“Women have a say, we also have a vote” candidates were sharply reminded at the end of an otherwise lacklustre hustings in Cowplain, part of the newly created, largely rural constituency of Meon Valley.
Lyn Palmer, a local community activist interrupted the chairman’s winding up speech to point out that all the questions that had been taken that evening were only from men, her own written question having being passed over for lack of time.
As Mrs Palmer was hastily given a chance to speak another female member of the audience, who clearly also felt frustrated began to nosily demand that she too, should be allowed to ask a question. When this was denied she began to shout angrily at the Candidates who were beginning to look a little uncomfortable by the unscripted turn of events.
“I’ve listened to you talking about National issues but what are you doing for local people? Where have you been for the rest of the year?” asked Mrs Palmer.
“Wecock Farm Estate is an area of deprivation. None of you come to visit. You only come here when you want our votes”
Conservative candidate George Hollingbery immediately sprang to his feet to defend his record insisting he regularly held mobile surgeries in the area where he is defending a notional majority of 1990 votes over nearest rival, Liz Leffman (Liberal Democrat):
Wecock Farm is something of an anomaly in an otherwise affluent and well heeled constituency.
A 1970’s council estate of some 2000 homes built on the periphery of Portsmouth; it has been blighted with the kind of social problems associated with higher than average unemployment and poor planning.
Speaking after the debate, Grandmother Mrs Palmer said the area suffered:
“Unemployment, single families, and a lack of family structure which leads to feelings of isolation.”
“Living in Wecock is a stigma. People don’t want to be treated like second class citizens.
Most people here believe politicians only turn out when they want their vote.”
When asked if she thought many residents would be voting she replied:
“Some are interested but some are saying – I’m not going to vote what’s the point in me voting if it’s not going to count?”
Speaking after the meeting Liz Leffman said:
“I have been working very hard in the constituency with three years of solid case work”
“People often assume because a politician is not visible they are not working – but this not the case”
If the constituents were left feeling frustrated with the lack progress made during the hustings, this must have been shared with the six candidates.
With so many sharing the platform there was little scope for any in depth discussion.
Of the minority candidates the English Democrat, Pat Harris, was clearly the star turn. The wiry retired gas fitter promised that if elected he would give the government a good dose of ‘reality‘ and ‘common sense’ and it would be easy to see him filling Denis Skinners role in parliament as a plain speaking ‘Everyman’.
Anglo American candidate, Steve Harris, gave a rather laid back performance for Ukip.
Perhaps it’s the American drawl.
Although the status of ‘Vietnam War Vet’ is probably an election winner in itself stateside, it doesn’t carry quite the same kudos in Cowplain
I am sure he mentioned the ‘E word’ at least once.
Local Solicitor Graeme Quar, the independent candidate, appears to be a Politician in search of a party – possibly the one currently being represented by George Hollingbery. As a former Conservative candidate he explained how he was familiar with parliamentary process but then had to be corrected by Ms Leffman and Mr Hollingbery regarding protocol when voting on matters of conscience.
A confident and polished performer, it is no surprise to learn he won over 30% of the vote when stood for the Tory’s in Stevenage – although there seems to be little chance of repeating this success here by presenting a blank sheet of paper in lieu of a proper manifesto.
The Labour candidate Howard Linsley put in a much improved performance over his first hustings appearance at Botley. Although all polls point to his candidature being a salvage mission, he nevertheless strongly defended the Government’s record arguing that the General Election was really only between Labour and the Conservatives and concluding:
“I believe the labour Party stands for the many not the few and the Conservative Party is for the few, not the many.”
If the notional figures and polls are right, then in Meon Valley it is a clear we are facing the prospect of either a Liberal Democrat or Conservative win.
Both these parties have fielded candidates of high calibre, with a good grasp of local and national issues.
Both are clearly destined for a future within their own party and both have put in a considerable amount of work in the constituency.
Whoever goes home on May 7th the loser will surely be launching the cat into orbit.
None of the audience members who were questioned as they left reported that any of the candidates had changed their original voting intentions, some saying they were still undecided.
Unfortunately, the format of the Hustings denied the chance of a real debate, but ultimately the suspicion is that it will be how defecting Labour votes are reallocated and where the undecided votes fall, that will determine the outcome of the first Meon Valley constituency election.
Download and listen to entire hustings here: