IN DEPTH: Richard Merrin - Don't call me a PR man

RICHARD Merrin insists he is a businessman, not a PR man. The Conservative candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green prides himself on running a leading communications agency for IT companies, but because it shows he has experience in business, not spin, he sa

Rhiannon Evans

RICHARD Merrin insists he is a businessman, not a PR man.

The Conservative candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green prides himself on running a leading communications agency for IT companies, but because it shows he has experience in business, not spin, he says.

The label of 'PR man' has been branded on him many times by the opposition he says, and unfairly so.

"It's an easy accusation to say, 'he is a spin doctor' but there's a very clear dividing line. I work in business services where one company talks to the other and you simply can't get further from the spin doctoring environment than that," he says.

As a partner in his own agency he says his two decades in business, as an employer of just under 20 staff, stands him in nothing but excellent stead to be a parliamentarian. Indeed he insists it is a good thing he is not a professional politician.

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"In Hornsey and Wood Green, more than 80 per cent of people work in businesses around the same size as mine, so there's no big business here, there are masses of small employers and I would say I understand the pain they have all been going through," he says.

"The Tory party used to be the party of small businessmen and I think it needs that bedrock back in there because if you know how to run a company, one would assume you know how to run a country."

The 42-year-old, standing as a parliamentary candidate for the first time, says the experience he has gained in running his business is key to his campaign.

"I think there are a number of specialisms I can bring - an understanding of business and an ability to communicate is crucial," he says. "When you speak to people on doorsteps four nights a week, and at weekends, you hear the same things time and time again - people are not being honest or frank with us and politicians are treating us like idiots, we want someone to tell us the truth. We are grown ups and we can take it.

"Also knowledge of IT is important - if you look at the waste of spending in government, they need to understand what technology can do."

Mr Merrin is no stranger to elections. He has been a candidate to represent Highgate for Camden Council on two occasions, in 2006 and 2008, unsuccessfully. And general local wisdom would suggest he should have little hope this time.

In the 2005 election, the Conservatives came a distant third to the Liberal Democrats and Labour, with just 12.7 per cent of the vote - 6,014 votes against MP Lynne Featherstone's 20,512.

But Mr Merrin says polls he has conducted show a massive swing back to the Tory way of thinking and he is confident that though it will be a hard battle, the Conservatives are not out of the race locally or nationally.

"I would really want a Conservative party ruling Britain, but this will be the biggest electoral mountain any party has had to climb since the 1930s," he says.

"I don't underestimate the challenge we have got. The polls are telling me the public are switching off from Labour, they are looking at the Conservatives but they are not yet in love with the Tories.

"I have come across so many Conservative voters who voted for Lynne last time to get rid of Labour as an anti-war vote.

"But this time, they are coming back and they are coming back in big numbers."

In fact he is confident that, at least on a national level, the Conservatives have just a short wait before they are the nationally ruling party.

"I have no doubt in my mind that the Conservatives will win the election, but it will be so close," he says. "The country really is crying out for change here, it really does need to see people who understand the issues everybody is facing."

He also warned away from tactical votes. "I believe the Tories have got the best future view of the country and if you want a Tory MP then vote for one and it will actually happen," he added.

As a north London resident for many years, Mr Merrin says he has numerous ideas which would help to improve the lives of local residents. One of his first considerations, he says, would be to look at whether anything can be done to solve the problem of Highgate being split across three boroughs - Haringey, Camden and Islington.

He says the lack of partnership between the councils can cause many problems for residents and traders in the area, and exploring whether this could be fixed would be one of his top priorities.

Unsurprisingly, he says local businesses would be at the heart of his policies - after a survey of 500 local businesses in August last year, he says he has a good idea of what needs to be done to help and parking is one of the main things which needs to be tackled first.

On a national level, he says, more needs to be done to improve the chain of credit among businesses and bankruptcy laws are far too lax, he insists.

One of his main campaigning issues would also be to attempt to save the Whittington Hospital, after the North Central London Review Panel released seven proposals for healthcare - four of which would close the A&E.

After joining the march to save the A&E and speaking out at public meetings, Mr Merrin has pledged the review would be stopped in its tracks if the Tories won the national election.

He says the "top-down review" is based on false assumptions and promised it would be stopped in favour of a localised review of each hospital.

"We will stop the process as it's currently going - we will give breathing space and undertake a clinical review before any further decision is taken and that means consulting with the local population and finding out what the people want," he said.

Though he stopped short of promising the Whittington A&E would not close, he did say: "If local people want the facility, that's that."

Mr Merrin joined the Conser-vative party in 1984 while at University and claims that the Labour victory in 1997 was like a living nightmare for him.

"I woke up the next day with the worst hangover, with my head in my hands and I just knew it was going to end in tears," he says.

In a few months he will discover whether his nightmare is set to continue, or finally become a thing of the past.