North Shropshire by-election: County's first Green councillor hoping for another upset

Duncan Kerr is nothing if not an optimist.

Duncan Kerr is the Green Party candidate for the North Shropshire by-election
Duncan Kerr is the Green Party candidate for the North Shropshire by-election

According to some bookies, his chances of winning the North Shropshire by-election for the Green Party stand at 200-1.

"The first time I stood for election to Oswestry Town Council in 2013, I was told I wouldn't have a chance, they always elect Tories," he says.

"I got elected. Then I stood for election to Shropshire Council, and I was told I would never get in. I did. At the last election in Oswestry, the Green Party took about 50 per cent of the vote."

He is certainly no stranger to pulling off a by-election shock. He became Shropshire Council's first Green Party member in 2016 in a by-election caused by the resignation of council leader Keith Barrow, in what was assumed to be a rock-solid Tory seat.

But while his record in local government elections is unquestionably impressive – the party overturned a Conservative majority to win 12 of the 18 seats on the town council – translating that into a parliamentary win is another matter.

"Of course you can't just go into a national election and overturn a big majority in one go, you have to build up support over time," he says.

"The bookmakers don't go to the places where we are working hard for the community. The Greens care about people, we hold surgeries, we get our hands dirty.

"People have come up to me and said that they normally vote Conservative, but are not happy with them, they have seen the work we have done, and will vote Green this time.

"I don't think we can call this election."

He has pledged to take the national average wage – currently £31,285 – if elected as MP, with the remainder being donated to charity.

"Wages in North Shropshire are lower than the national average, there are lots of people in the constituency who are earning less that that," he says. "I would have no complaints about that."

Mr Kerr became the first Green councillor on Shropshire Council in 2016

Indeed, he sees attracting better paid jobs to the area as one of his priorities. He believes this can be achieved by supporting what he calls a 'green new deal' and investing in the public housing stock.

"We have a very low wage rate here, we have a lot of young people who feel they have to move away to get work and employment," says Councillor Kerr.

"We need a green new deal, we need massive investment in our assisted housing stock.

"They are building 700-800 new houses in Whitchurch and Oswestry, I've got nothing against that, but they should be making them all carbon neutral," he says.

"We are building homes with gas boilers that will have to be rip out in 10 years' time."

He also wants to see more incentives for the farming industry with a view to increasing self-sufficiency.

"We need to be working with the farming communities, encouraging locally sourced food that people are prepared to pay a premium for, there's jobs in that," he says.

"I was up in Whitchurch, where there are many food businesses starting up.

"We should be encouraging that instead of cutting deals for cheap food from Australia and New Zealand."

He says greater investment in transport, and bus services in particular, would also increase employment opportunities.

All this though will require a lot of money. So where will this come from?

"They can always find money to spend in Shrewsbury, buying shopping centres that nobody wants, and a relief road we don't want but would have to pay for.

"We should have invested that money on bus services and active transport, making it easier to walk and cycle around North Shropshire."

The 61-year-old has spent his working life in local government, beginning as a trainee environmental health officer at the age of 18.

"My first job involved putting loft insulation in people's homes," he says.

At the age of 38 he was appointed chief executive of South Kestevan District Council in Lincolnshire, where he remained for six years.

He then chose a different career direction and retrained as a social worker in the Beeston area of Leeds.

"I wanted to make a contribution," he says.

"It was one of the poorest areas of Leeds, it was quite an eye opener. When you see what life prospects some of these children face, you want to see how you can help, how to take the children who are in care, and give them better life prospects."

Councillor Kerr moved to Oswestry in 2012, when he took up a post at Powys Council. At the same time, he bought a former Chapel in Oswestry and converted it into the Hermon Arts Centre.

"We do folk music and poetry reading, I think it has added quite a lot to the considerable diversity in the town.

"I wanted to do something to bring people together, not so many people go to church, and the pubs aren't what they used to be. I wanted to give people a shared experience, not just one type of people, but people from diverse backgrounds."

If elected, Councillor Kerr, who served as mayor of Oswestry last year, will become only the second Green Party MP in the country. Given that his election would still leave the Conservatives with a Commons majority of almost 80, what realistic prospect would he have of implementing his promises?

"I think having a Green MP would raise the national profile of North Shropshire a lot in the media," he says.

"I think a lot of people will be paying attention to the area if it had a Green MP."

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