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23 September 2016

How I will use my brother Bernie Sanders’s fame to fight David Cameron’s seat

The next destination for Sanders fans – Witney.

By Serena Kutchinksy

The Green Party has selected the brother of the US Democratic senator, Bernie Sanders, as their candidate to run in David Cameron’s old seat in the forthcoming Witney and West Oxfordshire by-election.

Larry Sanders, 82, is the Green Party’s health spokesperson and has lived in Oxford since 1969. An experienced local councillor, he been enjoying a burst of unexpected fame off the back of his brother’s high-profile, if ultimately unsuccessful, bid for the US presidency.

Cited by his brother as a defining political influence, Sanders gave a speech at the American Democratic Convention in July which moved the former presidential candidate to tears, the moment captured on camera then went viral.

“It’s true that I have got all this publicity because of him [Bernie] and I now feel more energised,” he said. “The more votes we get the better, of course, but this is an opportunity for people to hear what the Green Party is saying both locally and nationally.”

Sanders last ran as a candidate in the neighbouring Oxford West and Abingdon constituency in 2015, where he finished fifth. He doesn’t expect the result in Witney to be much different — the party gained a mere five per cent of the vote in 2015 — but plans to use it as an opportunity to highlight issues around the NHS and social care.

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“The NHS is going downhill rapidly and it’s hard to get the message through,” he said, describing the battle between the junior doctors and the government over the threatened imposition of new contracts as a “political scam.”

“Jeremy Hunt  is doing cheap politics, there are cuts coming to local services all over the country, so they created this fantasy of a seven-day NHS to stop people talking about the cuts. There’s not enough funding in the system to support a seven-day service so there is no happy solution — the junior doctors say the NHS will be worse off under the new system, and it’s bad for patients if the doctors strike. Everyone seems to be advising the doctors on what they should do, but hardly anybody is putting pressure on Hunt, so that what I intend to do everywhere I get a chance to be heard.”

Bernie is unlikely to make an appearance on the campaign trail for his older brother— he’s a bit busy finishing a book, campaigning for Hillary Clinton and supporting around 100 candidates in the US elections through his new political organisation Our Revolution. But, there is a chance he might make a virtual appearance to help drum up interest in his brother’s candidacy.

“During my last campaign [in 2015] he Skyped in his from his office. He said nice things about me and answered questions from audience. We will see if we can do something similar but as a foreign politician he’s probably not  allowed to say which candidate he supports even if it’s his brother.”

Sanders faces a tough struggle against the Conservative candidate, Robert Courts, 37, a barrister who lives in the area and has served as West Oxfordshire District Councillor since 2014.  The Conservatives currently boasts a  majority of 25,000 in the seat and Sanders admits he will have to work hard to even keep his party’s deposit. “The Conservatives are good at fielding glossy men in suits in Witney and he [Courts] can lose a lot of vote without having to work very much, but I will do my best to land a few punches.”