Wednesday 27 November 2019

Eltham's General Election 2019 Hustings

Brexit and the NHS dominated the debate at the election hustings which took place last night with all five candidates for the Eltham constituency in the 12 December General Election. 

One of Greater London's 73 constituencies, Eltham has been tipped as one to watch because Labour's Clive Efford has managed to survive various challenges since first being elected in 1997 despite often tipping into marginal territory. This time he's defending a 6,296 majority but in a 'full-fat' constituency - ie. all variables are present: we have a Labour Remain-supporter in a just-about-Leave-voting constituency with all five top English parties standing.

(The Chair pointed out the few typos in candidate names...)

It was a packed audience for the 7.30pm start at St Mary’s Community Centre, Eltham High Street where the temperature rose - both literally and metaphorically - as the evening wore on. The event was organised and chaired by volunteers at Keep our NHS Public Greenwich (KONP).

Each candidate was firstly invited to make a short opening statement. Then three questions at a time were invited from the audience which each candidate addressed, before we heard the next three questions, and so on. It was a good structure for the evening despite the occasional audience member wanting to butt into the structure. However, despite the feisty and engaged audience and thanks to the chairing and candidates, it was a generally even-tempered event.

Left to right: 
Panel Chair from KONP (standing). 
Seated Candidates: Conservative - Louie French;  Brexit Party - Steve Kelleher; Greens - Matt Stratford; Lib Dem - Charley Hasted; Labour - Clive Efford

Here’s my take-aways from the opening statements, in the order delivered – I’ve also included mine and my daughter’s ‘Clapometer’ rating ‘out of 5’ for each statement (of course totally subjective), though this may more accurately be a measure of whose supporters had the largest/loudest/clappiest hands:

Lib Dem - Charley Hasted: An ambulance worker and carer (who hot-footed off to a shift towards the evening’s end). Spoke about policies to improve the NHS e.g. extending prescriptions for chronic conditions and also the Lib Dem policy of 1p on income tax ring-fenced for the NHS.
Clapometer: 2/5 (to be fair, I think the audience were still deciding whether they were going to clap everyone…)

Greens - Matt Stratford: Works in publishing. Spoke about improving pay and retention in the NHS, repealing the 2012 Health and Social Care Act and the need to improve society holistically.
Clapometer: 4/5  (yes, let’s clap everyone)

Brexit Party - Steve Kelleher: A headhunter in recruitment. Opened with leaving the EU and then on to the NHS – supported no more privatisation, having a vocational route into nursing and keeping politics out of the NHS.
Clapometer: 5/5  (oh, we’re really going to clap now) 

Conservative- Louie French: Works in finance in the City. Spoke about transport and commuting out of Eltham, keeping Eltham police station and stopping crime. He wanted to “get Brexit done” of course and wanted to “dethrone Clive” (the incumbent MP) addressing him directly about the Labour party leadership.
Clapometer: 4.5/5 (well, compared to the previous enthusiastic clapping)

Labour - Clive Efford:  Unless there is fundamental change we cannot address cuts in public services, social care, police and improve the environment. Understand the anger and inequality which led to the Brexit result, need fundamental change to address this. Years of austerity need to be reversed e.g. in health, infrastructure etc. to catch up with other countries.
Clapometer: 5/5  (evenly spread, and strong)

Question/topics from the audience included:
-        - Addressing hardship arising from the 2017 Loan Charge Act.
-        - How can the EU Ref result can be valid when voters didn’t have enough/the right info?
-        - Should MPs vote according to their party, their constituents or their own conscience?
-        - Proportional Representation was needed for ‘real democracy’
-        - Priorities for the Eltham constituency?
-        - How to address the NHS funding crisis
-        - Lamented the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 which introduced an internal market to the NHS and pitted providers against purchasers.
-        - Which parts of your party manifesto are you willing to oppose?
-        - Improvements to services for young people

There was some touching on local issues e.g. on improving transports links, but Brexit and the NHS dominated.  There was vocal audience support for major improvements needed in the NHS but also for each side of the argument in the big debates – e.g. for Brexit vs. for another referendum, reflecting the split in the constituency.  On party attacks, the Tory candidate goaded Labour over its leader, while the Brexit Party candidate pointed to neither major party really wanting to getting Brexit done.

