My friend Elwyn Bryant asked me if I would go with him to the Old Bexley hustings in Sidcup’s St. John The Evangelist Church and as he had a friend who
lived more or less next door with a spare parking place on her drive there was
absolutely no reason not to go. Erith & Thamesmead has been dead electorally as far as I can see.
I must say the church building is magnificent but whether it is the right place for hustings is debatable; maybe the environment helped to keep the more excitable elements on their best behaviour.
All five candidates were present with Reverend Cathy Knight-Scott in the chair. She ruled the roost very decisively with four minutes of introduction per candidate and one minute each to answer questions. There were only five subjects up as questions, a couple on Brexit and one each on housing, NHS, reversing austerity and WASPI women.
Including a quite lengthy introduction and the drawing of lots to determine seating positions the questions session lasted for only 70 minutes after which refreshments were served.
It was all over far too quickly and by accident or design no one known to be active politically was allowed a question. As such it was all a bit too easy going and with no more than 70 people present and no one from the press one must wonder what the point of it all is.
Rather than provide a narrative version of what went on, below is a list of what was said in response to the various questions by each candidate. As one might expect given his experience James Brokenshire’s was the most polished performance but Matt Browne from the Green Party spoke well too.
You may safely assume that what follows is mainly verbatim quotations extracted from an audio recording stitched together into a few short sentences. Despite the temptation, no comments.
Carol Valinejad - Christian People’s Alliance
Ms. Valinejad is a qualified clinical psychologist and long term Sidcup resident. She had no priorities for the area preferring to consult the electorate first. Naturally she was fully in favour of the NHS being accessible to all.
She said her key values were dominated by the Abortion Act and family breakdown costing an estimated £48 million a year. There is too much mental ill health among young people. They are the challenges this nation faces today.
The unborn child deserves the full protection of the law while providing full support for those in crisis. More than 9,000,000 unborn children have lost their lives because of the 1967 Act. Abortion can cause overwhelming trauma to mothers.
A grant of £12,000 should be given to those who marry and possibly more when they have their first child. The Chairman cut off Carol before she could finish stating her policy in full.
The CPA stance on Brexit is to honour the referendum result but have another in five or ten years time. They have every confidence in Britain’s ability to trade outside the EU. An investigation should be made into why Britain can’t build homes and part of the problem is that students are indebted by student loans and can’t afford them.
The WASPI situation is despicable and the full quota of benefits must be restored.
The CPA said that austerity was caused by a lack of Christian values and the government was more interested in funding crime than families.
Simone Reynolds - Liberal Democrats
Simone is another Sidcup resident and she said hers was the biggest party out to stop Brexit. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are both extremists and stuck in the past, they do not deserve to be Prime Minister and the Lib Dems is the centrist party. Under the Lib Dems everyone will thrive. We will stop Brexit because the Conservatives told blatant lies (bus references) and the Lib Dems will invest £50 million to boost the economy and tackle inequalities. She said that the £50 million will come from the simple act of doing nothing and staying in the EU.
She advocated another People’s Vote. The Labour Party and The Green Party had both jumped on that bandwagon. If Leave wins again Simone will accept it.
The Lib Dems are going to combat the climate emergency by generating 80% of electricity from renewables by 2030 and spend £100 billion doing it.
There will be 20,000 more teachers and £10 billion a year more going into schools. Free child care and £10,000 per adult to improve their skills. £2·2 billion extra to solve mental health issues and a billion for 20,000 more police officers with a 2% immediate pay rise. Everyone will have a brighter future if they vote Lib Dem.
The Lib Dems want to put an extra penny on Income Tax to fund the NHS and build 300,000 houses a year and banish no fault evictions.
The Lib Dems will compensate the WASPI women and there is too much gender discrimination. Even pink razor blades cost more.
Simone Reynolds said the government should have borrowed more while interest rates were low, they could have built more hospitals. Universal Credit should be changed in a way similar to that advocated by Labour. She was proud to say that the Lib Dems had voted against every Conservative budget since 2015.
Simone finished by saying she was sick to death of Brexit and it was a national embarrassment. Let’s remain in the EU. We then won’t have to spend the money on things the EU currently pays for and we will gain a £50 million remain bonus and make a fairer equal society for everybody..
James Brokenshire - Conservative Party
James Brokenshire the sitting MP regretted the need for another election but Parliament had become stuck. It was not able to move forward and it was unable to deal with Brexit. The referendum result must be respected. Without moving forward on that issue we are stuck in a political purgatory.
The choice is between getting Brexit done and more delay, indecision and dither. A clear decision will allow a positive agenda for the future. £33·9 extra for the NHS every year. 20,000 more police officers and more spent on education. We need a strong economy to do that.
Alternative Agendas proposed by others will lead to more tax and higher rates of inflation, He referred to protecting local green spaces and better train services into London. The lack of a Post Office in Sidcup received a mention but the big issues are Brexit, the economy and the climate emergency. Creating jobs and opportunity is what is at the heart of the Conservative Party.
James wants to see the post Brexit trade agreements settled by the end of 2020. The terms of the withdrawal are already settled but continued uncertainty is harmful.
