In this week’s Opinion, Olympic gold medallist and North Devon resident James Cracknell tells us why he’s running for European Parliament and why Croyde holds a very special place in his heart.
I have had connections to the South West for basically the whole of my life, having had relatives in both Somerset and in Gloucestershire.
As a child I came here to North Devon for family holidays and as an adult I continued that tradition with my own family.
Then, as soon as the finances allowed, I bought a home here as well.
At this stage, it is where I intend to retire.
I have been asked time and time again why my son is called Croyde. Well, it’s not for the same reason David Beckham named his first child Brooklyn. It was a proposal rather than a conception. We love the place and the alliteration with my surname worked nicely too.
My love for the South West runs deep, and I always wanted to do something to help the region with its unique problems, while, at the same time, letting the world know about its wonderful advantages.
I believe I can best do that in politics. It is no secret that I sustained a very serious traumatic head injury, while cycling across America in 2010.
I had always been interested in politics and, as an Olympian, I had a strong sense of patriotism.
Being close to death naturally forces you to reevaluate your life and prioritise what is really important.
As I recovered I decided to apply to the Conservative party for inclusion on the candidates list. When the opportunity came to apply to be an MEP, there was only one region I was interested in, and here I am.
MEPs are considered by many to be the poor relations to Westminster MPs but that really is not so. They simply do a different, but equally important job.
With such a huge amount of our legislation originating in the EU it is important that proposals are thoroughly scrutinised to see they don’t damage the UK’s national interest.
There are also immensely important issues which concern the South West region, over which the EU has what is called “competence”. That means control in normal speak.
Fishing and agriculture are major industries in our region and employ many people. It is hugely important to make sure that the EU does not propose rules that might damage those interests.
British farmers are as efficient as any others in Europe and can compete very well on a level playing field. The Common Agricultural Policy burdens our economy to the tune of more than £10 billion a year.
Just employing the EU civil servants that run it costs us more than £75 million according to the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
We need to see control over farming repatriated to individual member states, while our farmers remain free to sell their produce into markets across Europe.
I think they would do very well, while less productive and inefficient farmers on the continent may find their markets under attack from the Brits.
What is certain is that the current situation cannot continue but, while farming remains under EU control, it probably will.
MEPs are very important and my colleague in our region, Ashley Fox MEP, has made a huge contribution to ending the EU’s monthly travelling circus, where its parliamentary sessions switch from Brussels to Strasbourg and vice-versa every month.
In the next seven years, this type of EU nonsense will cost the taxpayers £928,000,000. For what? To appease French vanity, that’s what.
This waste cannot be allowed to continue, while ordinary people struggle to pay their energy bills and buy food.
Naturally I am keen to encourage not only greater participation in sport in the region but overall physical activity.
There is no reason why, with the right facilities and coaching, that the South West can’t produce gold medal winners on a regular basis.
The South West’s kids are no different from Yorkshire’s and look how well they performed at London 2012.
I am fortunate that I have a fairly high profile and I would like to be able to use that advantage to act as an ambassador, hopefully helping to attract the industries that can bring more good quality jobs to the region.
The region has some great universities and we need the job vacancies to accommodate the graduates as well as those who choose vocational career opportunities.
So it’s about pay back. I am going to try and help pay back the South West for the years of pleasure it has given me.
I don’t have to do it; I want to do it, even in the knowledge that politicians are not at the top of most people’s Christmas card lists.
But if politicians didn’t exist, then we would have to invent them, I’m afraid. And if that is the case, then we need people with drive, aim and vision to do it and that is where I come in.