WITH the General Election just four months away, The Bolton News is running a series of features with candidates vying for your vote. Here, political reporter Elaine O'Flynn speaks to Cllr Andrew Martin, who is standing for the Lib Dems in Bolton West.
BOLTON’S youngest councillor is in the running to become the newest face to join the Houses of Parliament.
Cllr Andrew Martin says he will make the interests of young people the centre of his campaign to become a Liberal Democrat MP for Bolton West.
The 22-year-old freelance fitness instructor currently represents Smithills in the council chamber, after the party clung onto the Liberal stronghold.
But with the party’s popularity plummeting in the polls — with some even warning the party could be wiped out in May — Cllr Martin says there is still a place for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons.
He first voted for the party at the General Election in 2010, before he joined the party in 2011 while a student studying law at Cambridge University.
“I thought when the country had been left in such a mess it was a really brave thing for the party to do, to join the coalition”, he said.
“We took responsibility and showed that we are not just a party of opposition.
“What the Lib Dems can be proud of in government was what they did for young people — there is £41 million in extra funding in the pupil premium just in Bolton, and the number of jobs has gone up 4,000 in Bolton West alone.”
When asked about whether the move to introduce £9,000-a-year tuition fees was the right decision for young people, Cllr Martin defended the decision — arguing the number of students at university has gone up.
He said: “The system we effectively put in place is more of a graduate tax — nine per cent of anything over £21,000.
“In reality a lot of people won’t pay back the whole amount, if you don’t earn enough the debt is written off.
“Nick Clegg himself has said he should never have made that pledge, and it was a mistake.
“Realistically it may cost us some votes, but I think for most people they will look at the achievements we have made in government.”
Should a referendum on Britain’s EU membership come, Cllr Martin said he would tick ‘yes’ — and has already committed to campaign with young people encouraging them to stay in the Union.
He said: “I was disappointed to read that Conservative candidate Chris Green would want to leave the EU, when it offers opportunities for young people now and opportunities to study, work and travel all across Europe for free — thanks to the EU.
“Sometimes there is a temptation to link the EU with human rights and immigration, when really there are quite different issues there.
“There has been an ‘overhype’ of immigration as an issue when a lot of it is a way of revolting against the political classes.”
The Liberal Democrats would stand up for civil liberties, he says, and support ongoing cuts to public services to reduce the deficit, while protecting funding for the NHS and schools.
Locally Cllr Martin says if elected, he would campaign for improvements to the transport links across Bolton West and more investment in the area’s schools.
Since joining the council almost a year ago, Cllr Martin has raised numerous questions to the leading Labour group, challenging their council tax collection rate, spending on union representatives and the costs of the Town Hall refurbishment.
“I want to make Britain a more liberal society and one that delivers opportunities for all”, he said.
“I think I have shown that I’m intelligent, I’m someone who does the hard work and I’m not afraid to stand up to those in power, either on the council or those in Parliament.
“I think it is very opaque the way the council is run — the leadership probably don’t tell all the Labour group what is going on most of the time.
“And then you actually find most of the decisions show we really can’t trust the Labour party,
“They are spending millions redecorating the Town Hall, they can’t even collect all the council tax... when you look to the General Election you only have to look to Bolton to see you can't trust Labour with your money.
“If you want to safeguard the economic recovery then you can’t vote for the Labour party.”
But Cllr Martin says he would support joining either Labour or the Conservative again in a coalition government — just not UKIP.
“UKIP want to leave the EU and we are not going to put Bolton jobs at risk”, he said.
“I just want to see the Liberal Democrats in government. If we are going to build opportunities for all, if we let Labour or the Conservative govern alone we won’t have that.”
Next week The Bolton News will start a series of features on the candidates standing in Bolton North East.
See Monday's paper for our interview with incumbent Labour MP David Crausby.