Lewisham Deptford Hustings, Utrophia, 17 April

In general

So we ended up with the hall at Utrophia being about as full as it could comfortably be–maybe 100 or so out of an electorate of about 60,000.

All of the candidates seemed perfectly reasonable–and indeed serious people of good will–when you saw them in person.  I was impressed by Joan Ruddock (Labour) as a  master of the English language (not so evident from her campaign literature), and to me the main dynamic of the evening was Gemma Townsend (Conservative) delegating to her the task of explaining that the world is not as the Impossibilist Parties would wish.

In spite of some fairly strenuous efforts, I don’t think anyone managed to land anything on JR, while GT was left in a sticky spot when a questioner suggested David Cameron should disown the racist anti-immigration diatribes of his media partner the Sun.

There are a couple of nice photographs on Deptford calling here.  As she rightly says, neither the audience nor the candidates were exactly representative of the people you would see on the streets outside.  By far the largest contingent (including most of the candidates) were superannuated white lefties, followed by a much smaller group of well-turned-out young (white) women, represented on the platform by Gemma Townsend.

I think the best chance for some community engagement  might be if the local churches organised an event, like the General Election Forum in Lewisham West (to be held at 7.30 pm on Thursday 29 April at Living Springs International Church, Zoe House, 8-10 Devonshire Road, London SE23 3TJ).

And now there’s a further report from Crosswhatfields here.

I wasn’t as bored as either of these commentators–I found the fact that none of the candidates had a good word to say about Lewisham Council (remembering that JR represents the party that runs it, and Darren Johnson and Ian Page serve on it) rather interesting.  I think there was some desire to see Joan Ruddock given a detailed grilling, with an incidental kicking to Gemma Townsend for being a Tory, but that’s not really possible in a 5-person hustings, even if the questioners were to ask focused questions and not try to make speeches.

On the basis of competence then, from the evidence of these hustings I would certainly want Joan Ruddock to represent me in Parliament, and someone other than Labour to run Lewisham Council.

The following is what I have the candidates recorded as saying.

Opening statements

JR started by saying that the Government had been transforming the economy until hit by the world recession.  It was vital to continue the recovery, and also to maintain policing to tackle crime–a local priority.  She was happy to stand on the Government’s record and future promises.  She also asked how many of those present had yet to decide which way to vote and was presently surprised to see about half raising their hands.

GT said the priority was to get the economy moving and cut the deficit.  This meant getting people employed by cutting NI and CT.  A Conservative Government would be family-focused, and would ensure that the NHS worked for patients.

Ian Page (Trade Union & Socialist) said it was the fault of the bankers, but now the parties were contending to see who would cut public spending the most.

Darren Johnson (Green Party) said he was glad to see so many people at the hustings, this showed it was no longer a safe Labour seat.  There needed to be an urgent programme to tackle climate change and create a million new jobs, rather than wasting money on Trident.

Tamora Langley (Lib Dem) said that the Lib Dems supported Power 2010 and No2ID.  There needed to be political reform to restore trust in Government.  Labour had become complacent after 40 years in charge of Lewisham.

Questions

In response to a portmanteau question on Youth Offending Teams and youth homelessness:

IP said that homelessness was due to underfunding of social housing and the Probation Service had been destroyed by cuts and marketisation.  GT said that in spite of being qualified and experienced, she had received no response when she volunteered to work with the local YOT.  Homelessness was key in the Conservative manifesto and would have its own ministerial position.  A Conservative Government would incentivise the building of social housing.  JR said that the Tories had forbidden the building of social housing for 18 years, while Labour had funded HAs.  Lewisham had chosen not to build even though funds were available.  She agreed the YO suite could be better.  The Govt had inherited a huge problem of homelessness, but provision had been made.  TL said the Government had clawed back housing money from Lewisham Council because of poor performance.  On youth offending, she felt it was important to provide appropriate support and keep them out of the CJS.  DJ said that there was less social housing than 10 years ago, due to right-to-buy.  RTB was a bad thing.  Youth offending services needed reform, and also, in general, the more unequal a society was the more crime and ill-health there would be.

In response to a question (clearly springing from the expenses scandal) about how the candidates could show that they would represent the community rather than furthering their own interests:

TL spoke in favour of electoral reform, and being able to sack your MP.  MPs should not make money out of the system.  DJ said his expenses as councillor and London Assembly member were transparent and modest.  This scandal should be the catalyst for getting rid of an unrepresentative first-past-the-post Parliament and for getting an elected second chamber as well.  GT said she lived in the area and had stood for the Council.  You needed to be able to sack your MP, and a constituency-based system was necessary for accountability.  There should be transparency about what exactly public money was spent on.  JR said nobody in Parliament should have a second job.  None of her expenses had been questioned, and she and other innocent MPs had been severely disheartened by the revelations.   You couldn’t have only rich people being MPs.  The Government had put an impartial system in place.  Labour was the only party in Parliament that came near to representing the population in terms of gender and ethnicity.  IP felt that MPs should live on an ordinary working wage, so they knew how their decisions affected ordinary people.

