Kingswood’s new MP promises ‘different’ politics

KINGSWOOD’S new MP has promised to show his new constituents that “politics can be different” after his by-election victory.

Labour’s Damien Egan overturned a majority of more than 11,000 to win the seat vacated by Conservative Chris Skidmore.

Mr Egan said his first priority would be to “get to work” quickly on issues that had come up on doorsteps during the campaign, including access to NHS dentists and doctors, crime and the cost of living.

In an interview with the Voice after his election was confirmed,  Mr Egan said: “The fact that there’s no NHS dentists (taking on new patients) anywhere in Bristol is huge. People are also finding it really hard to get to a doctor.”

He told of a woman in Soundwell Road, who had had to call her doctor’s 117 times in an attempt to get an appointment.

The new MP said people had also raised concerns about policing and feeling unsafe, and about rising prices.

He said: “The cost of living isn’t just a slogan, this is people’s lives, people telling me how they feel like they’re not living but existing. People are working really hard, they’re doing extra hours, life is very tough for people at the moment.”

He also spoke about shop crime. “There’s been a spike in shoplifting. I spoke to the PDSA and British Heart Foundation, two charity shops in Kingswood – they are having to get their volunteers to shut areas of the shops because they’ve got such an issue,” he said.

In his victory speech after the count, Mr Egan, who grew up in Kingswood and attended Our Lady of Lourdes primary and Hanham High schools,  said: “Thank you for giving me your trust, and for allowing me to serve the community that I’m from. It’s a trust that I promise to repay, to show you that politics can be different, and it can make a difference.”

Damien Egan  and supporters at a victory rally in Kingswood Park the morning after the by-election with Labour MPs Chris Bryant and Pat McFadden

The Kingswood constituency is being abolished at the next general election, which has to take place in the next 10 months.

Mr Egan will be Labour’s candidate for the new Bristol North East constituency, which will include the town of Kingswood plus Staple Hill and Mangotsfield, and the Eastville, Frome Vale, Hillfields and Lockleaze wards in Bristol.  

Longwell Green, Hanham and Parkwall & Warmley wards will join Keynsham in a new North East Somerset and Hanham constituency while Emersons Green and Downend will become part of Filton & Bradley Stoke. 

The new MP said he would not ignore constituents he might only be representing for a few months.

He said: “I think I’ve even got more responsibility for those people, making sure they’ve got a responsive MP representing and putting their voice in Parliament.”

The decision of Chris Skidmore, who had held Kingswood for the Conservatives for nearly 14 years, to force a by-election placed the area in the national political spotlight and heaped more pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Mr Skidmore, a former energy minister and champion of the UK’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions, quit over the government’s Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which would “cause future harm” through the promotion of new oil and gas production.

The Conservatives chose their group leader on South Gloucestershire Council, Sam Bromiley, to defend the seat.

His campaign focused on two main issues – opposition to the council’s Local Plan proposals to allow new homes to be built on Green Belt land between Shortwood and Warmley, and the fact that Mr Egan had been the directly-elected mayor of Lewisham in London before the by-election was called.

Cllr Bromiley left Thornbury Leisure Centre without giving interviews after the result was declared in the early hours of February 16. He later issued a statement on social media, which said: “Thank you to all those who voted Conservative in the Kingswood by-election.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few weeks meeting residents and hearing about their concerns and ideas for our area.

“Looking forward to keeping the conversation going!”

Reform UK, the successor to the Brexit Party which did not field a candidate in Kingswood in 2019, came third in an election the party had originally said it would not contest because of the cost to the taxpayer.

However it reversed that decision and selected as its candidate Rupert Lowe, a businessman, farmer and ex city banker based in the Cotswolds.

Mr Lowe’s 2,578 votes exceeded the size of Labour’s majority and was the first time the party had achieved over 10% of a Westminster by-election vote. He said afterwards that those who voted for him had “sent Westminster a message”.

A spokesperson for South Gloucestershire Council said it had applied for £189,000 from the government to cover the total cost of running the by-election.

Before and after

The by-election meant Kingswood got its moment in the national spotlight – showcasing a mucky roadsign opposite the civic centre. 

Like many residents, Lindsey Harding felt a bit ashamed so, as he runs a pressure-washing business called Dirt Lush, he went out and cleaned it (and a few other signs besides.)

Hundreds of people on social media praised his efforts, which he had tagged # MKGA – Make Kingswood Great Again.

He said: I’m delighted with the positivity a small gesture makes. Being a Kingswood resident I want to be proud of where I live. Maybe #MKGA can reignite some pride in the parish so we can all enjoy a more pleasant area”