The conservative parliamentary candidate for Eastleigh has said he will ask the Secretary of State to throw out the Borough Council’s local plan and seek to secure funding for a Chickenhall Lane link road within two weeks of becoming an MP.
Around 150 people attended an Election Hustings at King Community Church in Hedge End (28 November) heard former Southampton city councillor Paul Holmes pledge that he will stop the plan – currently under the scrutiny of the Panning Inspector.
The announcement drew warm applause from the audience but seconds later the claps turned to laughter after he also promised to secure an agreement to build the Chickenhall lane link road – an election pledge the previous MP, Mims Davies was unable to deliver.
Also taking part in the event were Lynda Murphy, the Liberal Democrat Candidate and Ron Meldrum for the Green Party who has also previously stood here in 2015 and 2017.
A family commitment meant that Labour Candidate Sam Jordan was unable to attend but he was represented by Josh Constable who has previously contested Eastleigh Central ward for Labour in May’s local elections.
Interestingly, the Chair – Dr Nigel Paterson – revealed that only candidates from parties represented in the House of Commons at the end of the last parliamentary session had been invited to take part in the Hustings. If the Brexit Party, Ukip or the Spitfire Party had stood candidates they would have been excluded from the event.
Each Candidate was given up to five minutes to make a personal statement.
Opening Statements. !8 minutes
Paul Holmes (Conservative) was first to go. He said he was raised on a London council estate and the first of his family to attend University (Southampton). He served as Southampton City Councillor and was Cabinet member for Children’s Services.
Holmes said he was the only candidate who would vote to ‘get Brexit done’ and that he opposes “the disaster that is the local Liberal Democrat council housing plan”.
Holmes also criticised the Lib Dem candidate Lynda Murphy for not opposing the plan.
Ron Meldrum (Green Party) described his family links with Eastleigh – his children attended school and college here – and explained that he supported the green party because “it is time to get serious about looking after our planet” adding “while Brexit is a great concern it is meaningless compared to climate change.” Meldrum said that he supported a push to zero carbon emissions and backed a second ‘peoples vote’ on leaving the EU and favoured the remain option.
“We need to remain, we need to reform, we need to stay in the EU to make it better but we can’t do anything unless we get equality back into society.”
Josh Constable (Labour) made the case for his Candidate Sam Jordan – Jordan’s USP in this contest is that he is the only candidate who lives and works in Eastleigh – he went to Quilley and currently lives on the Pirelli estate “he has the perspective of a resident and this gives his arguments weight”
Constable described Eastleigh as once having been a place where most people worked in places like “Pirelli, the railway works and the bread Factories” and lived in ‘good quality affordable council houses” and enjoyed access to the countryside with it’s clear air– but he said this was no longer the case Due to the policy of Conservative de-industrialisation, privatisation and financialisation [Actually Pirelli, Alstom, Causton and Manor Bakery all closed during the period of the Labour government 1997 to 2010 – ed].
He also accused Eastleigh’s Liberal Democrat’s – who have controlled Eastleigh for the past 25 years of “overdevelopment, gambling with finances and failing to act on people’s concerns over air quality” asking
“Where has liberal democrat and conservative representation gotten the people of Eastleigh?”
Lynda Murphy (Liberal Democrat) ran through a brief biography – she was born in Scotland, attended University in England lived in London and moved here in 2002 (her home address is in Winchester).
She became involved politics after she voted ‘remain’ in the 2016 referendum saying “Brexit lit a spark in me and I will keep fighting to try and stop it” Murphy said that Brexit had pushed other important issues into the background – issues like climate change and the NHS. She described Conservative policy as one “low tax and squeezed local services” as ‘the wrong answer for our country”.
Murphy said the NHS needs better funding and she supported Lib Dem policy of adding a penny to the basic rate of income tax to raise an extra £35 billion for the NHS and social care over the next five years. She also referred to rising crime in Eastleigh and said she thought prison was a ‘failed expensive’ solution to crime “it’s better to keep people out of prison rather than in prison..we need to invest in communities not just build more prison places”
If elected Murphy promised to be “a real on the ground MP” by holding regular local surgeries and working closely with local Lib Dem councillors.
