Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Conservative candidate in Reading West and Mid Berkshire

Our Democracy Reporter, Niki Hinman, has invited all the candidates in the Newbury and Reading West & Mid Berkshire to answer her questions. We will be publishing the candidates responses as they are received.

If you snap a Ross Mackinnon stick of rock in half, there would be no surprise to find the words Margaret Thatcher stamped through him.

He’s a big, bold, occasionally bruising working class Tory from the outskirts of Glasgow. He’s also a Rangers fan and he lives in Burghfield.

He is the Conservative candidate about to battle the newly formed seat of Reading West and Mid Berkshire.

Not quite a Gorbals diamond, but energetic, passionate and probably rather good fun to go for an emotionally muscular few pints with.

Ross Mackinnon is married, and has four children aged 16, 14, five and three.

He grew up Uddingston outside Glasgow in a single parent family.

“It was a Lanarkshire mining village,” he explains.

“Can you imagine being a Tory in a mining town in the 80s – there were about four of us!”

So why is he a Tory?

“I always saw the Conservatives as the party of aspiration.

“If you see someone with a bigger house, for example, then a working class Tory would want it.

“Where as a socialist would say you shouldn’t have it, if that explains it.

“We lived in a flat and then a two up two down with with my two other siblings.”

So a pretty modest upbringing. Not exactly the red trouser brigade.

“At school – I always did my homework – I was a bit of a girly swat.

“I loved school. I did well in exams. My mum will take a lot of credit when she reads this!”

But his school experience rooted his Conservative values and partly explains his love of Thatcher.

“I went to an independent school, but we didn’t pay fees.

“The Thatcher Government had an assisted places scheme, so mum signed me up for that and I got a place at a top school in Scotland.

“I went to a great school but without that policy in place it would not have been possible.

“The option for a spectacle wearing skinny boy in a very rough school would not have been good.

“In a utopian world, this educational social mobility is something we should work to fix.

“In the real world I wonder how easy it is,” he muses, and clearly has a policy stand on education.

“There has to come a point to be able to remove disruptive children from the education system.

“The schools should be better and it should be easier for them to have these disruptive pupils removed.”

University of Edinburgh and a law degree followed but London beckoned, so he joined Barclays Bank on a grad scheme, and headed south.

“I have always been interested in politics. Even supported Mrs T as a teenager.

“But politics was always something I was going to do next week… so I never got involved.

“I joined the party in 2017,” he admits. “Then I got asked to stand as a councillor in West Berkshire, and three months after being elected in Bradfield, I was on the executive committee responsible for finance.”

Track forward to earlier this year, and he beat an undisclosed, but considerable, number of candidates to get selected, despite his relative immaturity in politics.

So a fairly meteoric rise, which also explains the shooting from the hip cut and thrust style he occasionally demonstrates in the council chamber.

He’s not yet nailing his colours to any of the new factions emerging in his party, and is remarkably circumspect about the chances of the Tories in the next General Election.

Recent polls are not good reading for the Conservatives – predicting they will suffer the biggest defeat since 1997.

He admits the new seat “could go either way”.

“Both opposition parties do have a chance here,” he says.

“Where does the non-Tory vote go? That’s the interesting thing here.

“There is a decent Tory vote here with Labour in Reading West. The key is getting the Tories to vote. Labour are nowhere in the villages.”

Not the buccaneering approach I was expecting on meeting the larger-than-life Ross Mackinnon.

He certainly enjoys the performance and oratory of the council role, now in opposition after his party saw defeat at the hands of the Lib Dems last May. He is rarely seen and not heard in the council chamber.

So he’s convinced he will deliver a voice for the people of Reading West and Mid Berks.

“I have a sense of public service for the place,” he says.

“I’ve got experience which is useful, to do something for the community and being their voice.

“We are here to represent the people here.

“People need someone who is resilient.”

Should he get elected, and manage to translate this to the Commons, it will be interesting to see if his tub-thumping tendencies refine into meaningful statesmanship.

Either way, he’s certainly entertaining, clearly very bright, and has an unexpected charm.

More Labour’s Dennis Skinner than the soave elan of Danny Kruger the MP for Devizes, a leap frog from Newbury’s Laura Farris.

Interestingly, Ross gets a text from Mr Kruger as we drink our coffee.

Kruger leads the New Conservatives, one of the many factions chewing on the liver of the Conservative Party.

And so the pieces move. But Ross is backing Rishi.

“He is a  lovely intelligent man. He needs everyone to pull behind him,” he says.

Suella Braverman set out her stall to be the next Tory leader with a right-wing speech which won her the adulation of the party faithful – notes which chime with Ross Mackinnon who really does want the small boats legislation to get through.

The then Home Secretary warned of a “hurricane” of immigration which she said was sweeping the globe.

“I am not a left or right winger or a one nation as those divisions are too neat,” he says.

“I have political instincts on things which don’t mean I fall into one category.

“Reform will take votes from the Tories but also from Labour.

“They are basically the Brexit party aren’t they? So they are full throttle into immigration.

“We need to avoid dangerous rhetoric here. The British people are incredibly generous and welcoming to refugees.

“Reform are not wrong that illegal immigration should be sorted.
“I have a zero tolerance policy for it.

“The Rwanda scheme will act as a deterrent for people trying to get here illegally.

“It is costing us £7m a day to house these people and it has to stop.

“One of the criticisms is it will cost millions – but once a young man in France thinks he will be sent to Rwanda he won’t get on that boat.”

During the course of our conversation, it is clear he has learned a tremendous amount in the seven years since he joined the Conservative Party.

He is now taking more of a back seat on his occasionally robust social media posts, although maintains he will always defend.

“I am probably one of the most complained about councillors on social media, but I never hit first – I just defend myself or my colleagues.

“I’ve never been bothered about what people have written about me.

“I have had some hideous abuse on social media, but it doesn’t bother me, if someone says we are criminals or faux patriots I will defend it.”

“I’m ready to go with an election now,” he says. “Bring it on.”