On Tuesday 3rd December 2019 in the Keele University Ballroom, all five candidates for the Newcastle-Under-Lyme constituency in the General Election said their piece. Having never attended such an event, I was a little hesitant and rather out of my comfort zone. However, the potential slanging match did not materialise, and the audience were responsive and well behaved.
Each candidate had five minutes to present their mandate and say a little about themselves. Then there were five topical questions put forward by the chair, with a minute given to each party for reply. What struck me the most at the end was that if you took a little from each candidate to create a whole, you could possibly have quite a viable workable manifesto? At times the multi parties seemed on the same wavelength, but their approach to an issue was vastly different.
The candidates spoke in this order Aaron Bell (Conservative); Carl Johnson (Green); Dr Jason Cooper (Brexit); Carl Greatbatch (Labour); Nigel Jones (Liberal Democrats). Amy Holden as chair introduced them and kept strict time!
Aaron Bell emphasised his science/technology credentials in his introduction, which he indicated later was a major reason for his standing as candidate in the first place. He felt (quite rightly) that there are few in Parliament with this kind of background. Of course Brexit must happen as the people voted for it was hammered home too. Interestingly (to me) Carl Johnson implied we must stay in the EU, and really brought home how China’s expansion of influence outside its borders into Africa and South America must be done ethically and morally. Quite what we can do as a country, to control in any way, this international political giant I don’t know. But the Green ideals of global responsibility and accountability were there for all to see. Dr Jason Cooper pointed out as a democracy we voted to leave Europe and must do so. We have a great economy and wonderful employment, and don’t need EU interference with our laws. He mentioned North Korea at some point but in what context I have no idea, as I was taking notes, but it incurred an audible gasp of incredulity from my neighbour. Carl Greatbatch emphasised his core Labour background-council house, free education, NHS saved his life (all applicable to me and many others). The party mandate is to give the country what it needs, reverse Tory reduction in services and re-negotiate with the EU, with a vote to the people after. Nigel Jones talked of a credible plan with regard to environmental issues. The Lib Dem education policy was similar to Labour’s with the underpinning being overcoming inequality. Unlike many parties the Liberal Democrats say they know where the money for improving public services would come from. And of course the big difference overall is that they want to remain in the EU. Nigel pointed out with great clarity that only 0.7% of taxes raised here go toward the EU, the other 99.3% of taxes are spent through decisions made by the UK government ALONE.
The five subject areas put to the candidates for a quick reply were Brexit; Green Credentials; Transport; Homelessness & Why Are You Standing. Here is a brief summary of the responses:
Aaron Bell (Conservative): Brexit-We must leave EU people voted for it. Australian points system to attract the right people needed. Regain sovereignty. We have done so much already on Green issues! Transport needs to be integrated more, with potential to overturn Beeching rulings in places. Not a manifesto issue more long term. More affordable homes built under this Tory era than the last Labour one. He mentioned a paltry single figure number of official homeless people in the major towns (I’ve counted more sleeping bags in doorways than that), and seemed to hint that drugs a main issue for the homeless crisis.
Carl Johnson (Green): Brexit is a Tory con; we will be out of Europe yet negotiating the terms and conditions for years to come. Can’t allow return to 19th century fuel reliance, must go renewable in 21st century, China expansion must be checked in some way. Electric regeneration examples like Manchester & Leeds used for transport way forward. Homeless crisis use empty buildings, renovate them and provide own homes, with possible apprenticeships created in process. Must get activists to move the world into 21st century away from old structures & systems, that’s why he’s standing.
Dr Jason Cooper (Brexit): MPs do our will and majority voted to leave the EU. He managed to contradict himself by saying that the UK was the only country in the EU to promise zero carbon emission by 2050. By upholding the UKs green credentials he showed the UK make their own decisions (not the EU). Dr Cooper showed a far better awareness of the real causes of homelessness including broken relationships, mental health issues, and unemployment (not just drugs). Social work/police must work together. Transport must have more money put into infrastructure, gained by cancelling HS2, stop undirected foreign aid and money saved on EU. He was standing because of the catastrophic collapse of democracy.
Carl Greatbatch (Labour): People get to choose again after Labour re-negotiate with EU on jobs, environment and rights. Decarbonising our economy is essential. Renationalise railways, regulate buses. Homelessness the extreme end of crisis/poverty, Labour policy aims to lift people out of that scenario. Standing because Labour party wants to create a revolution in area, and was bold/honest enough to say it’s probably a two way race between him and Aaron.
Nigel Jones (Liberal Democrats): We already have economy benefits by being in the EU and are stronger within it, especially in the face of other giant political powers. If business is made to operate more greenly they become more efficient and this inevitably cuts down on pollution. Transport subsidized, fares freeze, planning rules for better infrastructure improvement. Homeless crisis help provide better emergency accommodation and repeal the vagrancy act (which I’d never heard of). His reason for standing as candidate was the most civic answer I heard, to help create a strong local government that led people with a long term view not just making short term decisions.
All the candidates were sincere in their convictions, and it was an illuminating experience. Sadly due to our first past the post voting system, there can only be one victor on polling day for each constituency. If every vote did count I’m sure there could be a vastly different outcome to the one we get. That’s some food for thought.