I’m not sure anyone changed their mind as a result of the evening but they got a good measure of the candidates.  

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Splitters, Remainers, Leavers and Brexit fatigue: All eyes on Eltham

A confluence of unique events has brought us a snap winter election to take place on 12 December 2019. Since the 2019 election was declared at the end of October political parties have been going hard promising to fix health, education and social care, amongst other things, but in truth for many the election is all about the very issue which bought us to this point: Brexit.

The maelstrom of Brexit has been driving us out of our minds since the EU Referendum result on 23 June 2016 (Leave 17,410,742 (51.89%); Remain 16,141,241 (48.11%). We’re now coming up to our second general election and we’re on our third PM and Tory leader.  We’ve also seen the effective demise of UKIP, many Tory and Labour MPs either leave politics or switch parties and the formation of two new parties, the Brexit Party and Change UK.

For the 2019 GE various alliances have been formed and ‘step-asides’ declared – for example the ‘Remain Alliance’ and the Brexit Party not opposing Tory seats.

Despite all this there seems little enthusiasm for this election. Only 74 per cent of those aged 25-34 are correctly registered, falling to 68 per cent among those aged 20-24 and 66 per cent among those aged 18-19. Meanwhile, registration rates are significantly higher for those aged 65 and over, at 94 per cent, according to the Electoral Commission this week. It urges young people to sign up before the registration deadline on 26 November.

Last week candidates for the general election on 12 December 2019 for the Eltham constituency were declared by Royal Greenwich as follows:

Eltham is going to be one to watch because it’s a Leave-voting London constituency (est. Leave 51.8%; Remain 48.2%), with a Labour Remain-supporting MP, but one with no alliances and no ‘stepping aside’.  This means that the Labour candidate, local man Clive Efford, returned as MP each election since 1997, is having to defend his 6,296 majority from 2017 in the face of potential right/left and Remain/Leave splits.

There is also that worn-out group of voters now suffering from total Brexit fatigue, whatever their starting position – they may just want to ‘get it done’ (though, of course, continuing negotiations/arrangements mean it will be far from over…).

The 2017 Eltham general election had only four candidates with the following result:

Variations for Eltham between the 2017 GE and the 2019 GE choices include:

● No UKIP candidate in 2017 (when Labour appeared to mop up those votes) but for 2019 we have a Brexit Party candidate. In the 2015 GE, UKIP managed to attract a whopping 6,481 votes. Will the Brexit Party attract these votes and how many will they take-away from the Tories, or other parties?

● The Greens had stepped aside in 2017 (in the 2015 GE they won 1,275 votes). It is expected this time they will attract more of the centre-left/Remain vote  – where will their votes take-away from?

● the BNP managed to attract 738 votes in 2017 – absent this time, their small deposit-losing number but could be useful, presumably to the Brexit Party.

Only two candidates (Labour’s Clive Efford and the Green’s Matt Stratford) live in the Eltham constituency, the former for decades. The Tory’s Louie French has been a local councillor in neighbouring Bexley while the Brexit Party’s Steve Kelleher and the Lib Dem’s Charley Hasted hail from other parts of London.

Find out more about Eltham’s candidates:

Labour - Clive Efford:            Website  Twitter
Conservative- Louie French:  Website  Twitter
Lib Dem - Charley Hasted:     Website  Twitter
Brexit Party - Steve Kelleher: Website  Twitter
Greens - Matt Stratford:          Website  Twitter

If you want to vote in the general election on 12 December you need to register before midnight on Tuesday 26 November.  Find out how to register to vote.