Morecambe and Lunesdale recently had its' first hustings of the 2015 General Election campaign. CLP chair Darren Clifford has written the following about the evening.
Morecambe and Lunesdale Hustings sees the emergence of one MP and the disappearance of another
The one and only candidates debate in Morecambe in front of an actual audience took place on Tuesday night (14th April), hosted at More Music in Morecambe, a fantastic local arts and community project that shines like a beacon in the West End.
All of the Parliamentary candidates for Morecambe and Lunesdale were invited, and the organisers made every effort to arrange a time that everyone could attend. They had obviously taken an early decision to ensure that, whatever the picture nationally, the time and the venue would be suitable for the two candidates who have a realistic chance to be the MP after May 7th (i.e. the Conservative and Labour candidates).
Another "debate" I understand has been arranged by the media, but obviously that event will neither be in front of the public nor arranged to suit all candidates, which probably says more about that media outlet and their editorial policy than they'd like to be said out loud.
So onto the debate itself: Before a capacity crowd in the aptly named "Hot House" of More Music, anticipation was running high before what promised to be a very interesting night and with 23 days to go to polling it did not disappoint.
Simon Rothwell, doing a very passable job as moderator, was more Dimbleby than Burley, and the debate benefited from it as the candidates got into their stride, well some of them at least, which I'll get on to in a minute. Simon allowed some back and forth between the candidates and the whole event was managed in a friendly and professional atmosphere.
There were questions from all subjects and all age groups, on local facilities, jobs, the environment, Trident, Immigration and many others from a crowd of engaged and passionate residents that did a great job, if it were ever needed, of reminding the candidates that this is a high stakes election and that local people are taking their choice very seriously indeed.
Green Party candidate Phil Chandler was intelligent and articulate, while being a bit of a stereotypical green; white, middle class, intellectual and employed at the University. But he put on a good show in spite of the obvious drawback of knowing that he won't win many votes in a constituency where the nuclear industry and haulage firms put food on the table.
One overarching theme for the night was a palpable sense of frustration, anger and disgust that the sitting MP, David Morris, had not seen fit to grace the event with his presence. I suspect if he hadn't been AWOL, as he has been for the last five years, he would have been challenged about the shopping list of bogus claims that he makes on his leaflets and website as well as his governments record. The organisers, as if to emphasise the collective frustration felt across the venue, simply and symbolically left a vacant chair on the edge of the stage. If ever one picture summed up David Morris' time as MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale this was it.
The responsibility on the night for answering for the government fell to the unfortunate Matt Severn of the Liberal Democrats who came across as an enthusiastic newly recruited used car salesman who was hoping like hell we'd all had a bout of collective amnesia about his party's five years in power. A record that was challenged time and again by Labour candidate Amina Lone who was clearly incensed when exposing the Lib Dem record on benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax amongst many others.
At no point during the evening would Amina let the Lib Dem off with trying to pretend his party had been innocent bystanders during their time in office and as a working class single mum, she talked with passion and authority while others only theorised. This was a tour de force from somebody who didn't just believe it, they'd lived it. And she was greeted with rounds of spontaneous applause when talking on Food banks, the environment, jobs and youth engagement.
And then came what Amina herself referred to as "the Elephant in the room" as an impassioned plea from one resident to stop demonising immigration and recognise the positive contribution of those coming to Britain was brought up. Amina said, just in case anyone hadn't noticed, that she was "off white", a disarming and clever way of talking about her proud Kashmiri heritage as well as her being proud to be an "English girl". And you know what; it was pretty obvious by then that the assembled masses didn't care where Amina was from. What they wanted was someone who was as passionate about their town as they were, and that's what they were getting.
While the green supporters in the room didn't like Amina challenging their candidate on fiscal irresponsibility and the embarrassing record of Brighton & Hove Council, nor her robust defence of the nuclear industry that provides thousands of jobs locally, they did nonetheless clearly appreciate that they had before them the only realistic chance of seeing a local MP that actually takes climate change seriously.
And the UKIP candidate? I write reluctantly, because it was such an awful performance that even referring to it makes me feel slightly guilty. Mr Ogden was from start to finish out of his depth. It wasn't that his public speaking was poor; it was his inability to form a coherent sentence. He would have probably failed any language test his party are so fond of demanding and been sent back home to try again. He clearly had no clue on either local or national issues or policies and had no real sense of his own views or values, or at least views that he could share. He's obviously just bought into the UKIP mantra of "tell people how terrible their lives are and which foreigner is to blame for it" and when he tried to distance himself from it he was rightly derided. Some people were feeling sorry for him by the end, but I couldn't given the kind of nonsense his party espouses. He did however, get credit for turning up, which is more can be said for the invisible man Morris.
At the end the UKIP candidate left as quickly as he could, swiftly followed by the Lib Dem. The Green stayed for a cup of tea; while the staff of More Music put David Morris' empty chair into a dark store cupboard, Amina Lone stayed on to chat more with constituents. If that's not an allegory for this election I don't know what is.