Q1: Should there be a confirmatory second referendum? 6 minutes
Lynda Murphy claimed the Liberal Democrats were ‘the party of remain’ and founder members of the Peoples Vote campaign but if they won the general election that they would treat that as a mandate to revoke article 50 – otherwise they would be push for a people’s vote. “Politicians have changed their mind over Brexit so the electorate should be given the chance to change their minds as well.”
Josh Constable agreed there should be a second referendum but added that if there was a vote to remain a Labour government would work towards reforming the EU to address people’s ‘concerns.’
“There are serious problems with the EU and its arrogant to dismiss people’s concerns as being stupid or uneducated or racist. Eastleigh Labour party has got a lot of leave voting members”
Ron Meldrum said he believed in democracy and the democratic thing to do with the deal would be “put it back to people and let the people decide.”
Like Ron Meldrum, Paul Holmes said he too believes in democracy but unlike Meldrum he believed having a secondary confirmatory referendum was an undemocratic thing to do as was the Liberal Democrat pledge to revoke article 50 if they obtained a majority.
“If I am elected your MP I will never vote for a second referendum and I will not vote to delay Brexit.”
Q2: How will your policies run the economy without incurring debt? 6 minutes
Tax and spend or borrow and spend? The main parties have ambitious spending plans in their manifestoes which they hope will tempt voters but how will they finance them? The Institute for Fiscal Studies have independently costed party spending plans suggesting that the Conservatives will need to raise taxes or borrow more than they have planned and that Labour’s tax policies will affect more than just the wealthiest.
Paul Holmes started by saying that the conservatives inherited ‘a dire financial situation’ when they came to power in 2010 but now “we have got those finances sorted”.
While it’s true that Conservative fiscal policy has brought down the government spending deficit to levels last seen in 2002 both Ron Meldrum and Josh Constable pointed out that during the same period National gross debt has almost doubled and now stands at £1.82 trillion – 84% of the UK gross GDP.
Holmes explained how the Conservatives intend to raise £6 billion to fund public services by “cancelling’ a much-heralded cut to corporation tax (though Boris Johnson told the CBI it was just being ‘postponed’). The Financial Times say this move contradicts previous Conservative arguments – that cutting business taxes boosts the Treasury’s overall tax take.
It would seem that the Conservatives and Labour are now aligned on Corporation Tax – the Labour Party planning to go even further by not just cancelling the cut but hiking CT to raise even more money for services.
Paul Holmes compared the Conservative’s comparatively modest spending plans with Labour’s eye-catching but expensive offerings (free broadband, free University education, WASPI compensation) saying the voters had a choice “between a party being responsible with public finances and a Labour government that will borrow £84 billion to put their programme through Government.”
Ron Meldrum wondered how much of National debt had been siphoned off to offshore accounts and criticised UK Government spending priorities:
“Governments always manage to find the money for things they want. They manged to find the money for Trident; manged to find the money for HS2 but couldn’t find the money for social welfare.”
Meldrum said he believed it was possible to run economies without creating debt and recommended an economic model based on ‘positive money’.
Josh Constable disagreed with Meldrum over the need for governments to borrow:
“In order to run a national economy, you have to create debt. You have to borrow and tax. There isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t have national debt.”
Having made a case for borrowing he then criticised the level of National Debt accrued by the Conservatives.
“Since 2010 the Conservative government has borrowed more than every single Labour government. Labours borrowing was reasonable and in line with spending by other major economies.”
The claim by the Labour campaign that the amount borrowed by the current Conservative government has eclipsed the total debt of Labour’s previous administration was examined both by the Fullfact fact-checking website and the BBC and found to be true but was, they concluded, not a completely fair comparison as it does not take into account growth in the size of the economy.
