So on Thursday night the Castle Dent contingent headed down the road to the St Mark’s Centre, on Princes Street, to hear the candidates for Milton ward at the local council elections set out their stalls.
In all the various places I’ve lived, this is the first time I’ve attended an election debate where I can actually vote for the participants (Not technically true: there was a hustings for the Police & Crime Commissioner elections, but given the glorified farce that they turned out to be, they don’t really count -Ed). So it was probably more exciting for me than basically anyone else.
As a little experiment, I decided I’d try and record the hustings themselves. Armed with a cheap dictaphone, I rocked up, asked permission, and set it recording. The results you can hear for yourself, but I’m pretty impressed with them.
But this blog is about the hustings themselves, not my audio-recording expertise (Pah! -Ed), so how did each of the candidates do.
Okay, so this is my opinion, and it’s obviously not unbiased. But I’m going to be as fair as I can. Like I said, the audio is recorded and there for you to listen to and make up your own mind. But for me, in the order they placed at the end of the night.
Gray Seregeant – Labour Party
“Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?”
Okay, so Gray is my friend and my own party’s candidate. But I did think that throughout the night he handled himself magnificently. He didn’t duck any questions. Even when the unpopular question of parking charges he was honest, saying that he didn’t want to see increases, but under a government that is cutting £11m from Southend annually, we have to prioritise. Protecting children’s centres, saving care homes, and keeping paid staff in libraries are achievements to be proud of, but we have to pay for them somehow. Offering undeliverable cake-for-everyone policies leads to a poisonous sort of politics, which is bound to leave residents disappointed and disillusioned with politics.
Gray also appreciated the fact that a councillor needs to be part of a team. The Labour team in Milton — Cheryl Nevin and Julian Ware-Lane — have been fantastic for the ward, showing a real drive to get things done.
Vida Mansfield – Green Party
I’m a little surprised, if I’m honest, at how impressive the Green candidate was. Vida seemed to know the area, and know the issues reasonably well for someone who was admittedly new to this whole politics lark. She came across calm, collected, and friendly.
I don’t think, however, that the presence of Simon Cross — Green Parliamentary candidate for Rochford & Southend East, and local election candidate for neighbouring Kursaal ward — in the audience helped her much. He spent entirely too much time making polemics from the audience, which might — might — have been acceptable had be been a Milton voter. As it was, Vida would have done well to tell him to shut up and sit down.
Cllr Jonathan Garston – Conservative Party
Jonathan has been a Milton councillor for some fifteen years, so in many ways you’d expect him to do well with his experience if for nothing else. But as the last Tory standing in what only a few years ago was a safe seat for them, he was clearly a little nervous. He sounded confident about his place in the ward, but when it came to policy he was almost apologetic. Particularly when it came to the Bedroom Tax, which with Milton having one of the highest percentage of renters in the borough, he had at least the good grace to look embarrassed.
It seemed to me, though, that after fifteen years as a councillor Jonathan is out of ideas; in much the same way as his Conservative colleagues in Southend.
Tammy Cooper – Independent
Tammy was the big mystery when the nominations were published. That mystery is, partially, revealed now, as she is the Independent Party Group official candidate, and Brian Ayling’s daughter. I have to say, I think it tantamount to cruelty by Cllr Ayling putting his daughter up unprepared for election like this.
Which I don’t mean as a criticism of Tammy; I thought she performed admirably despite being out of her depth. She seems nice, and genuine, but her “I’ll do whatever residents want me to do” answers had a little of the classic Independent line, which lacks any sort of leadership required for democratic representation, avoids the tough decisions and abandons the whole process to mob rule.
Maybe Tammy will be a serious contender for local office one day, but it isn’t today.
Robert Howes – Liberal Democrat
Both Garston and Cooper were, as it happened, saved from bottom place in my ranking by the bizarre performance of stalwart Lib Dem candidate Robert Howes. Robert (Bob) has stood in Milton before, and to be honest he is just flying the flag. The Lib Dems aren’t serious contenders.
Bob’s image of Southend as a daytripper town would deny it a serious revenue stream in the form of overnight tourists. But that was least of my objection to Bob’s stances. Liberal Democrats, to be fair, have been caught between being proud and ashamed of their record in government (There’s certainly more cause for the former -Ed), but Bob’s claim that this has been “The best government since the war” evoked gales of laughter from the room.
The hustings were attended by 20-30 people in total, with a large number of them not being Milton residents — and so not having a vote. I doubt this will swing the election for any candidate, and I think it will come down to hard work. In reality, Milton is a microcosm of the General Election choice; it’s going to be Labour or Tory, so you take your pick along those lines.
That is just one blogger’s opinion, mind. Other opinions are, I’m sure, available.