield. Photo: Simon Hulme

“But I stayed involved,” he said when asked why his local association would put their trust in him again after he had lost the seat.

“I must admit when I lost in 2017 I never actually thought that I would get the opportunity so soon to be able to come back again.

“I enjoy campaigning, because we're friends, it's what we enjoy doing, we enjoy getting stuck into community projects, helping people, real community focus so all my staff are local people.”

In his time away Mr McCartney packed in various roles: Head of Public Affairs at the University of Huddersfield, a Director at the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, and a Trustee of mental health charity the Leanne Baker Trust just some of them.

Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney pictured at Honley, near Huddersfield. Photo: Simon Hulme

However in just two short years of being away, much had changed in Westminster.

“So I kept myself very, very busy and then I was selected as the parliamentary candidate again for Colne Valley in May last year and if you remember it was about the time of the European elections.

“It didn't go fantastically well for the established parties, we had the surge of the Brexit Party. We did very badly. But I sensed that things were going to change, they had to change.

“When I first came back I met up with some colleagues I haven't seen for a couple of years. And I said ‘what have you been up to for two years, I left when we were voting on Brexit and I'm back and we’re still voting on Brexit’. But we got that Brexit bill through in the last week in December really quickly, unamended, because we're all united.”

During Theresa May’s premiership, with reduced majority, Mr McCartney said backbenchers held a lot of power but now they were forming groups to lobby for their particular interests.

“In the last two or three years with one individual vote, you could go and meet the Prime Minister, now you have to do it as a caucus, as a group, and my WhatsApp groups are full of groupings to make points.

“So the social justice caucus which I'm involved in and obviously the Blue Collar West Yorkshire Conservatives, and you go in and see the Chancellor and make the case.”

He added: “Having been away for two years it's nice coming here with a blank piece of paper.”

One issue Mr McCartney has taken up immediately is fuel duty, and he was one of around 13 MPs to sign a letter to new Chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him not to end a freeze in the Budget next week.

“We've made a good case on that,” he said. “Where I live, in our parts of the world, for a lot of people using a car isn't a luxury. Fuel duty has been frozen I think for the whole of the time of the Conservative and the coalition Governments, but I know there are other campaigns that I've also been putting forward to the Chancellor as well.

“Obviously I want more money in bus services and train services in Huddersfield. I want investment in the Huddersfield to Sheffield line, and obviously the TransPennine upgrade to go ahead and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

“But I've also been making the case for more money in social care, and more money for sixth form education because they've had a real freeze in income for sixth form colleges whereas some school equivalent school funding has actually gone up.”

But he recognised Mr Sunak was in a difficult position, adding: “I just said to the Chancellor here I am asking for more money to be spent on this, this, and this. And then on the other hand, I'm then asking you not to increase taxes.

“I try and pick and choose my fight. But historically there's been an issue with fuel prices, because as the global oil price has gone up and down, the price at the pumps goes up like a rocket and falls like a feather.”

He said he saw himself and Conservative MPs as “responsible custodians of the national economy” unlike “all those airy fairy, nonsensical, mythical spending pledges” from Labour.

“Free this, free that, almost every day they were coming up with something,” he said. “Certainly the local Labour MPs, they just don't get it.”

Regardless he found he was able to work with some Yorkshire Labour MPs, including Halifax MP Holly Lynch with whom he chaired the free trade group.

“We were good friends, we were really well close together, and I used to like telling people that members of different parties can work together, where they've got a common goal.

“And when I first came back I saw Holly, we had a hug, I asked how her little boy was and everything. And it's nice to know there's someone there from another party that you can work together with, cross party, on really important issues. We've really taken forward the cause of fair trade and we held an event here in Parliament last week.”

But his words for the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were less warm.

“Jeremy Corbyn is a protester, a placard waver,” he said. “He's been protesting about things all his life, he's never made a tough decision in his life, completely the wrong man to lead our country, particularly in these challenging times. And thankfully tens of thousands of my constituents thought that and put their faith in me.”

And he did not see the opposition getting any stronger. He felt Lisa Nandy would be best to lead the Labour Party following Mr Corbyn and added: “I think they're about to make a momentous mistake by going for Keir.”

As for his own politics, Mr McCartney said he rejected labels.

“I backed leave and voted leave, but I never called myself a Brexiteer, because I don't like being labelled,” he said.

“When I was on the Nato committee I went to Brussels many times and I just saw the excesses of the European Parliament. We’re leaving the EU, not Europe, I’m very pro European, I love trading with Europe. I love our friendships and collaborations, we’re just leaving this gargantuan European Union parliament.

“In the same way that I want decision making back from Brussels, I want to devolution up to Yorkshire. And I think we're going to get that very shortly.

“Yorkshire's economy and the importance of local decision making, that all comes through in taking ourselves away from the European Union as well. So, I don't like to be labelled, yes I'm a leave voter but I'm socially very liberal, I happily voted for equal marriage. I love the fact that my party is more diverse.

“I'm a member of the Blue Collar Working Class Conservatives group and very proudly so. I never actually went to university, I joined the Royal Air Force straight from school.

“So, I believe in hard graft getting off your backside doing things in your community. And I want everyone else to have opportunities to do things.”