Lynda Murphy referred the questioner to the Lib Dem website where she said fully-costed plans had been posted. She reiterated there would be extra money available for the NHS and social care as result of a 1p increase in basic income. Murphy also said that there would be an extra £50 billion would be available to spend if a Lib Dem government revoked Article 50. The £50 billion – the ‘Remain Bonus’ is the amount of money they predict will be saved by avoiding costs associated with Brexit.
Q3: How would candidates improve mental health provision under the NHS? 7 minutes
Once again Lynda Murphy referred to the proposed 1p rise in basic income tax and said the £11 billion of £35 billion raised would be ringfenced for spending on Mental Health provision topped up by some of the estimated £50 billion ‘remain bonus’ that Liberal Democrats say would be made available by stopping Brexit.
Murphy said that the Lib Dems pledge “to treat mental health on the same basis as physical health.” and provided some specifics – improved access to talking therapies; 24-hour mental health access in all hospitals; ending the use of prison cells for severe mental disorder cases; free prescriptions for chronic mental health conditions and encouraging schools to scrap SAT tests which she said were a source of stress and anxiety for teachers and pupils.
Josh Constable – who works for the NHS – talked about his personal experience of Mental Health issues. He said a ‘massive’ problem is that Mental Health services are ‘hived off as a separate composite’ and were “starved of cash”.
“We are lucky here [the South] as we have charities to pick up the slack. We have got it good here and it is terrible.”
Labour manifesto policies on Mental Health include a pledge to implement the recommendations of the recent independent review of the Mental Health Act; a pledge to provide an extra £1.6 billion a year for Mental Health services; £2billion to modernise mental health hospitals and end the use of inappropriate out-of-area placements.
Ron Meldrum drew on his experience of 25 years practice in cognitive therapy to suggest young people could be trained to be “mentally more robust”
“I do believe that if we did that mental health problems in society would go down enormously”
This is indeed a long-standing Green Party policy – Deputy Leader Amelia Womack told Mental Health charity Mind in 2017
“We must prevent poor mental health from a young age, help those who are already suffering, and invest properly in both prevention and treatment by ensuring parity of esteem with physical health…school-based therapy should also be an option so everyone can access the help they need, no matter their age, location or background.”
Paul Holmes said that the Conservatives would put an extra £2.3 billion into the NHS and Community Services to speed up Mental Health referrals. Holmes said his experience running Children’s Services in Southampton had shown him there was a need to integrate delivery of Mental Health services as patients transition of Children’s to Adult Services he added ‘putting mental health treatment on a parity with physical health is the backbone of Conservative NHS policy.”
Q4:What measures would you support to achieve 100% renewable energy regeneration? 5 minutes
Paul Holmes said the UK was making progress as 33% of all energy currently generated in the UK is renewable. Holmes said the Conservatives would support more investment in renewable technologies, low carbon jobs and offshore wind power.
Ron Meldrum said that the UK needs more renewable sources and should strive to reduce consumption with better home insulation and more people on bikes. The Green Party manifesto promises to spend £100 billion on a “Green New Deal” and has a number of policies to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint including a new Carbon Tax. The Greens have targeted 2030 as the deadline by which the country should achieve net zero carbon emissions.
Labour has also adopted a 2030 target and Josh Constable warned that “If we don’t address climate change by then its game over.”
Constable reminded the audience that the 2010 Lib Dem/ Conservative coalition cut renewable energy subsides which impacted on both consumer uptake and damaged the UK’s solar panel industry – at the time the minister responsible was Eastleigh’s very own Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne. Despite this Lynda Murphy said the Liberal Democrats wanted to see more solar panels and criticised the Conservative government for continuing their ban on subsidies for onshore wind farms.
Q5:What are your views on allowing transgender and non-binary people to self-identify? 3 minutes
Lynda Murphy said she had “quite a few good friends” who are transgender females and believed they should not be subjected to invasive tests “if they say they are women and believe they are women”
“I’m all for no tests and self id is fine. We need to respect them – not discriminate against them.”
Josh Constable agreed with Murphy “it’s a personal decision and society should accept that. Trans rights are human rights.”
Ron Meldrum was also in favour of self id “we have no right to tell people how they present” and Paul Holmes was also in agreement with his fellow panellists.
