So it is out of my system – another hustings has come, been safely negotiated and gone. Thanks go to Steve Dalley who helped me to organize this (and was an effective chair) and Rose Arris, the manager of the Cluny Square café where the hustings were held, for hosting the event and providing cups of tea, and to Ian our intrepid time keeper for the night. Finally, thanks goes to the four candidates that took part, acquitting themselves well: Trevor Harp, Jason Pilley, Ian Pope and James Vessey-Miller. The remaining two candidates, Chris Arnold and Harry Mason, politely declined the invitation to participate and people can read into this what they will.
For many, hustings are anachronism, harping back to a bygone age and not something that captures the imagination of the electorate at large. And here’s the crunch – I probably know more about local politics than most but until recently, with the exception of Jason, I knew almost zilch concerning the other candidates and had little to go on as to their worthiness to represent me and other residents in the ward in Southend Council, other than their party affiliation, which in my case meant little anyway. Of the 19 people attending the event (including the candidates) I could count the number of non-aligned St. Luke’s residents on the fingers of one hand. It is a sad reflection of our times that there is such monumental voter apathy, and this is the one thing that disappointed me about the event.
But the event went well. Although as organizer, I might be expected to say that, checking out what others said I am pretty sure a neutral fly on the wall would have concluded similarly. The hustings followed tried and trusted lines, with each candidate making opening and closing statements. In our case fourteen questions were asked on a variety of ward related issues (a mix of pre-prepared and asked on the night), with the order of answering being rotated. Given each candidate was allowed only one minute to answer the question (with our timekeeper calling time to prevent overrun), it was a remarkable achievement that sensible answers were for the most part provided. There was a lot of consensus but enough differences for the discerning to judge who they might vote for.
I was one, at least, that was able to come to a view of who I would vote for, but without someone twisting my arm I am not going to say before the day, realizing when I do it is usually the kiss of death. I felt Ian was the least impressive when it came to his own personal response to the ward specific issues that were presented but the most in effective in stating his Party’s policy on the matters relating and convincing in diligently carrying these out. Trevor, true to his Independent label, was the most impressive when it came to thinking the issues through in an intelligent, non partisan way (for example, I liked his grasp on what is needed regarding health in the ward and not falling into the trap that he would not support further Fossett farm development) and giving me a sense that if he were elected he would nicely complement and work with the existing two ward “Independents” when it comes to addressing the needs and concerns of local residents. Intelligence is something I would ascribe to the remaining two, more youthful, candidates. I was impressed with James and his energy and commitment to community engagement. He clearly had to his credit given many of the issues a lot of thought although possible lacked a little in pragmatism and for this old skeptic would need to do more to convince me progressive politics is the way to go. Then comes the enigmatic Jason, who I would rather not take digs at opponents on social media. He proudly made the point of coming out with the most cogent rebuttal of the Fossets farm development and appeared to have persuaded his opponents on the matter. Whether cannabis cafes would work, I am less sure, but at least he made us think and offered many good ideas.
All in all a good night and while disappointed with the turnout I was glad to have invested time organizing the event. The big question for me that urgently needs answering is regarding the future of local democracy and the unrealized potential of community’s pulling together. Two poignant examples stood out. The first concerning the St. Lukes Centre, that does so much for the community, which none of the candidates were even aware of. The other was something the lovely Rose mentioned concerning the fact that nothing similar had taken place in her ward. As I recall the digs made by some of the candidates concerning the smugness and out of touchness of the town’s Conservative councillors to what people want / need, I am inclined to concur and lament that we the people have allowed this to happen (and this is me speaking as a closet Conservative) and, sadly, as a result, we as a town will end up with the councillors we deserve, regardless of who is best. I would like to think that by holding the hustings we have demonstrated it need not be like that and that we all can work together for the betterment of the town.