Lichfield election candidates clash at hustings event

The Lichfield hustings event. Pic: Nick Brickett

The Lichfield hustings event. Pic: Nick Brickett

Although many eyes may have been on the TV debate between the party leaders, Lichfield’s voters had their focus firmly on a hustings event in the city.

The four candidates – Michael Fabricant (Cons), Steve Hyden (Lab), Ian Jackson (Lib Dem) and Karen Maunder (UKIP) – told a packed Emmanuel Christian Centre last night (April 29) why they deserved to be elected.

With questions covering areas such as prison populations, electoral reform and the proposed new high speed rail link the debate saw a lively audience tackle the four candidates – and each other!

The event was chaired by Canon Pete Wilcox and kicked off with Michael Fabricant telling people that being an MP was a “tricky balance” and that he agreed that Gordon Brown was “not a monster” and that “yesterday was yesterday”.

His opening gambit was followed by Steve Hyden who told the audience he was looking to promote fairness for everyone. He added that people should “take a good look at what Labour have done for the country”.

Liberal Democrat candidate Ian Jackson detailed his 20 years living in Lichfield before explaining that the political system in the UK was “broken” and that education would be one of the main targets for his party.

UKIP’s Karen Maunder broke from the norm by confessing that she “wasn’t a career politician or public speaker” but was standing to give people a choice.

Michael Fabricant, Steve Hyden, Canon Pete Wilcox, Ian Jackson, Karen Maunder. Pic: Nick Brickett

Michael Fabricant, Steve Hyden, Canon Pete Wilcox, Ian Jackson, Karen Maunder. Pic: Nick Brickett

Electoral reform:

The first question saw the issue of proportional representation being raised – a move which Mr Fabriant would be a bad move for the country. He said:

“If the UK had proportional representation in 2005 we would have had eight BNP MPs.”

But his argument was countered by Mr Jackson who said that while he regretted the rise of the BNP, people who vote for them should be engaged and not cut out of the system completely. He added:

“The argument should not be based on what is best for which party, but what is best for voters.”

Steve Hyden also turned on his Conservative rival, stating that his party were against proportional representation because it “wouldn’t benefit them”. He also claimed the system would have meant Mr Fabricant wouldn’t be sitting where he was – a suggestion denied by the Tory man.

UKIP’s candidate admitted she did not understand the debate and didn’t wish to comment on it.

Economic policy

Steve Hyden. Pic: Nick Brickett

Steve Hyden. Pic: Nick Brickett

Labour’s Lichfield hopeful drew boos from the audience after he suggested that the recession didn’t start in the UK and that the best people to get us out of it were Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Despite being heckled by the crowd, Mr Hyden added:

“Gordon Brown is an honest and straightforward man. He will guide us through this. If you wake up on May 7 and find David Cameron running the country, you’ll find out how hard it really is.”

Mr Jackson suggested that all parties had been hampered by Labour’s decision to postpone an economic review until after the election before adding that the Liberal Democrats were only looking one year ahead because of the fragile state of the economy. He also claimed that the party would invest in green jobs to aid a recovery.

UKIP candidate Ms Maunder claimed any National Insurance rise would be a “tax on jobs” and suggested that taxing banks heavily would lead to many moving their businesses out of the UK.

Mr Fabricant wrapped up the question by admitting he was gobsmacked at Mr Hyden’s comments, given that Gordon Brown had sold off gold reserves which, had he held onto them, would now be worth three times that amount. He added:

“The belief that the recession started over there is a myth. Gordon Brown threw money at various projects and it was wasted.”

Faith

On the back of recent stories regarding people being sacked or disciplined in the workplace for exercising their religious beliefs, the candidates were challenged on their views.

Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson. Pic: Nick Brickett

Mr Jackson said:

“We are a country of tolerance – but we’re losing that. It is political correctness gone mad and it is a disgrace that the law bans wearing items of faith.”

The decision by UKIP to support some of those caught up in high profile cases was highlighted by Ms Maunder who added that her party were “strong on freedom of speech”.