“It’s not a matter for the state. We should allow people to live their lives the way they choose and it’s not for politicians to stand in the way of that.”
Q6: What would you do about traffic congestion and poor air quality? 7 minutes
While addressing the panel on the topic of traffic congestion and air pollution the questioner referenced Eastleigh Borough Council’s local plan suggesting that mass house-building would lead to increased traffic congestion and environmental damage. With no questions tabled that directly dealt with housing and in particular the Local Plan both Paul Holmes and Josh Constable both took the opportunity to go slightly off topic.
Paul Holmes ripped into Eastleigh Borough Council’s Local Plan which he characterised as the “Liberal Democrat Local Plan” although the council – like all councils – has been tasked with producing a local plan by the Conservative Government but nevertheless Paul Holmes vowed he would get the plan scrapped.
“The first thing I’d do if I was elected MP to stop traffic and air pollution is to scrap this Local Plan that is being produced by the Liberal Democrats. They are planning 6,000 homes when statistics show you only need 3,200. I will take it to the top of Government – I will ask the Secretary of State to throw it out… I am the only candidate who can win this election and stop the local plan.”
This elicited one biggest rounds of applause of the night though it’s not clear how the how an MP can intervene to stop a plan while it is still being examined by the Independent Planning Inspector or how a plan can be stopped if an Inspector finds it sound.
The applause quickly turned to ironic laughter when Holmes also promised to deliver the Chickenhall Lane link road – an unfulfilled Conservative election promise that haunted the previous MP Mims Davies.
While offering himself up as a hostage to fortune over the delivery of the major multi-million-pound infrastructure project Holmes was adamant he could succeed where his predecessor had tried but failed.
“You may laugh” he told the crowd “but you can judge me on my record.”
If Holmes is elected and the link road doesn’t materialise then that judgement will be swiftly delivered – Eastleigh Lib Dems have never missed an opportunity to remind voters of Mims Davies’s ‘broken promises’ over Chickenhall Lane but with a Tory manifesto pledge to invest £29 billion in ‘strategic and local roads’ it maybe Paul Holmes who has the last laugh,
The Conservatives have pledged to put £350 million into a new cycling infrastructure in order to create ‘commuter cycling networks’ and £1 billion to create a fast charging network.
Josh Constable wondered why 85% of new housing that is being planned is ‘unaffordable’ and said that Labour plans to build more Council houses would alleviate the problem of unaffordable housing. Turning to the Lib Dem candidate Lynda Murphy – who sits as a Winchester City Councillor – Constable said:
“This local plan is so bad that even Winchester Lib Dems voted against it.”
Josh Constable also said there should be investment in public transport to encourage it’s use and would help improve air quality.
In their manifesto the Labour Party has pledged to introduce a new Clean Air Act which will make access to clean air a human right. They also plan to get more polluting vehicles off the road with a vehicle scrappage scheme and introduce clean air zones. Like the Green Party, the Labour Party also plan a ‘Green New Deal’ – part of it includes nationalising the railway and putting it at the heart of a new integrated public transport policy which would include free bus travel for under 25’s.
Ron Meldrum said that as policies based on the pursuit of economic growth came with environmental costs the economic model had to change. The rising population also causes environmental problems and Meldrum said he believed the best way to address these problems was through local peoples’ assemblies.
When it comes to environmental problems caused by road traffic, the parties share many similar policies with the Greens – zero carbon targets; improving public transport; creating cycle networks. All four parties have pledged to plant millions of trees. The Green Party say they will introduce a 20 mph speed limit in residential areas.
Lynda Murphy didn’t respond to the comments made by Holmes and Constable regarding the Local Plan or on its potential to exacerbate local pollution but she did point out – possibly by way of a warning – that Mims Davies had failed to deliver on her 2015 pledge to find funding for the Chickenhall Lane link road. Murphy described traffic in Eastleigh as “terrible” saying it took over an hour for her to drive from Hamble to Netley.
Murphy promised Lib Dems would freeze rail ticket prices – “while we fix the rail network” and to develop and invest in a fully integrated public transport system.
