In a few short weeks Britain takes to the polls for the 2015 General Election. When I was growing up I was always intrigued by politics, and in my final year of Secondary School I was the school representative for the council district assembly. The constituency is a very safe Labour seat, so election campaigns were pretty muted – it was always a given that Labour would win the seat.
At the last general election I was living in Bury, and the seat had been held by David Chaytor who was the first MP to be sentenced under the expenses scandal. The seat was a swing seat anyway, and ever more so following this. It was contested quite heavily by BNP, Labour and Conservatives as well as a huge array of independents and more obscure parties. In the end it was won by the Conservative Candidate, David Nuttall with a 5% majority.
Fast forward to 2015 and I now fall under Hazel Grove. The current Lib Dem MP (Sir Andrew Stunnell) is retiring so the seat is up for grabs… and this is where it starts to get interesting.
There are five declared candidates, Labour, Conservative, Libdem, UKIP and Green Party. I have had a mountain of stuff from the Lib Dems who are VERY keen to keep the seat. I have then had a fair amount from the Tory candidate and one from Labour (although the Labour candidate does send out a weekly email bulletin).
Last night I attended a Hustings event and it was brilliant. I am pretty sure who will win my vote on May 7th, but it was really interesting to get an insight into these five people, an insight into what makes them want to stand to be an MP. It was also a chance to start to get beyond the nonsense (and it is nonsense) that is written on the many, many campaign leaflets.
The event was chaired by the Bishop of Carlisle and the audience posed a series of questions. Each Candidate was invited to speak for around two minutes introducing themselves and their party. They each then had around two minutes to answer the questions posed. At the end they were each asked to say, in once sentence, why we should vote for them.
I went in knowing very little about the candidates and my opinions of them changed vastly after the event….
Lib Dem Candidate – Lisa Smart – I have been really angered by the campaign Smart has taken so far – its so negative and every single leaflet I have had simply states that Labour and UKIP ‘can’t win here’ and a vote for her keeps the Tories out (although the Libdems are already planning for a coalition!). However despite all my misgivings and desperate desire to dislike her, I actually think she did quite well last night. She didn’t patronise people and she answered the questions (well except for one which she blatantly ignored to talk about Trident instead). However her closing line was weak. She was strong on what the Libdems want to do and had a good overview of the national issues.
She is savvy, and has a history in politics (she previously stood in London as a candidate). Their are criticisms that her campaign of being a ‘local’ choice is false (she campaigned on the same grounds in 2012). I have little issue with this; although I do take issue that in her CV that is being presented to residents of Hazel Grove there is no mention of her standing previously.
Conservative Candidate – William Wragg. – I despise the things the Tories have pushed through during their time in office (Education reforms and NHS in particular) and I have seen information from Wragg about there having been a 60% drop in unemployment in the area (which, if true, is staggering). What that figure doesn’t show however is that in the past two years a foodbank has opened (there are two in the constituency). Two weeks ago an appeal was made because the foodbank had seen a sharp rise in people seeking support. I struggle with a claim of 60% reduction in unemployment but a huge rise in those needing assistance from foodbanks.
Wragg looks to be the youngest candidate. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however when he spoke yesterday he just felt, to me, to be a little out of his depth now it’s all getting a bit serious. He was reasonably articulate but made a number of petulant comments about the Lib Dem candidate (about how she sold her London home to buy a home here). His comments were lost, I suspect, on a number of the audience members who aren’t aware of Smart’s London connection. He made some OK points on a few things but in general it all felt a bit like he was lagging behind in the expertise, knowledge and perhaps experience of Smart and Taylor.
Labour Candidate – Michael Taylor. I have followed Taylor on twitter for a long time and was surprised when he was the nominated Labour candidate. Hie background is in business journalism and he brought a real sense of energy to the event last night. He was engaging and came across as passionate about the things he was talking about. He didn’t duck the difficult questions and was very clear about his views and why that was so. He gave, I felt, the best sentence of all the candidates as to why he deserved the vote. He also seemed really clued up on the national issues, what the other parties manifestos state but also was able to articulate what this meant at a local level.
He was, for me, the most engaging candidate on the stage and he was really strong on the big national issues and seemed smart and savvy.
UKIP Candidate – Darran Palmer. I was really surprised that I found myself warming to Darran and it is a credit to him that he managed this. UKIP have, I think, been very clever in positioning themselves and it will be fascinating to see how they do at this general election. I think Palmer did well in talking about some of the other manifesto pledges that UKIP have that aren’t just immigration focused. He won’t win my vote but he gave a good account of himself last night.
Green Party Candidate – Graham Reid – I felt a bit sorry for Reid. He has only recently been selected as the candidate so has had less time to prepare in some respects. However he gave a good account of himself (despite some dismissive and rude comments from the chair of the discussion) and it will be interesting to see what the share of the votes are for the Greens.
I don’t know who will win Hazel Grove on May 7th, I suspect it will be held by the Lib Dems, but we will see. All in all last night was a fascinating insight into local politics and if you can get to a local hustings event I would really recommend it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be following the rest of the candidates campaigns with interest over the coming weeks.