The NHS needs a long term plan which the Conservatives now have must be supported. It is absolutely not on the table at any trade deal.
There have been 222,000 homes built in the past year and it must be raised to 300,000. James had while Minister increased Council borrowing powers and wanted to see the end of unfair evictions and allow transferable deposits.
A billion pounds had been injected to minimise the impact on WASPI women. The subject should be kept under review but there could be no uncosted promises.
James said that there were 400,000 fewer people living in absolute poverty and 730,000 fewer children living in workless households under the Conservatives but there is more to do. The Living wage will be raised to £10·50 and people have been taken out of tax altogether. Changes have been made to Universal Credit to ensure payments can be made available quickly. The Lib Dems and Labour would wreck the economy instead of having one that creates jobs.
James made a final plea for a strong economy and to get Brexit done to allow things to move on.
David Tingle - Labour Party
Mr. Tingle is a local businessman employing nine people. His manifesto is the best and fully costed and he lost no time in criticising the Conservatives who questioned that statement. The Tories do not understand averages.
His staff have had a fantastic education and that is why he is a successful businessman. We must fund the NHS not cut it. Businesses must pay their fair share of tax. The Tories locally were elected because of their false claim to be able to save Sidcup’s A&E Department.
Only the Labour Party has a fully costed positive outlook for the country. It has a new green deal to generate jobs and influence the whole world.
Brexit will be sorted (but he wants to see a credible Leave deal with all the existing arrangements preserved) and Labour will keep you safe. Court delays will be fixed and criminals will be rehabilitated. The minimum wage will be £10 an hour immediately.
David blamed all the Brexit delays on the Conservatives. They had a majority and couldn’t get their deal through Parliament. It wasn’t a Labour responsibility to help them.
The Labour Party said the NHS will be sold off piece meal by the Conservatives. Sidcup’s A&E was sold off.
The waiting list for housing is ridiculous and developers that sit on sites must lose them.
Mr. Tingle said that the WASPI women had had their pensions stolen, it was their money and he would borrow £58 million to pay for it.
Mr. Tingle is very angry about austerity and he will stop people running out of money and suspend the vicious sanctions regime that goes with Universal Credit and its two child limit.
The Labour candidate concluded by saying his manifesto would be fantastic for the country. He will end homelessness, sort out the social care system, save the planet and get Brexit done by this time next year and we will have a positive friendly country.
Matt Browne - The Green Party
Matt agreed with James Brokenshire that the Parliamentary process was stuck and he blamed the voting system which is depressing and grubby. In Sidcup one party has been in power for ever but elsewhere difficult decisions must be made.
The Green Party has power because it is not obsessed by power. A Green vote sends a message to those who are in power. It was the only party to object to austerity and now even the Conservatives are taking the same view. Other parties. Labour in particular now support the Green agenda on climate change. Britain must lead the world on decarbonisation.
On Brexit the Greens are remainers to ensure there will never again be conflict on this Continent. The EU is a peace project and the only way forward is a People’s Vote.
The NHS will be safe under a Green government. The demand on its services must be forced down.
The Greens wanted to build more traditional Council houses, a home for life. Ten million of them over the next ten years.
Mr. Browne would compensate WASPI women through a system of universal income which he said he could not explain within the minute allowed. Ten billion a year must be given to local Councils, the money is there, it just needs to be taxed.
The Green Party will do something really really great over the next ten years with everyone working together based on a radical vision of kindness.
Green votes have power, cast yours for the Greens.
30 minutes of Refreshments
Elwyn Bryant was not at all pleased about not being able to ask a question, at coffee time he made an immediate bee line for James Brokenshire. It was entirely the Conservative Party’s fault that we are still in the EU. We should have been out in March, in June, in October but we weren’t. That failure was down to the Conservatives and no one else. No excuses were offered such as Bercow or Ben or Grieve or Soubry or a dozen other democracy deniers. It was James and his ilk who did not stand their ground and meekly accepted a bad deal until that position became untenable and everyone changed their tune and turned on Theresa May. Increasing the numbers of nurses and police officers was a charade, the numbers should not have been reduced in the first place.
Mr. Brokenshire stood his ground valiantly and was a walking encyclopedia of every government statistic known to man. An impressive display if a little reminiscent of “Alexa, give me all the reasons for voting Conservative”.
It cut no ice with Elwyn, the Conservatives had let us all down and James had to concede he might be happier voting Lib Dem or Labour. He doesn’t know Elwyn as well as I do; a former trade unionist who knows how the Left operate far too well and there is no way he will vote for any Left leaning party.
Both of us moved off to allow James to recover from the grilling and soon bumped into Councillor Richard Diment. Neither of us had spoken to him before. I already knew he was a man of intellect and considerable substance but Elwyn seeing that for the first time was well impressed. A Conservative who was open, transparent, apparently honest and who spoke a gentler version of Elwyn’s preferred language, a man he could relate to. I thought I was going to spend the next week convincing Elwyn that in today’s prevailing circumstances the only sensible vote for a man of his opinions is to vote Conservative, but there is no need. Richard did the job for me.