Thursday, 23 April 2015

At the hustings

I was kindly allowed off fatherly duties for an evening to attend the election hustings at St Clements Church in Chorlton. A few things I learnt about the candidates:

  • John Leech (unsurprisingly) and Jeff Smith (reassuringly) are both good at this game. Rob Manning (Conservative) and Mark Davies (UKIP) also put up a good front against a mainly hostile audience. Lucy Bannister (Green) was the youngest and least assured candidate but to her credit was the most willing to take on the UKIP arguments directly. Mysterious independent candidate Marcus Farmer was not on the panel. Perhaps he was gazing down malevolently from the bell tower.
  • Jeff Smith was happy to go on record saying that he would vote against his own party in order to ban fracking and cancel a Trident replacement. I don't actually agree with him on either of those issues but still I'm impressed with his independence of thought and it has addressed some of my previous doubts. Of course it was also a canny pitch that pre-neutralised John Leech's closing statement claim to be the one true rebel of the panel.
  • The Tory guy had a good command of government policy and an endless supply of facts and figures. He wisely drew our attention to policies that we might actually approve of, e.g. HS2 and Devo Manc.
  • The UKIP candidate, by contrast, was never going to get anywhere with the room and his anti-politics schtick didn't sell. When he did make pertinent points - such as that the EU single market enables the likes of Amazon to minimise their tax exposure in relation to a question about corporate tax dodging - they were ignored. I'd rather they were challenged properly as only the Green candidate really attempted (on immigration).
  • The audience were more than a touch self-righteous en masse, loudly applauding the question about corporate tax then taking offence when John Leech rather bravely (in the Sir Humphrey sense) pointed out that individual action was important and we were essentially hypocrites for continuing to shop at Amazon and drinking coffee at Starbucks, unlike him. I'm tempted to vote for him solely for that bit of crowd-baiting.
  • On the other hand the best zinger came from the audience when Davies asserted that we needed to raise defence spending to deal with Putin, and when his aircraft were buzzing the North Sea we were reduced to relying on French and Dutch radar to detect them at all. "Just as well we're in the EU then," someone shouted.
  • Having more or less convinced me to vote Labour, Smith went down in my estimation at the final question by declaring his support for the first past the post voting system. Dammit, why can't you reserve your principled stands for the nerdier issues of the day? Leech went on the attack over Manchester's one party state - now where have I heard that line before - which does certainly illustrate how undemocratic FPTP is.
  • Overall Leech played a straight bat on a sticky wicket, but if the hustings crowd is in any way representative of the electorate, he's unlikely to #makeit15.

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