The night before last I attended the Southend West hustings and gave my report (see here). Last night it was the turn of Rochford and Southend East, which I also found to be an informative, worthwhile and enjoyable occasion but quite different in several aspects to the one I attended the previous night in the West.
The big, obvious difference was the main candidate, here it was sitting MP, James Duddridge, was not there. He had been invited but he declined to attend. That of course is his right and he may have had good reasons other than what he gave (and the time before) i.e. he had other commitments, giving me good reasons too NOT to vote for Mr Duddridge. I operate a three strikes and you are out policy. He turned down a similar invitation to participate in a hustings in 2017. I know that because I helped organize it and we offered alternative dates and assurances of strict neutrality etc. Last month, I learned he turned down an invite to participate in a critical community meeting about the Fossetts Farm housing development. His unwillingness to engage in this way shows a contempt for the people he is meant and wants to be elected to serve and, despite being closer politically to me than his rivals, he won’t get my vote.
As it happened, just two of the five candidates were in attendance, Ashley Dalton (Labour) and Keith Miller (Liberal Democrat). The chair was Matt King (CEO of Trust Links and chair of the Milton Community Partnership) and great credit goes to MCP for putting this event on, despite the disappointment of the main candidate missing. There was a lot less attending compared with West (I reckon around 50) and again more progressive leaning and as I was to find out later more toward the Remain side of whether or not and how we leave the EU. They did offer coffee and donuts at the start though, which was much appreciated, and there was more atmosphere. The chairing was more relaxed and invariably courteous, helped by an intimate setting, and there was no time restriction on answers to questions and follow ups to answers were allowed. Unlike with West, there was more allowance made to participation by the audience, but this was double edged. I found it was disruptive (we were there after all to hear from the candidates) but on the other hand it did help to draw out important points. Unlike West, no audio recording was allowed, because the LibDems objected on Data Protection grounds – which is a pity!
As with the West hustings, the candidates were invited to set their pitch at the start followed by pre-prepared questions asked from the floor and then allowing the audience to ask questions at will. My take, broadly, was that both candidates kept to script and KM especially so, basing their answers on their respective parties manifestos. AD had the big advantage of being able to relate her answers to the local scene and her involvement with local campaigns. This was particularly noticeable when a question was asked about Shoebury being treated as the poor relation when it comes to resourcing the town. I liked the way she related her campaigning to saving Shoebury’s ambulance station. The fieriest question was to do with raising the pension age for women with those who felt this was an injustice having much to say. Not that AD disagreed. She pointed to Labour’s pledge to compensate those who had lost out, although KM made what I saw as a valid point regarding how this was to be funded. My question on reducing rough sleeping was well answered by AD. Brexit came up toward the end and candidates stuck to script although I was more impressed with KM’s answer; AD argued, in my view wrongly, for a second referendum offering a choice between two forms of remain. The last question was a pointed one for reasons I will get to, asking KM to stand down in order to give AD a clear crack of the whip when it comes to unseating the dastardly Tory MP. AD gave a diplomatic response and KM argued why should he in a democracy and noting Labour had rejected Lib Dems offer of a non-aggression pact.
Not having James Duddridge present was a big miss as it could have provided a much needed balance. As for who came out best in the evening, it was definitely Ashley. Keith was no match and was frankly disappointing, although he did make some good points despite communicating not being his special forte. Sadly, it appeared he could only answer questions with respect to the Lib Dem manifesto and showed pitiful knowledge of the local scene. Ashley, on the other hand, made her points well, based on local knowledge and years of experience as a local community activist. She offered many good ideas which I happen to agree with and demonstrated a good grasp of social justice issues. Her drawback, besides Brexit, was she is a member of a party led by someone who I believe will be disastrous for the country, and a party with some wacky ideas, like the Green New deal, that makes me skeptical, not least because it doesn’t address the issues that people care about like the economy and security (not questions raised on the night) and most importantly how these good ideas are to be funded.
Given my earlier statement regarding Mr Duddridge, and the likely possibility that if I were to put him and Ashley side by side on issues I care about he would score higher, and my belief despite these afore-mentioned drawbacks Ashley would make a fantastic MP, the question is begged who I’ll vote for, in what almost certainly will come down to a two horse race? For the answer – WATCH THIS SPACE. It was as I say an enjoyable evening and it was nice to catch up with some old friends. While 50 of mainly activist type folk was a low turnout, it was an occasion worth attending. I congratulate Milton Community Partnership for arranging this fantastic event.