In an eagerly awaited showdown, Eastleigh’s candidates from the three main political parties took part in a discussion on the Sunday lunchtime BBC TV ‘Politics Show.’
BBC South political correspondent Peter Henley was in the chair as sitting MP Chris Huhne (Liberal Democrat) Maria Hutchings (Conservative) and Leo Barraclough (Labour) prepared to face each other and the electorate.
Chris Huhne looked relaxed and refreshed after a 6 mile run just a couple of hours earlier – and not at all like a man defending a 500 seat majority. He confidently set out his stall describing himself as a ‘good champion for local causes’ and left it to his rivals to try and prove him otherwise.
Both Leo Barraclough and then Maria Hutchings tried to suggest that Chris Huhne’s national profile was detrimental to his job as constituency MP.
In response, the Shadow Home Affairs spokesman claimed that his high profile enabled him to represent his constituents more effectively.
Surprisingly there was agreement on several points.
Maria agreed with Peter that Chris was strong on law and order and Chris agreed with Maria that he was a good constituency MP.
Both Maria and Chris agreed that it was ‘Imperative to be local in an election’, but then argued with each other as to who was in fact, the most local – an argument that Brighton resident Leo Barraclough did well to avoid becoming embroiled in.
All three agreed that the proposed 6000 home development at Botley was a bad thing and seemed equally anxious to appease the wrath of the all important voters of Botley and Hedge End – Eastleigh is after all a highly marginal seat.
In doing so, Peter Henley remarked that both Leo Barraclough and Maria Hutchings had distanced themselves from their own party policy on housing.
Chris Huhne suggested that more flats should be built in central Eastleigh.
Having discovered they were all united in their opposition to both the scheme and in the desire to attract the same set of voters, it became necessary to establish party lines through the apportionment of blame.
It was at this point that Maria Hutchings firmly launched the handbag that so famously flattened Tony Blair in Chris Huhne’s direction, by repeating Tory claims that the Botley housing site had been proposed by the Eastleigh Lib Dem council.
Chris Huhne proved to be more resilient than the former Labour PM and robustly refuted the allegation, insisting it was untrue.
During the course of the discussion Leo Barraclough admitted to Peter Henley that he did not use social media much, saying ‘life is too short to sit in front of a PC”.
This might explain why he has proven difficult to contact and why his profile page on the Labour Party home site is completley blank.
A technophobic attitude also seems to be somewhat at odds with published Labour Party policy on developing a cutting edge, technology driven economy and universal broadband access.
He also seems to be unaware that both IBM and the NHS are major local employers in the IT field.
Chris Huhne delivered the kind of confident performance you would expect from an experienced parliamentarian while the other two candidates seemed less self assured.
He spoke for a total of almost five minutes Maria spoke for almost three minutes and Leo Barraclough for a total of two minutes.
Additionally the words ‘Local’ (and locally) and ‘Eastleigh’ were mentioned thirty four times by Chris Huhne, fifteen times by Peter Henley, twelve times by Maria Hutchings and only three times by Leo Barraclough.
I would certainly back Chris Huhne to easily beat the other two candidates – over 10,000 metres that is!
However, despite Chris Huhne’s obvious mastery of the discussion, Maria Hutchings comes over a sincere person who is actively involved in community issues and could appeal to a different type of voter.
Meanwhile, Leo Barraclough never really took an active part in proceedings, only ever speaking in response to Peter Henley’s questions.
It looks still too close to call between Chris Huhne and Maria Hutchings.
Reacting to Maria Hutchings assertion on the ‘Politics Show’ that the Botley development had been proposed by the liberal Democrat controlled Eastleigh Borough Council, the leader of the Council Keith House said today:
“The origins of the proposal for a 6000 home “Strategic Development Area” to the north of Hedge End are in a document prepared by County Council planners.
When details of the proposal have been in front of Eastleigh Borough Council, the Council has resolutely put forward its objections to this location, noting that technical work is still outstanding, most significantly on transport.
Chris Huhne’s commentary on The Politics Show was correct”