Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Fallout from Vauxhall hustings - the good, the bad, and the downright mad

Local hustings might generally considered to be good for democracy, a time to question the candidates and distinguish constructive policies from dross. Sometimes they're even entertaining. What I hadn't realised was how effective they are for bringing all of the mad people (candidates and audience) out of the woodwork. Let a candidate speak for long enough, and one is left with no illusion about their suitability for office.

It all began well with quick intros from all candidates in which we learned that Tory Glyn Chambers has, as an Oxbridge economist, "skills and intelligence" to keep the country running. That as well as a track record locally for being a school governor gives him a passion for education. Additionally, he has "a record" through some kind of local campaigning to "keep Clapham Swimming", which he admitted "didn't happen". Oh dear.

Jeremy Drinkall, the anti-capitalist up next. He wanted to talk about his door stepping. Two of his party's policies are apparently very popular locally; to nationalise the banks and bring the troops back to the UK. On his tails was the green Joseph Healey, a local disability activist, but also an historian. He doesn't want us to make the mistakes of history all over again. He would also stop the war and spend money on the NHS.

Labour's reliable old hand Kate Hoey must be a bit tired of attending hustings. She launched into a "standing on my record" routine. She wanted to be known to have helped locally and made it known that the Vauxhall constituency has a high caseload, particularly re. immigration cases. She also wanted to stand on her record as somebody who gets things done and helps get peoples' voices across. Slight lack of substance I felt. But she wanted to stress that she's honest, and independent. Possibly a bit too independent for some, but more of that later...

Jim Kapetanos was quite frank about being a protest candidate, and made clear that his main role would be to speak up for the voiceless and for animals. If Kate Hoey were to resign her position (as MP or Countryside Alliance person, it wasn't clear), he suggests that he wouldn't be standing.

Daniel Lambert is a very very old style socialist who advised that people should not vote for him if they wouldn't shoulder the responsibility of so-doing. He wants "a society where the industrial resources of the our planet are the heritage of all". Quite a bit of waffle. Rather short on fact.

Many of the candidates were quite clear about how they didn't originally come from London. Lib Dem's Caroline Pidgeon decided to capitalise on the fact that she has lived in South East London for 16 years and proclaimed "a strong track record" in Southwark (which rather leaves Lambeth wide open!). She also mentioned that she had taken up many Vauxhall transport issues in her Assembly role, and had tried to save post offices, and had been trying to save SLAM and wanted to clean up politics... Phew. A lot to cram into an opening speech.

Our ex-DJ vicar host for the evening had also decided to throw in a question about where the candidates got their "moral compass" from. This led to lots of piffling about rural northern Ireland and Christian upbringings (though nobody mentioned any actual, you know, church attendance or practice). The alternative secular equivalent was socialism and vague notions of preventing exploitation of the defenceless. The best answer moral compass answer came from Joseph Healy who was actually able to name his heroes... St Francis, William Morris and Thomas Paine, and then provide some fabulous quotes! I particularly liked the way that he used St Francis as an anti-establishment character; it demonstrated some thought on his part.

Having got the tedious bit out of the way, we were able to move on to audience questions. My one criticism would have to be the chairing at this point. Whilst hustings are a time to hear the views of the candidates, and all candidates have a right to speak freely, it does not seem to me that everybody needs to be given the same access to the platform. There were some questions that really only needed to be put to one or two candidates. Some of the candidates utterly failed to self-censor, and so we were left listening to the lunatic fringes when it might have been better to actually quiz Kate Hoey on what she has been doing for Vauxhall over the last 5 years, or Caroline Pidgeon on the mansion tax or Healy on economic policy. It is not necessary to hear from every candidate on every question, and time would better have been spent taking more questions from the floor.

