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.  


Unknown said...

Excellent write-up and your lovely clapometer should be at all the TV political debates :o)

Raven said...

Thank you! Some gallows humour in an otherwise pretty grim scenario...