Mr Fabricant admitted there was “no clear answer” and that it was a question of morality where there would “always be shades of grey”.

Labour’s candidate also spoke of tolerance being something that everyone is entitled to, but that we had to ensure freedom of speech wasn’t being used as a vehicle that allowed people to make minor issues bigger.

Education

Karen Maunder said it was “outrageous” that per capita spending per student in Staffordshire was the fourth lowest in the country, but admitted:

“I’ve never been to Parliament, so I don’t really know what I could do about that if elected. I’ll have to rely on Michael Fabricant to tell us what we could do.”

Her Conservative rival admitted this had been a problem since he joined the House of Commons and that he had caused a major storm about the issue when John Major was Prime Minister. He also pointed our that it was a situation Tony Blair promised to rectify in 1997. The idea of free schools which were centrally funded were also on the Tory agenda, according to Mr Fabricant.

Steve Hyden urged voters to look back at the last 13 years and see the increase in teachers and support staff. He admitted there were “serious problems” with funding, but said Labour would protect this.

The Liberal Democrats have made it “a priority” to improve the standard of primary education in the country, according to Ian Jackson. He also claimed that the current administration had bogged teachers down with targets, due mainly to the fact Gordon Brown was “a control freak”.

The Euro

The situation in Greece and the thought of the UK entering the Euro caused voices to be raised as the audience took issue with a number of points raised by the candidates.

Michael Fabricant. Pic: Nick Brickett

Michael Fabricant. Pic: Nick Brickett

Mr Fabricant kicked off the debate by saying the Conservatives had never been in favour of the Euro. He added:

“It is economically unsound. There is a major crisis in Europe and thank God we are not in it.”

But his Labour rival drew a number of jeers when he suggested that putting £40million a day into Europe was worth it to ensure the Greek people could be supported and trade could continue with them.

Mr Jackson hit back at an earlier point by Mr Fabricant suggesting that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg had done an about-turn on wanting to join the Euro immediately. He said:

“I still believe there is a long-term interest in us joining the Euro.”

However Ms Maunder said the current crisis highlighted the weakness of a single currency and claimed the European crisis had strengthened the competitiveness of British exports.

High speed rail

Labour’s Steve Hyden defended the need for a high speed rail link and told worried residents that there was still “plenty of time for discussion” on the exact route and that Lichfield could get a feeding station. He added:

“We have to think about the next ten years and not just tomorrow.”

Ian Jackson admitted he felt the long term benefits of the line could be good for the area, but said the route should run alongside the M6 Toll and feature a Lichfield Parkway station to serve the north Midlands.

But Karen Maunder said more stations would mean the line ceases to be a high speed route. She said more thought should go into improving existing links.

Conservative candidate Michael Fabricant called for “reality” and said there was no chance of Lichfield getting a station because the aim of the line was to link cities with airports to reduce the amount of internal air travel. But he added:

“The route is a disgrace. This Labour route will ruin the countryside and we have got to find an alternative.”

Social care for the elderly

Ian Jackson went on the offensive by suggesting that the Tories had “played politics” by backing out of an all-party agreement on dealing with the social care time bomb caused by a population that is getting older. He explained:

“The Tories are banging on about the so-called death tax, but this is an issue that needs all-party support. There is no point chopping and changing.”

UKIP’s candidate told the audience that differences in opinion meant that parties didn’t like to talk. She also said the reality would mean people working longer and called for public sector pensions to be brought into line with private ones.

Michael Fabricant blamed the death tax for the Tories refusing to approve the all-party agreement before suggesting that his party would link pensions with earnings and get rid of NHS waste to target that money at care. He also wanted to empower doctors and not Primary Care Trusts on the issue of where patients are treated.

Mr Hyden agreed that the country needed to look seriously at how to provide care for the elderly.

Prison populations

Karen Maunder. Pic: Nick Brickett

Karen Maunder. Pic: Nick Brickett

Karen Maunder said UKIP would double prison places to ease overcrowding and to cut the cost of justice. She added:

“We will also ensure that sentences mean what they say because the country has lost the plot on dealing with criminals.”