Q7:What will you do for education? (Apart from putting more money in it). 5 minutes
Josh Constable said Labour would review the National curriculum, scrap SAT tests, and introduce a ‘learning for life model’ by creating a ‘cradle to grave’ National Education Service.
Labour also proposes to scrap Ofsted and limit primary class sizes to 30. They would introduce free school meals for all primary school children and they would close the “tax loopholes” that means private schools do not pay tax on profits or VAT on fees. Tuition fees for university students would be scrapped and maintenance grants would be reintroduced along with the Education Maintenance Allowance for sixth-formers.
Many of Labour’s education policy initiatives are shared by the Liberal Democrats but Lynda Murphy said the Lib Dem’s proposals could be funded by the ‘remain bonus.’
Lib Dems would also scrap SATs and provide free school meals for all primary school pupils. There would also be funding for lifelong or late learners.
The Lib Dems say they would pay Sixth form and training colleges a ‘young people’s premium for 16 to 18-year olds from poorer families which would be similar to the existing pupil’s premium but with a portion being paid directly to the student. Like Labour they would also reinstate maintenance grants for poorer university students but keep in place the tuition fees which were raised during the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition government.
Ron Meldrum said the Green Party wanted education to put less emphasis on “box-ticking exams” explaining “we want to concentrate focus on helping children become emotionally well-grounded people.”
Like Labour, The Green Party promise to reduce Primary class sizes, scrap Ofsted and University tuition fees and introduce taxation on income and VAT on the fees of Private schools.
As an addition to school syllabus the Greens would introduce an English Climate Emergency Education Act to support schools to teach young people about the urgency, severity and scientific basis of the climate and environmental crises.
Q8: What individual circumstance or single chain of circumstances has best fitted you to take this huge responsibility on our behalf? 5 minutes
This question, that came from the Chair, seemed to throw the candidates who instead spoke about their motives for taking up politics.
Paul Holmes said he first became interested in politics during Tony Blair’s premiership after his Gran was mistreated in hospital.
Ron Meldrum said:
“I wish I didn’t have to go into politics. The system works but it doesn’t want to ensure our children and the planet has a future – the other parties don’t do it for me.”
Josh Constable endorsed the Labour candidate Sam Jordan a local person who has lived in Eastleigh all his life “so he has the perspective of a resident and this gives his arguments weight.”
Lynda Murphy said she was not a career politician but a person who cares about other people.
“Jo Swinson said in order to be a politician you have to care and I care in buckets and I will care for all of you and all of Eastleigh constituency.”
Q9: What is your party going to do to bring a sense of safety back to our community? 6 minutes
Lynda Murphy said
“Having more women in parliament would help. Politeness and manners is key.”
Josh Constable said that Parliament has always been like that – it’s only interest in Brexit that has prompted more viewers to watch Parliamentary proceedings.
Ron Meldrum believed politicians needed to tell the truth and thought that Parliament should be collaborative rather than adversarial.
Paul Holmes said it was important to tell the truth and that’s what he would do if elected for the next five years “or possibly one or two with the things that are going on”.
“One of the problems of modern politics – particularly with social media – is that we are too focused on attacking and attacking. We just need to have a bit more respect for each other. We can all disagree on policy but we are all people at the end of the day.”
Q11: Closing statements. 6 minutes
“The growth model must change. Let’s go Green!”
“Sam Jordan is the only person standing who is rooted in this community. He is the best person because of that but also because of the manifesto he is standing on.”
“I really wish we had proportional representation in this country – but we don’t. If you don’t want to be represented by a Tory or you don’t want Boris Johnson to ram through his awful Brexit deal then vote to make it happen. Labour and the Greens are a distant third and fourth here. For this election lend your vote to me so we can make a change.”
Concluding Paul Holmes told the audience that
“Only a Conservative can stand up to a Liberal Democrat council that I believe is wrecking the environment in our constituency. I’m not one of these hard-right wing conservatives. I’m a one nation conservative, you can judge me on my record in five years’ time.”