AS Tatton prepares to head to the polls on December 12, the Guardian has interviewed all candidates in mid Cheshire.

Here, Liberal Democrat candidate for Tatton Jonathan Smith explains why he believes he should win your vote.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I live in Bowdon and have done for the past 27 years. My professional life was in public service – I became a director at social services for a number of years, then a strategic director in local government, before I crossed over to the NHS to become a chief executive.

Although I have been a life-long Liberal Democrat supporter, because of my senior career in public service I was unable to show publicly a political bias, so it wasn’t until retirement that I was really able to become more involved in politics.

After the 2015 election when I thought the Lib Dems were unfairly treated, I decided to go for a national assessment, became an approved candidate and stood in the 2017 election for Oldham East and Saddleworth.

I wasn’t sure when I would get the next chance, but this is that next chance.

Why are you running for the Lib Dems?

Leaving aside all the arguments over the legitimacy of the EU referendum, I am absolutely shocked and dismayed by the impact the Brexit issue has had on our country.

Our country is not the country I knew, it is a less tolerant, more divided, more fractious, more inward-looking country. So in this election, the core of it is the whole soul of this country and whether we can regain some of the principles and values we had.

Secondly, I feel passionately that remaining in the EU is by far and away the best for the country. It is certainly far better than Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit, and as far as I can see so far, much better than any other Brexit deal anyone has suggested.

For me, we need to remain at the heart of Europe, at the heart of whatever institutions Europe has – to improve them and have our say, at the heart of Europe.

In Esther McVey you are running against a passionate Brexiteer. Do you think your pro-remain stance could win votes from the Conservatives?

If all the people who voted remain in Tatton in 2016 voted for the Liberal Democrats they would have me as their MP, by a bit of a margin. I am not naïve enough to think that is guaranteed – other people have other views – but it is the only remain constituency in Cheshire from the referendum.In the EU elections, yes we just lost to the Brexit Party, but we significantly outvoted Tories, Labour and the Greens. So up to this spring, if you do a reasonable analysis of the people that were remain-leaning, Tatton is still a remain constituency.

Now Esther McVey is not mandated to represent exactly what the voters think, and I understand that.

But nevertheless, after this period of time where Tatton has been represented by a Brexiteer who is out of touch with the majority of views here, I think I could serve Tatton better.

The Lib Dems want to remain in the EU, either by scrapping Brexit in a majority government or pushing for a second referendum. What would you say to voters in Tatton who do want to leave?

It’s something I am not surprisingly challenged about on the doorsteps. I am doing a huge amount of canvassing across the constituency, and OK a number of people don’t agree with the Lib Dems approach.

When people say to me ‘there is Democrat in your party name but you are not being democratic’ – my understanding of a democracy is not that once a decision is made you have to accept it ever more.

That is patently not the case. If it was, then having had a referendum in 1975, we should have never had the referendum in 2016.

Equally, throughout my lifetime except on one occasion in coalition, my party has not been in power. What do I do – do I give up and go home?

And even if you accept the legitimacy of the referendum, and you say that people knew everything they needed to know, my view is that the leaders of this country have a huge responsibility over the future of our country.

If they actually think that Boris’ hard Brexit is going to harm the country, and I am sure the majority do, the responsibility of leadership is not to stand back – the responsibility of leadership is to say ‘hang on, we ought to take another look at this’.

The NHS is one of the most prominent issues in this election – and you have a lot of experience from the service…

There are some really major concerns that need to be addressed. I am happy to offer the experience and expertise I have got to Tatton, but also to the country as an MP.

In order to try and get a real understanding of what is happening now, I went to the most recent meeting of the East Cheshire NHS Trust board. With my professional background, I knew what to look for in the papers, and what was clear is that winter pressures are all-year pressures now. Escalation beds, that should have been opened in December, were opened in September.

And the list of challenges they face – I came away from that meeting thinking 30 years ago, we would have had the same list. Financial deficit, staffing deficit, winter pressures, a lack of coordination with social care.

Is it a case that the NHS just needs more money, or does it need something else?

It was demonstrated throughout my time in health and social services by a number of research projects that money alone does not produce a high-quality service.