Conservative candidate Michael Fabricant said that people needed to remember that victims should be thought about, but also said more needed to be done to tackle the causes of crime and deal with the poor level of literacy that many young offenders have.

Steve Hyden said:

“If you do the crime then you need to do the time. Crime has come down under Labour, even if the Tories try to distort the figures.”

He also dismissed suggestions that prisoners have in-cell access to TVs, saying that time viewing televisions in a separate room had to be earned by inmates.

But Ian Jackson described the country’s penal policy as “a disgrace” and claimed that prisons were “academies of crime”. He also said that prisoners who work should pay a proportion of their earnings to a compensation fund for victims. The Liberal Democrat candidate also called for more effort to be put into tackling the issue of re-offending and jailing so many offenders. He added:

“Locking people up makes society worse.”

Climate change

Michael Fabricant claimed that nuclear power was the only way forward for the UK otherwise “the lights would be going out”. He also said that electric cars would not solve the problem of climate change as the power, at present, still needed to be generated by fossil fuels. He said:

“We want to encourage wave motion and offshore wind farms, but they will only generate seven per cent of our energy needs. Nuclear power is the only answer.”

Labour’s Steve Hyden reminded voters that we were merely “guardians of this earth” and suggested that the Tories blocked any moves the Government tried to make on the environment. He added:

“The decisions we make now will affect the kids who inherit what we leave behind.”

Ian Jackson called for more to be done quicker when it came to greener energy and said that individuals as well as Government should play their part. He also criticised Labour, saying:

“The Government have talked the talk but have taken years to walk the walk.”

Karen Maunder said that we needed to encourage renewable energies but also had to be realistic. And while she was personally opposed to nuclear, she did admit that if safety and storage issues could be overcome that nuclear would be the answer. But she added:

“UKIP is sceptical about man-made climate change.”

Conclusion

Steve Hyden urged people in Lichfield to remember that Alistair Darling had guided us through a recession and that Gordon Brown had the ideas and policies to get us through it. He also warned of the headache we would have if David Cameron was in charge come May 7.

Ian Jackson raised awareness of the Tory Time for Change slogan, reminding people that the dictionary definition of Conservative was “one averse to change”. He told voters that a radical change was needed and that the Liberal Democrats would be looking to pick up the highest proportion of the votes across the country.

Karen Maunder told the audience she was under no illusions about the chances of UKIP winning, but urged voters to look at policies rather than base their votes on the four individuals sat in front of them.

Michael Fabricant criticised a number of comments that had been given as facts during the evening and reminded people that voters, not party leaders, were the boss and that this was something he had always remembered as an MP.

See more of Nick Brickett’s photographs from the hustings event below:

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

4 Comments

  1. Politik

    30th April, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Karen Maunder was out of her depth completely but it says something that she was still more in touch with reality than Steve Hyden who looked like the past 15 years had completely passed him by. Ian Jackson looked like someone who could challenge Fab though.

  2. Freddy

    30th April, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    It was exactly what you’d expect in a seat like Lichfield. The only reason that there are candidates for Labour/Libdem/UKIP is to keep a presence/profile for the local elections.

    Overall for what it’s worth – in a room of 200 people with an average age of aprox 55 – Fabricant was the only person who was half way credible but then that’s what you’d expect. The Libdem guy Jackson was articulate but he had nothing but platitude, UKIPs Karen Maunder was a joke, claiming as she did in her introduction to not have heard of UKIP a year ago – demonstrates the seriousness with which the party are contesting the seat and Hyden for Labour just seemed to be making sentences out of random words.

    I trust they are all today nowhere near Lichfield and are instead out canvassing in a nearby marginal/target seat for their respective paries.

    Nothing to see here.

  3. nonoftheabove

    1st May, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I note there where no comments on Mr Fabricants expenses, or immigration.

  4. Pingback: Chair hoping hustings event will create election buzz in Lichfield