4 Jun 2024

‘Vote for Reform is a vote for Labour’ says Conservative Atkins

Health Secretary, Victoria Atkins speaks to us from the Leader’s Debate in Manchester.

Matt Frei: So the surprise election campaign of yours, how’s it going? Is it going to plan?

Victoria Atkins: I think we have seen, already in the first couple of weeks of this campaign, that the demarcation between our plans as a Conservative party for the future of our great country, and contrasting that to the Labour Party, which they seem to think that they’re the party of change. And yet I couldn’t tell you a single policy that they are bringing in to conduct that change. And tonight’s debate is really important because this is the first time, really, that we and the public are going to see these two leaders head to head. And, of course, the choice on polling day is that stark. It’s going to be Rishi Sunak or it’s going to be Sir Keir Starmer. And I believe that we will see through Rishi’s answers, through his ideas and through his energy that we have so much to offer the country in the coming years. And I very, very much look forward to hearing about that, and the public hearing it too.

Matt Frei: What’s not going according to plan is the appearance of Nigel Farage as the head of Reform and as a candidate in Clacton. Now, there are Tory MPs tonight who are begging Reform candidates to stand down because they’re afraid of losing their seats. This is a nightmare for you, isn’t it? Nigel Farage, back on the scene, breathing down your necks?

Victoria Atkins: Of course, Mr. Farage did not locate Clacton on a map, he located it via a spreadsheet that his people had put together in order to try and help him understand who he could use in order to catapult himself into parliament. But I think the British public understand that on polling day, there is a choice between the Conservatives and the Labour Party. There are only two people who will be prime minister, who can be prime minister on 5 July.

Matt Frei: Yes, but he can divide the vote on the right, can’t he?

Victoria Atkins: The choice for voters, if I may just on this, it’s an important point. The vote for Reform is a vote for the Labour Party. So if you want to see higher taxes, higher immigration, if you want to see all of the things that we have gathered together and benefited from as we’ve left the European Union, if you want to see all of that, then you better start saving, because that will be a Labour government courtesy of a vote for Reform. If, however, you want to see lower taxes, lower immigration and a great future for our country, vote Conservative.

Matt Frei: Isn’t the problem with Nigel Farage that ultimately you’ve indulged him along the way ever since 2010. You gave him the referendum on Brexit that he really wanted. Now that Brexit isn’t really working out in terms of money for the country, controlling our borders or indeed the appreciation of the public. He’s again come along and said, ‘you’re not doing it properly.’ You’ve created the Farage monster, and this man is now dancing on what many people and pollsters believe is going to be your grave.

Victoria Atkins: So we are in the middle of a really important democratic exercise, our right to vote for the next government. And the referendum wasn’t because we were trying to appease a particular individual. It was because we, as a Conservative party, heard the frustrations that people had about the European Union.

Matt Frei: He drove the agenda.

Victoria Atkins: And we said to them in 2015, if you want a referendum, vote Conservative. And people did. And so we kept that promise of having that referendum. And we then said, we will honour the result of that referendum, and we have done so. And so this isn’t about an individual personality. This is about what we as Conservatives have done to listen to people and then to deliver on that democratic result that we arrived at in 2016. And from that, we are seeing, for example, the huge expansion of the life sciences industry because of the unique position that we now find ourselves in. We find ourselves with a growing economy and all of the opportunities that this country has, and this is what we have tried to create through our careful stewardship of the economy. Some 800 jobs a day since 2010. And so that is the sort of thing that I think voters will be focusing on.