I like to leave a little space between a debate and giving my thoughts on how they went.
Partly, that’s related to my attempt to more widely document such debates, by recording and publishing them. As I discussed with fellow local politics blogger John Barber recently, I think my own views and commentary should remain separate from the actual recording itself, so that people can make their own minds up.
But also, I do like to digest what I’ve witnessed, to give a more thoughtful analysis (Some may disagree on that point -Ed). To that end, getting on for five days later, let’s take a look at the Rochford & Southend East hustings on Wednesday 22nd April 2015, held at Bell Vue Baptist Church.
The first thing I’d like to say, before looking at the candidates, is how well hosted I thought it was. The candidates were mic-ed up, it was all clear and audible, and the questions were wide-ranging and challenging. The evening was, in total, attended by somewhere between 100-150 people, if I had to guess. Most even lived in the constituency, I believe.
If you haven’t had a listen yet, I implore you to do so before reading my own views. Make your own mind up.
Ian Gilbert – Labour
Ian is, to give a full declaration of interests, a friend and close colleague of mine. He is the present leader of the council, and the Deputy Leader of the council. So he was, as you’d expect, on top of the details and local situation.
I thought Ian performed brilliantly. He was clearly a little nervous to begin with, but he quickly fell into his rhythm, and managed to merge national Labour policy with what the local party is doing as part of the council administration, and the needs of the constituency.
Ian actually got the biggest round of applause, in regards to the Mediterranean drownings, where he — correctly — said:
“The idea that a rescue service may not be 100% successful is, in my opinion, no argument for not attempting it.“
In the end, I felt that Ian had the right answers for Rochford & Southend East, and when it comes right down to it is the only real alternative to James Duddridge and the Conservatives. He has a naturally calm and reserved style, but he was in control and knowledgeable throughout, exactly as an MP should be in my view. On the night, for my money, Ian came off the best, and emerged as the most convincing of the candidates.
Peter Gwizdala – Liberal Democrat
This was the first I had seen of the Liberal Democrat candidate, previously only having heard the sound of his parachute opening as the deadline for nominations rumbled closer, and read the interesting subjects of his — now deleted — blog.
He actually came across mostly fairly well. He was polished and well-presented, cleaving to the quieter end of the spectrum. In terms of policy, he wasn’t quite as evangelistic about the coalition government as their council candidate for Milton, but I got a clear sense that he was towards the right-wing end of his party. He also seemed a little poorly briefed on the local issues, which highlighted that he is the only candidate without local connection (“Carpetbagger” would seem the term, were it not for the fact that he stands no chance of winning -Ed)
In the end, really, he was hamstrung by his irrelevance. The Lib Dems have never performed well in Rochford & Southend East, and after handing power to the Conservatives for five years there’s no love left for them in the constituency. Peter tried his best, but even he seemed to know that he wasn’t really in this fight.
Simon Cross – Green Party
Simon Cross is an interesting character, with whom I have had more than a few disagreements. I respect his passion, but I do feel that sometimes it gets in the way of his point. That came across here a bit.
Simon performed much better later on in the hustings, once he had calmed down and stopped shouting. It doesn’t come across entirely in an audio recording, but for at least the first half he was red in the face and bellowing down the microphone. It was well received by the numerous Green squad members in the audience (Many of whom were voters in Southend West… -Ed), but my sense from the rest was that he needed to tone it down a bit.
On the issues, he was a little woollier than I think he believes he was. Pointing to your manifesto and describing it as “fully costed” is not a substitute for actually explaining your policies — though I do recognise that the time limits on the answers didn’t help in this respect.
I don’t agree with Simon, though I know that others will. Not enough to win the constituency, I suspect, but we’ll see on May 7th. In the meantime, I suspect his shouting and lecturing style might put off as many would-be voters as it wins.
James Duddridge – Conservative
As you would expect from a 10 year veteran of the House of Commons (And yes, James, that makes you a professional politician; though whether that’s a bad thing or not is a matter for discussion -Ed), James was the most polished in terms of presentation. He’s not known as a maverick — though when it comes to his EU policy, we do have to wonder — so his answers were fairly predictable.
He focused on how good an MP he has been and how good this government has been, a point on which many will disagree, and unlike David Amess at the Echo hustings in Southend West at least managed to sound coherent. He lost the audience on a number of issues, revolving around poverty, foodbanks, etc. And, particularly, on the Mediterranean drownings.
James repeatedly refused to call for the patrols to be reinstated, on the grounds that they wouldn’t be 100% effective — to which I refer readers to Ian Gilbert’s excellent riposte above. He’s correct, but that’s no reason not to do them. And whilst he’s also right that we need to tackle the long- and medium-term causes, such as the political situation and criminality in the North African countries of origin, I’m disappointed in James as a Foreign Office minister. If somebody is drowning, you save them.
Floyd Waterworth – UKIP
Floyd Waterworth did exactly what we’ve come to expect of him from the council chamber, and did not turn up.
He gave his apologies, and apparently had a longstanding prior engagement, but I am disappointed nonetheless. For me this epitomises the lack of respect which UKIP show to the people of Rochford & Southend East. He could have put his views forward, he could have offered his opinions, given that nobody has seen or heard anything of him, we’d at least have known what he sounds like.
But no. Nothing. And is there any evidence to suggest that, should he be elected, he would turn up to parliament? Shameful.