We had questions on whether David Cameron was fair in his assessment of "broken Britain", on the triangle playground, on the state of education, on the environment, on whether capitalism was a workable system and on representation of the gay community,

Healy thinks broken Britain was caused by David Cameron, and our schools are in a terrible state! Hoey doesn't accept that everything is broken in Vauxhall, and made the excellent point that people do actually work together locally, be they rich or poor. We can only hope she's right, or these co-operative style local governments aren't going to get off the ground. Hoey then started off the housing theme for the evening, and made the point that Labour has not focused enough nationally on housing. Caroline focused on gang culture. Glyn Chambers perhaps uttered the best quote of the evening when he seriously tried to compare today's crime rates with the crime rates of 100 years ago. Drinkall positively countered the broken society stuff, said that crime levels are actually going down, and welcomed further immigration. Exciting words from Lambeth politicians!

The Triangle playground was thrown into the mix as a bit of a trap for local politicians to see if they knew of its existence and issues. Hoey headed this off at the pass, and blamed the Council officers! Brilliant move... Maybe she should replace Brown on this week's Leaders' debate. Socialist Daniel Lambert utterly failed to mention the triangle in his response, and instead tried to consign capitalism to history again!

On education, Pidgeon was very keen on extra investment prior to the age of 7, and smaller class sizes. She sold the Lib Dem commitment to education. Kapetanos felt he had a platform to speak on education on the basis that "he want to school", but somehow also managed to be concerned that there might be "too big a green space in Vauxhall that Kate would have an eye on it for her hunting brigade". Hoey immediately flung back the most fantastic riposte when she commented that there are "masses of foxes in Vauxhall" and still managed to respond that we need to be proud of the achievements of local primary schools, and reinforced a commitment to church schools. A quiet evening, this was not! Healy would give academies back to the state. Drinkall wants smaller class sizes and to end academies and private schools. Glyn admitted there had been an improvement in local schools, but felt there was more work to be done re. GCSE results.

Everything had been progressing relatively smoothly to that point (except for ex-DJ vicar continually having to ask Daniel Lambert to sit down, as though he were a naughty Socialist school boy) until one audience member wanted to know whether any of the candidates thought that Jack Straw and Tony Blair should be taken to court. Ex-DJ Vicar decided to soften the question by turning it into a general question about the Iraq war. That was a slight mistake in my view, since unusual questions can be quite interesting springboards for debate. Audience member is unsurprisingly irked. Cue lots of shouting. Hoey stepped in diplomatically to re-iterate that she did not support the war. Hoey really is a genius politician because she managed to use the point to introduce Peter Tatchell and his "brave" action relating to the arrest of Mugabe in France several years ago, and thus ensure that the point about taking politicians to court was not lost. Glyn Chambers thought the war was wrong too. Phew. But then he also answered somewhat diplomatically that it's not the role of politicians to decide who is brought before court. Thank goodness the Tories still know how to keep the legislature and the judiciary separate. I was hoping Chambers might use the opportunity to object to the Terrorism Bill, but no such luck... Disaster narrowly averted.

...Until Caroline Pidgeon boldly stepped in to proclaim "it was an illegal war", which cued more shouting of, "are we going to indict Jack Straw and Tony Blair?" Ex-DJ vicar told audience member to sit down, and then to shut up! Crumbs. Not sure I can handle that much anger in one evening. I was beginning to feel a modicum of sympathy for the ex-DJ vicar on the basis that it's much easier to go off-air when on radio, but then the vicar threatened to call the police! Quite astonishing. I know it's harder than it looks to chair a debate, but still... Not a great performance.

I wasn't the only one with technology-fail, but at that point my recording device died so I turned to Twitter. We moved on to questions about the environment, but I'm afraid I started getting anxious in case nobody got a chance to question Hoey on her gay-rights record. Healy committed to renewable energy and tried to get us to think about reducing consumption. Hoey countered with her support for growing food locally. In my view, Hoey tried to score an easy point because it's hardly as though anybody /isn't/ going to support local food growth, and it's not going to have a huge impact on the environment. Glyn is unhappy things didn't work out at Copenhagen, but backs nuclear energy. Pidgeon does not back nuclear energy production, and wants to target flying (that's more like it; it's certainly more likely to reduce our carbon footprint than growing a small amount of local food).