In response to a question on immigration:

GT said it was important not to shy away from discussion.  We should allow immigration in cases of urgent need, and where highly-skilled immigrants could contribute to our economy.  David Cameron was right to say there should be a cap, and immigrants must integrate by for example learning English.  She had backed the London Assembly proposal for an amnesty, and felt it was necessary to speed up the asylum process.  IP was in favour of workers moving freely across boundaries, supported by a levelling-up of wages and conditions.  Some of Margaret Hodge’s statements in Barking had been helpful to the BNP.  TL felt that immigration was an important subject–she often met electors who were concerned at for instance council houses going to immigrants, while there was a lack of political will to tackle the subject and ‘asylum seeker’ was used as a term of abuse.  Illegal immigrants should be given the chance to earn citizenship; children should no longer be held in detention centres; there should be a cap on new immigrants.  DJ had supported an amnesty in the London Assembly and felt we couldn’t deport people to places where they were going to be killed.  People weren’t coming here because they wanted to be on the Lewisham housing list [laughter], and migration was often caused by environmental degradation consequent upon climate change.  JR said she had seen thousands and thousands of  ‘illegals’ in her surgeries and there had in effect been two amnesties in the past decade.  There were vast numbers of them in Lewisham.  Britain was one of the best countries in the world for people coming in under duress.  The Government’s policy was to introduce a points system because we couldn’t let everyone come here who wanted to.

There was some discussion here, which resulted in agreement that the word ‘illegals’ shouldn’t be used to refer to human beings, and the Sun’s contribution to the debate was entirely unhelpful.

There was also a  supplementary question about the new tiered system for student visas being inherently racist and representing a double whammy when combined with HE cuts.  JR replied that unfortunately there was widespread abuse of the student visa system in some countries (for instance, Pakistan) and the system needed to be cleaned up.

In response to a question that came down to what to do about peak oil :

DJ agreed it was a good question, and said we needed to invest in a greener way forward.  JR said that the aviation industry could not be dealt with by one country alone, and Britain led the world in dealing with it.  It was senseless to burn oil when it would always be needed for chemical purposes.  Britain was a leader in reducing emissions–down by 21% as against a 1979 baseline.  TL agreed with DJ and disagreed with JR.  The Government had not backed a Lib Dem bill on fuel poverty and there should be a tax per plane not per passenger.  There was no investment in AT.  Nuclear was not the answer to carbon emissions.  IP said that their pamphlet explained how the problem would be tackled by creating one million sustainable jobs; a socialist planned economy was needed.  The closure of the Vesta plant demonstrated the failure of capitalism.  GT quoted David Cameron:  ‘Vote blue, go green’–DJ felt the middle two words were unnecessary–the  Conservatives had put green policies at the head of their priorities: limiting power station emissions; cutting emissions from the Government sector; encouraging people to take action themselves via a ‘Green Deal’; recycling.

And, after an hour-and-a-half of action, this is where proceedings came to an end, following brief presentations from Power 2010 and No2ID.

Disclosure

30 years ago the author was a member of the Labour Party in the then Cleveland and Whitby constituency (where our candidate was Ben Pimlott, who later became Warden of Goldsmiths College).  Goldsmiths appear as a sponsor of  Vote Match, which tells me my best match is the Green Party (Green 70%, Lib Dem 60%, Labour 56%).

Comment

As of 2123 on 19 April, Electoral Calculus gives Labour a 92.3% chance of winning Lewisham Deptford (and MIN 0.0%), which doesn’t quite agree with Darren Johnson’s views above.

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4 Responses to “Lewisham Deptford Hustings, Utrophia, 17 April”

  1. Partially Full Red Jacket – Deptford/Lewisham Hustings 17/04/2010 » Deptford calling… visions of Britain from below Says:

    […] Notes of an idealist […]

  2. Sue Says:

    Thanks, Idealist, for writing this. I did take notes but thought our blog an inappropriate place to record what would be a rather long transcript, so I’ll point people to here as a postscript. I did regret not quoting Ian Page properly.

    I have to slightly disagree with your conclusion about Joan, however. I too, am always impressed by her, but I have to remember that although she is very charming and reasonable and always appears to be abreast of local concerns, she is also a cabinet minister and as such isn’t in a position to represent us as well as she might, despite the best efforts of her lovely assistants. She was reluctant to take on our problems with Lewisham Homes (although she was of some assistance) but she wouldn’t take on the issues at government level and she has allowed Lewisham executives to fob us off disgracefully, leaving us to continue the fight alone. The Lib Dems, however, took the issues on locally at least, on behalf of other parts of the borough.

    As Deptford Visions pointed out, New Labour took us to war, and went back on a lot of their 1997 manifesto (student fees and the 10p taxband particularly grate)….Still, now that the two main parties are fighting back new Lib Dem popularity with threats of a hung parliament (again), a tactical vote may still be required. Hey ho.

    • notesofanidealist Says:

      Sue,

      As you rightly suggest, Iraq was certainly this country’s lowest point since Suez, if not Munich, and a complete disgrace in every respect.

      To me the local issues you are concerned about sound as though they belong to the Council or Mayor rather than the MP–but you obviously know a great deal about them and I know very little. I suppose I *am* unreasonably impressed by someone who can use the English language with precision and subtlety, but that’s me and I’m not going to change now…

      Anyway, thanks for your very thoughtful and helpful comment!

  3. Sue Says:

    Hi Idealist, no, I don’t know a great deal. I also don’t know anyone who likes the present Lewisham executive, including, apparently, our own local ‘Labour’ councillors, who also say they don’t get on with JR…! And there was me thinking they all stuck together…

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