I will not Cash in on Cameron link

IN the past week Joanne Cash has been at the centre of an extraordinary political storm. She resigned from her position as Conservative candidate for Westminster North last Monday after her political rival Amanda Sayers was elected president of the local

IN the past week Joanne Cash has been at the centre of an extraordinary political storm.

She resigned from her position as Conservative candidate for Westminster North last Monday after her political rival Amanda Sayers was elected president of the local Tory association.

And 24 hours later, what at first glance was a local dispute became a charged political drama when Conservative Central Office sacked Sayers clearing the way for Cash to return in a spectacular U-turn.

The feud between the two women electrified the news agenda - raising questions over excessive meddling by Tory top brass, potentially alienating local activists who felt their wishes had been steamrollered.

Now Ms Cash, who has until now has remained tight-lipped about the episode, has broken her silence in her only interview since the controversy surrounding her candidacy began.

In an exclusive interview with the Wood&Vale, the 40-year-old barrister talked candidly about her pregnancy, her links to David Cameron, her plans to turn the marginal seat of Westminster North blue and the truth behind the now infamous 'RIP Dinosaurs' comment.

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Speaking from her office at 209 Shirland Road, Ms Cash flatly denied claims that she has been given special treatment due her closeness with Cameron - who attended Eton at the same time as her husband Octavius Black.

She also dismissed rumours that she is on course for a ministerial position.

"I'm no closer to him than any other candidate or MP," she said.

"He's an extremely good boss and he practises what he preaches about having a good family and he's very supportive of people.

"So the idea that it's something personally to do with me is false."

She continued: "If I am elected, I'm expecting to learn the ropes and become a good backbench MP. It's rubbish that I'm going to become a minister."

Despite claims that she enjoys a privileged life living in a multimillion pound house on the edge of Notting Hill, Ms Cash confessed that she came for much more humble beginnings.

Until the age of 18 and at the height of the troubles, she lived with her parents, her brother, now an NHS doctor, and sister, now a teacher, in the Northern Irish town of Portadown, County Armagh.

Her father worked part-time for the army, as well as holding down two other jobs, while her mother ran a newsagents they owned.

She attended a state primary and secondary school before winning a scholarship to Oxford to study English literature.

An able public speaker, she qualified as a barrister after graduation and went on to excel in her chosen legal specialism, freedom of expression.

Politically, Ms Cash says she has always been Conservative but after four or five years at the bar she found herself becoming increasingly involved in the Tory Party and its policies.

At the same time she says she was growing more frustrated with the Labour government's interference with personal and press freedoms, their use of terrorism legislation and heavy concentration on bureaucracy and management.

"Then David Cameron became leader of the Tory party and I didn't know him - at that stage I hadn't even met Octavius - but the way he spoke made me feel he knew how to connect with people," she said.

"I just felt inspired by him. I then applied to be a parliamentary candidate and got selected in February 2006.

"I didn't want any other seat - I wanted to represent my own neighbourhood and represent the people who grew up in the same circumstances I'd grown up with.

"I didn't want to go off to some safe seat in the shires no matter how cushy it would have been."

Since being selected, Ms Cash said her main focus has been on 'social action'.

This approach has taken the form of community projects she has launched such as Step Up, which is aimed at help state educated pupils get through the university application process.

She has also headed up a local campaign to raise awareness of ID fraud and more recently has started promoting a parenting programme in Westminster primary schools.

She speculates that it may be her emphasis on social action which has led to some of the criticisms that she has not been 'knocking enough doors'.

"I don't want to be the kind of candidate that just leaflets doors to win the election," she said.

"If I'm the kind of candidate who does real things then I can say look what we did for Westminster North.

"Of course I would still rather win but I really believe in social action and putting something back into the community.

"Social action isn't your typical type of election campaigning - it's a bit more subtle than that and I think some of the old guard don't necessarily understand that."

So with just a few months to go until the general election, Ms Cash she hopes to be judged largely on what she has already achieved and on the Tories' pledge to clean up politics in the aftermath of the expenses scandal.

She promises that all her own expenses will be online and available for public scrutiny.

"I haven't been in Parliament before and I'm a clean, new candidate and I think the public are entitled to expect that from their representatives," she said.

"One of the things that's emerged now is that I'm a fighter and I'll fight tooth and nail in the House of Commons to reform it."

It is at this point she chooses to reveal that the controversial 'RIP Dinosaurs' comment made on her Twitter page, which her critics had said was a slur against the Conservative old guard, had in fact referred to all the MPs who had fiddled their expenses.

She said she will also lobby hard on issues such as business rates, which she says should be frozen for the foreseeable future considering how hard the recession has hit businesses in Westminster.

And she says she will be fully prepared to stand up against her party to champion her constituencies concerns if elected.

"As a constituency MP you're elected by the people," she said.

"So MPs need to get back to the people that elected them and if I get elected I won't forget the people who have put me there."

On the subject of her pregnancy, Ms Cash laughs off the suggestions made by some of detractors that she will not be able to cope with campaigning while being pregnant.

She said: "I was pregnant three months before Christmas and I worked non-stop and no-one in the office spotted it.

"So I don't think it's going to be an issue but what it has done is it's made me feel even more determined that I've got a stake in this fight for my own children as well as other people's.

"When I was a child my father worked three jobs and my mum ran the shop we had all day and did just fine with three children."

Now it appears that the uproar surrounding her dispute with Sayers has subsided, Ms Cash said she will be concentrating on ousting Karen Buck.

"I intend to keep things positive and move forward," she said. "We've got a great new chairman and a great team of officers and everyone is 100 per cent committed to winning the election.