At last, the Hoey question on gay rights pops up. Hoey appears affronted, since she has stuck her neck out on gay rights in Northern Ireland. But the question still stands. Hoey makes a clever move by retrieving Peter Tatchell from earlier conversation, and using him to make a point about free speech, and how people should not be barred from speaking their mind on certain matters. [In case anybody gets a chance to ask this question again, it's the absences that are more crucial than the voting record. I fail to understand Hoey's absence on the equality act regulations and the repeal of Section 28, and I'm not convinced that the Tatchell defence was strictly necessary.] Fortunately, Healy came to the rescue by condemning Hoey's record. Pidgeon supports the "hand-holding day" (what is this?) and is upset about B&Bs. Glyn Chambers seems to want free speech, equal LGBT access to goods and services, and freedom of expression for religious groups. Good on him, but one wonders if he might not be backing himself into the same corner as Hoey.

We're nearing the end, but there's time for a question on what the candidates think of capitalism. (This one has to be a plant. With four candidates ostensibly standing on tickets that range from pink (Hoey) to bright red (Drinkall), it really ought to be clear.) But Hoey's answer is really quite revealing of her as new-Labour, rather than old-socialist, since she says that she's just looking to "control the excesses of capitalism" on the basis that Stalinist societies won't help ordinary people! Kapetanos uses this moment to admit that he doesn't really want to be an MP! Healey thinks capitalism doesn't solve the carbon problem. And Pidgeon brings us back to policy (thank goodness) by revealing that the Lib Dems will bring in mansion tax and allow the first 10k of all income to be tax free.

Somebody slips in a brief question about domestic violence. This one should be easy, since everybody can be against it, and nobody needs to actually /do/ anything, right? But Hoey wants to ring fence money for domestic violence refuges, and help people go to court. Pidgeon mentions that she's been trying to ensure that Boris keeps promises on rape crisis centres, and calls for support of the voluntary sector. But suddenly, Daniel Lambert blames domestic violence on poverty. Whoa! Even Kapetanos manages to avoid using the opportunity to insult Hoey on fox hunting and instead argues that the roots of domestic violence are more complex...

And the evening ends with a question about what one piece of legislation each MP would seek to pass via a private members' bill. Am not convicned that all candidates knew what a private members bill was! The answers are rather shallow. Kapetanos would protect animals. Drinkall would merge all banks and form one large government bank. Lambert would abolish capitalism. Healy would introduce further taxation to pay for green jobs. Pidegon would invest in helping leaseholders across borough boundaries, and borrow money for building council housing. Chambers wants a separate vote on who gets to be Prime Minister. Hoey focuses on a bill for over-crowding and housing.

And that was that.

I was rather disappointed that the English Democrat and the Christian candidate weren't able to be present, but on the other hand, we'd never have left the venue if we'd had to hear them answer every question too.

I know there's a certain individual with an official journalistical career, who is tracking the every move that local bloggers make, but I utterly failed to notice (or meet) either @Jason_Cobb or @GarethWyn (who were both tweeting from the building) or anybody else with whom I'm supposed to be in league. That meeting will clearly have to wait!

I'm afraid I went to question Caroline Pidgeon about whether there are any Lib Dem PPC leaflets detailing her policies for Lambeth (I need this one for my collection), and she admitted sadly that the leaflets have not yet arrived from the printers. A serious case of #libDem fail!

You might want to look at the scarily similar reports of the evening from Jason and Gareth.

1 comment:

stuart said...

"The best answer moral compass answer came from Joseph Healy who was actually able to name his heroes... St Francis, William Morris and Thomas Paine, and then provide some fabulous quotes!"

Great to hear the spirit of William Morris is alive and well. If William Morris were alive today, I think it's pretty clear who he would be voting for in this election. Compare the object and principle's of William Morris's Socialist League, and the party for which Daniel Lambert is the candidate, and spot the difference.

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