This is the first of a series of six interviews the Gazette has conducted with each of Colchester’s parliamentary candidates for the 2024 General Election.

Today we speak to the Conservative's James Cracknell. We will be featuring each of the candidates this week and next

I FIRST met Conservative election hopeful James Cracknell in the George Hotel on Colchester High Street in early March – six months after he announced was to run in the city.

My first question was the obvious one.

Why did the 52-year-old former Olympic gold-winning rower think he was qualified to be Colchester's MP after only living here since September?

Mr Cracknell said that the most “important thing is what mindset you come into a place”, adding: “I haven’t become tainted by the way it was 30 years ago, the way it was three years ago, and decisions that have or haven’t been made”.

“I look at it with a certain, almost unbiased, perspective,” he continued.

Gazette: Tainted - James Cracknell said he was not tainted by decisions made in the council in the past years as a recent arrival to ColchesterTainted - James Cracknell said he was not tainted by decisions made in the council in the past years as a recent arrival to Colchester (Image: Submitted)

Asked whether he is worried about not being prepared enough – unlike the four years hard training he did for the 2000 Olympics – Mr Cracknell said: “It is interesting. If I had been a councillor that attends half the meetings, that has a second home in France and spent my most of the time there.

“And just because you are in a council meeting, suddenly you’re an expert...

"It’s interesting having canvassed, right through throughout the wards it’s actually surprising they haven’t seen other candidates.

"Either Liberal, Labour, whoever is standing - their candidates haven’t been around.”

Mr Cracknell said he has not been involved with “bad decisions” that he would “blindly defend”, but when asked if he is at a disadvantage to two other election candidates who are councillors, he said: “That is a really good point, but if we go on what I have seen since I’ve been here, they’ve doubled down on their bad decisions with the Northern Gateway.

“At certain points they could have exited it and saved the council, the city, money, but they have doubled down and down, and we are going to see the result of that.

"It is like someone who has bet on roulette who has doubled it, doubled it, and at some point they get slapped in the face and that is what is coming this way.”

Mr Cracknell said it takes a “very big person” to admit they have made a “bad decision” and that in this scenario the council is the casino, not the residents.

Gazette: Outgoing - Colchester's last MP Will QuinceOutgoing - Colchester's last MP Will Quince (Image: UK Parliament)

Will Quince, Colchester's former Conservative MP, became a councillor after failing to win in the 2010 General Election.

When asked about Mr Quince's record and what he would do differently if he becomes MP, Mr Cracknell said: “It is unfair of me to comment on Will’s record but I think if... what I think he would say, is that his political career can be split into two.

“That’s when he was a backbench MP and then when he was a minister.

“As a minister he had less time to be present and think about Colchester.

“Whether it be when he was in education or health - when he was in health, he could absorb 15 careers, let alone one.”

Asked if he would take up a ministerial role, junior or senior, if given the chance, Mr Cracknell said: “The reality is that is not going to be a question I am going to be faced with.

"Firstly to win here is tough, the Conservative’s majority is going to be very tough.

“There are so many local things to make people’s lives better here. I would not be short of a list of things to do.”

Mr Cracknell said if he ever was offered a ministerial role he would speak to the Colchester’s Conservative Association.

However, he said Colchester is "not a target seat for the Conservatives”, adding: “I am getting nothing in my pocket, and I am getting nothing for the campaign - it is difficult.”

Gazette: Brexit - James Cracknell previously voted to Remain in 2016Brexit - James Cracknell previously voted to Remain in 2016 (Image: Submitted)

The election hopeful voted 'remain' in 2016.

“In terms of being outspoken, I voted to remain,” he said.

“I was flicking right up until the last point because I didn’t believe that either side were telling the truth, and in the end I took the safe option.”

He added: “I never believed we could get £350million each week for the NHS, I thought there were exaggerations on both sides.

"The pandemic didn’t help… the pandemic slowed down our chances on being independent, but yet we were instrumental in the global vaccine, showing what we can do.”

When asked whether he would vote to make the best of Brexit over one or more Parliaments, Mr Cracknell said he would vote for what is “best for country, Colchester, and irrespective of what is best for the Conservative party”.

Gazette: Athlete - James Cracknell's first got into politics as an Olympian focused on public health issues Athlete - James Cracknell's first got into politics as an Olympian focused on public health issues (Image: PA)

Public health, including childhood obesity and fitness, was Mr Cracknell's entry point into politics as a world class athlete.

He wants to see “behavioural changes” with one key policy being primary schools judged on public health on the same level as literacy and numeracy.

Gazette: Campaigning - James CracknellCampaigning - James Cracknell (Image: Cracknell4Colchester)

When asked about food bank usage in Colchester and the Conservative’s record on foodbanks since 2010,  James said you had to look at the “big global crash” in 2008 under Labour and added: “Ideally there would be no food banks, child poverty would not exist, but I think the fact ….”

“I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be an expert on food banks, or on how many there were before, or how they operated before”.

James said there is a stigma about foodbanks but said as seen in Colchester, it was a “great strength of the British character” that the public help other people, noticing that that it is “not the wealthiest” who donate in the supermarket.

When asked if he had visited the foodbank in Colchester, James said “Not in Colchester, no”.

James did say he visited food banks when he lived near Hamstead where he was asked about the stigma of both food banks and free school meals, saying removing the “stigma” for both is “hugely important”.

When asked, as someone who is known for winning in sport, why he would stand in Colchester, which some polls say could go to Labour for the first time since 1950, Mr Cracknell said: “I believe in the Conservatives fiscally and that as liberally-minded, they are the best - for the country and the individual.

“The behaviour of certain politicians over the last four years - you can moan about it or get involved and do something about it.”

He added: “If the best they’ve got is that I’m not local, I can take that.

“But if a resident says to me, you haven’t put the work in, you’ve haven’t tried to understand us, you haven’t been honest with us, then fair enough I don’t deserve to win. But all those things are not happening.”

James Cracknell is standing in Colchester in the upcoming General Election for the Conservatives. Also standing are Pam Cox (Lab), Martin Goss (Lib Dem),  Terrence Longstaff (Reform UK) James Rolfe (Climate Party) and Sara Ruth (Grn).