'I'm one of their own': new MP opens heart after huge win
PUBLISHED: 07:41 15 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:42 17 December 2019
North Norfolk's new MP has vowed to fight for his constituents after the coastal seat turned blue for the first time in 18 years.
Conservative candidate Duncan Baker triumphed on election night as control of North Norfolk was wrestled from the hands of the Liberal Democrats.
Despite the exit poll forecasting a 90pc likelihood that the Lib Dems would retain the seat, Mr Baker ended up delivering a drubbing as he emerged victorious with a majority of more than 14,000 votes.
He succeeds Sir Norman Lamb, who announced prior to the general election he would be stepping down as MP.
Following a miserable election for the Tories' political rivals, Mr Baker - who grew up in Holt - puts the party's nationwide down to one central issue.
"We had the perfect storm, which was that people on the doorsteps were completely fed up with Brexit," he said.
"They were sick and tired of watching politicians argue in parliament. The country voted to Leave, as did 59pc of people in North Norfolk.
"Norman Lamb said it himself that he struggled to stand when he didn't believe in the Liberal Democrat stance."
Despite the party's campaign slogan playing into the hands of many newly-installed Conservative MPs, Mr Baker believed his local roots spoke volumes to voters.
The 40-year-old grew up in Holt and now lives with his family in Aylmerton, near Sheringham, with his wife Nina and two daughters.
During his career in local government, the chartered accountant has served as a Holt town councillor since 2009, became a district councillor in 2017 and is the Conservatives' group leader at North Norfolk District Council, a position he is not expected to resign from.
"People in North Norfolk want one of their own," said Mr Baker. "I stood as a genuinely local candidate who is from and cares about the area.
"Even Remainers said they would vote for me because they felt I was the right fit and personality. I'm still going to be here as well, living in Aylmerton with my family.
"Now we need to get an efficient office going so we can deal with local issues and help people where we can. That's why Sir Norman was so successful - because he cared and people could place their trust in him."
As he settles into his new parliamentary role, Mr Baker is dead-set on addressing the issues that matter most to his constituents, aside from Brexit.
He said conversations have already been had with health secretary Matt Hancock over ambulance response times in an area which has one of the country's oldest populations.
There is also a strong desire to increase the number of services available at Cromer Hospital and improve social care in the area.
He added: "If it were me making the choices, I would be putting money into social care alongside the NHS because we have to care for our older citizens.
"We've done the research, we've got the money - rather than waiting two years we need to start straight away."
In 2008, Mr Baker began working at Bakers and Larners of Holt, where he began using his business pedigree to play a prominent role in his community.
Improving the constituency's business prospects has therefore become a central focus, and he felt issues including poor mobile phone signal showed North Norfolk had been hamstrung by Westminster's attitude towards rural areas.
"People don't care about rural communities as much as cities, simply because the population density isn't as high," added Mr Baker.
"That's got to change because we do matter."
On crime prevention in North Norfolk, Mr Baker believed the constituency still had an ongoing issue with anti-social behaviour.
He expected the area to benefit from Boris Johnson's promise of 20,000 extra police officers across the UK, a figure widely disputed during the election campaign given the drop in police numbers over the past decade.
Mr Baker, though, was defiant in his defence of the prime minister in this regard and believed the claim was far from misleading.
"People got upset and said we took away police officers - we didn't," he said. "We took away PCSOs who don't have the same powers and we will replace them with fully-qualified officers.
"Sometimes you have to dispel the myth to get to the truth."
Home Office figures show that, between March 2010 and March 2018, 5,500 of the 21,732 officers lost by police forces in England and Wales between were PCSOs.
Mr Baker also defended the Conservatives' manifesto pledge to recruit 50,000 more NHS nurses, widely criticised due to the figure's inclusion of 18,500 'retained' nurses.
"Unfortunately that got a bad headline, but it's absolutely credible," he added. "What the party was trying to do was put 31,500 more nurses into the services and retain 18,500 who leave through natural attrition.
"To be truthful I'd say they missed a few words. They should have said '50,000 more nurses than there would have been.'"
Ultimately, as he begins this new chapter, Mr Baker is humbled by the support he has received and grateful for an "exciting" opportunity.
"It's a privilege to be in this position," he added. "All MPs are human beings and we set out to do what we think is best for our constituents.
"Hopefully, with this big majority, there's going to be a much better atmosphere in parliament and we can get on with healing the country."