Report on the general election hustings from Jerome Turner:
Hustings took place in the packed Northfield Methodist Church, with Steven Haynes (Liberal Democrats), Keith Rowe (UKIP), Rachel Maclean replaced by Randall Brew as she had to attend a family funeral (Conservatives), Richard Burden (Labour) and Anna Masters (Green).
The event was very fairly chaired by Father Jan Nowotnik, parish priest of St. Brigid’s Parish, starting with three minute statements from each candidate. Labour were well received (Richard is the current MPseeking re-election); Conservatives spoke about their achievements since the recession, with the blame squared at Labour; Lib Dems asked us to “look forward, rather than looking backwards at history with rose tinted spectacles”; UKIP suggested “you can have something different”, with criticism of the $55 million spent daily “just to be a member of the EU” (although this was challenged on Twitter, where people from the event and beyond added to the discussions); the Green candidate expressed concerns about local poverty, foodbanks, extolling “equality, and quality of life.”
A format then followed of questions put to the candidates for them to answer in random order – these questions had been been pre-submitted from attendees and then selected to be put forward. The first addressed concerns about parking outside Northfield station and Royal Orthopaedic Hospital. UKIP commented that “Charging on parking at hospitals is a tax on the sick”, and this was well received. Lib Dem urged for better consultation on communities when planning new parking facilities. Labour were the first to mention that provision of cycle lanes might help problems, with Greens unsurprisingly following with similar comments, with an aim to reduce the number of cars on the roads and encourage cycling and better public transport where possible. Attendee comments suggested that “public transport should be better improved and be more regular.
Question two asked (but in a bit more detail) if a coalition government is a good thing or a bad one. Greens admitted to not having a strong response. Labour suggested either way can work in theory, but “it hasn’t worked in the last five years” and UKIP were also critical of the current effort. Conservatives said they would “pick up the hand that the electorate deals”, so didn’t rule it out. Lib Dems said “unsurprisingly coalitions are a good thing” because it lets minority parties have voice.
Question three asked if they would support a referendum on whether UK should leave the EU, and the answers were largely short but sweet. Lib Dems said they would, as did UKIP(“Next week is fine by me!”). Greens perhaps surprisingly also said yes, but followed this with, “Yes to EU reform. Yes to staying in the EU.” Labour told us “our future lies in Europe”, amid concerns that uncertainty on this issue in government puts off foreign investors, while Conservatives were unclear in their answer.
Question four dealt with local concerns of vulnerable people in Northfield, and minimum wage. Lib Dems suggested reducing cost of living (e.g. affordable housing) rather than the “sticking plaster” solution of increasing minimum wage. Both UKIP and Labour expressed concerns over food banks and homelessness. Conservatives drew groans from the audience when they suggested that many “people who use foodbanks have difficulty managing their finances and have difficulty with cooking skills.” Greens suggested better support of small, local businesses, and retrofitting of insulation for deprived homes, as well as supporting a “free, early childcare” initiative to support parent workers.
Question five was a pretty binary affair: Do you support the UK Trident missile programme? Green, Labour and Lib Dem said no; UKIP and Conservatives said yes.
Some final comments addressed whether it’s viable that residents should have cuts to housing benefits, with UKIP, Labour and Greens all saying they would scrap bedroom tax. Another resident of Kings Norton says he was “horrified” at the recent news of Conservative plans to allow the sale of social housing.