Equally, it is certainly the case that far too little money is a major risk to delivering services. So although money is not the whole answer, and Lib Dems are not saying it is, if you provide too little you have little chance of providing quality care.

The two main parties are kidding the public by pretending it is possible to put all the funding they think health and social care needs to fund those services without raising taxes.

Boris Johnson is saying he won’t put up tax at all, Jeremy Corbyn saying he will get all the money he needs from the top five per cent. I don’t think any independent analysis of that stands up.

So the first step is to stop Brexit, because if you go ahead with any form of Brexit it makes the country poorer than if it remains, and therefore there is less money to spend.

Secondly, taxpayers will have to stump up more money – and if you do it through income tax, at least it is progressive, depending on how much you earn.

We are proposing to put in a significant amount of capital money through responsible borrowing, only for capital investment, but also there are changes we would like to make for those services.

Where do you stand on HS2?

There is only one issue in our entire manifesto that I am not convinced about, and that is HS2.

Our manifesto continues to commit us to HS2 – and I back that. My problem is the timing and whether in terms of investment in rail transport that is the top priority.

So I am not against HS2, but what I would say is, I am not convinced that from the money we need to invest in our rail services that it should be top of the list.

We ought to use some of the money on investing in local services – in particular the mid Cheshire line. It is a disaster – it clearly is in a pretty poor state, and I think it is difficult for people to back HS2 if they don’t see local services improve at the same time.

Passengers face a poor service on the Mid Cheshire line. What should happen to Northern?

Throughout my career in public services I have held the view that it shouldn’t actually matter who the provider is if – and as long as – the public sector is a very robust and challenging commissioner, and a very robust regulator.

I don’t think there is any doubt that as a company they have major struggles. They would say that in the main, there are other parts of the system that let them down – Network Rail, new trains on order that don’t arrive on time.

I am sure they would be justified in saying ‘it is not just us’, but overall as a company, I don’t think they give people confidence.

I don’t think Northern has earned its right to carry on – I think a robust commissioner would say that – and it could either be taken over temporarily by the state so we can put things in order or find another company to come in straight away.

Tatton has areas of wealth, but also areas of deprivation. What needs to be done to support the most vulnerable?

I reckon Tatton must be one of the most unequal constituencies in the country.

In some of the poorer areas, and I mean that in terms of house prices, things don’t seem to have moved on much since I started social work in the 1970s – the poverty of the environment, the lack of shops and services in decent order, the decay of quite a lot of houses.

In coalition, the Lib Dems did a lot to moderate the Tories’ natural tendency regarding the economy and fairness, and brought in a number of things – for example, raising the income tax threshold, the advent of the pupil premium.

We are clear that in terms of the inequality of society, one of the key deficits has been the way local government has been neglected. The Tories have taken money and power away from local government.

It’s all well for me to walk along neglected streets, I am sure the local authorities would say – quite energetically – they haven’t got the money.

Lib Dems have always believed in localism, and in this election one of the key issues is funding and reviving the role of local government.

The environment is also a key concern – how would the Lib Dems support it?

In my campaign I have taken this right down to a local level, because I would hope most people don’t need a huge amount of convincing about climate change, they want to know what we can do locally.

I am absolutely clear that we have in our midst, in Wilmslow, an absolutely world-class environment heritage site in Lindow Moss that people know about – but not much about. I am confident the vast majority of that site will be protected, and it should be.

Secondly, as Lib Dems we have promised that we would continue to oppose plans for 225 houses at the Longridge corridor in Knutsford, whatever happens in the election. I am appalled that in 2019 we would even consider putting tarmac and concrete on that area – it seems crazy.

And we are becoming active in terms of protecting bus services – the 130, which is the main link for people in Handforth and Wilmslow to get to Macclesfield Hospital, and evening services.

Finally, you have a day off – no work or campaigning to do. How would you spend your ideal day in Cheshire?

We love Tatton Park. Alison and I have a big, scattered family. We are very involved in politics and have busy lives.

But we would go walking, we would have a really relaxing time around Tatton. We would take in the beauty, openness and peace that Cheshire can offer – and we would go to a nice local pub.