Friday, 26 May 2017

Thoughts from listening to the Bishop Grosseteste University Hustings for Lincoln GE2017

Hustings held at Bishop Grosseteste University on Thursday 25th May 2017. 

Initial speeches:

Caroline Kenyon- Lib Dems:

  • Caroline talks about her route into politics; Brexit galvanized her into action by deciding to stand as the Lib Dem PPC for Lincoln.
  • Caroline argues that Brexit will change the "tone of Britain" and is an opportunity for people to engage with the political process; "this is your generation's election".
  • Caroline refers to a lot of the sentiments she makes in her leaflet- e.g. "Business drives everything".
  • Caroline does mention the Lib Dem policy on Brexit very well, including mentioning the key values of "open, tolerance".

Nick Smith (represented by Tony Wells)- UKIP:

  • Doesn't like the term "Hard Brexit" but to many Remainers who disapprove of PM May's approach to Brexit, it's the correct term. 
  • Positive "guarantee" by UKIP that Brexit wouldn't be "catastrophic" - mentions UKIP's 6 tests for Brexit, including controlling the UK's 200 mile maritime exclusive economic zone and making sure Brexit is completed by 2019. (see more here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-40042669). 
  • Tony claims UKIP are not against immigration and doesn't want to use the term immigrant because it's a "derogative term"; would use the term "people".
Phil Gray - Independent:
  • Need to stop continuing to change the education system every 5 mins; argues that comprehensives can be just as successful as academies and grammar schools. 
  • Very empowering and inspirational personal story; a former art teacher who understands the pressures teachers face.
  • "Anti-party" candidate...believes that parties have a "vested interest in maintaining themselves" and become "very inward looking" in times of hardship.
  • Agrees that Theresa May's Brexit is "Hard" and would prefer a "Soft Brexit"; in facts he believes "Brexit means nothing"! 
Karen Lee- Labour:
  • Karen says she has "had enough" of the Conservative Austerity Agenda; rightly identifies that the Conservatives have missed every deficit target they have put in place since they came to power; she says it's "time for change".
  • Has a very good grasp of Labour national policy - e.g. the fact that Labour will abolish the bedroom tax and aim to bring in a £10 an hour National Living Wage by 2020.
  • Karen wants all kids to be given the chance to attend university and believes abolishing tuition fees is the right step forward to achieve this wish.
  • Karen says that reinstatement of training bursaries is a must, pointing out that as a single mum in 2000 she'd have not been able to train without having access to the bursary.
  • Karen wants to see a Medical School established in Lincoln.
  • Karen says she "fully supports Labour's approach to Brexit and the renewal of the Trident Nuclear Deterrent".
  • Karen mentions that she is the first Labour PPC to have been "born and bred in Lincoln since 1930".
  • Karen says that the Tories cannot be trusted on the economy or immigration.
Karl McCartney- Conservatives:
  • Karl claims that all the previous speakers before him had been "negative" - erm no, Phil Gray got a lot of cheers and laughs from the audience when recounting his person backstory and Karen Lee received a lot of applause at the end of her speech.
  • Karl claims that previous speakers only talk about "national issues" but Karen talked about the need to bring a Medical School to Lincoln (that's a local issue!!)
  • The "jewel in the crown" statement from your leaflet was a personal opinion and not from an objective survey....OK!
  • Karl talks about his transport policy record; yes it's impressive but constituents are still concerned about the number of freight trains coming through the City Centre every day...need to sort that out!
  • Karl sees himself as a "liberal Conservative" but I beg to differ based on his voting record! 
Ben Loryman- Greens:
  • Ben talks about the need for a long-term vision that is hopeful and positive and we should stand up for our beliefs. 
  • Ben believes wholeheartedly (as do I) that Climate Change is REAL- e.g. mentioning that the Arctic has warmed up by 4C and we need to take action now. 
Best first impression: KL. 

Questions:
What would you do to reduce foodbank use in Lincoln. 2,400 children are receiving foodbank parcels in Lincoln:
  • CK: Issue of hunger "utterly heartbreaking". Put together a panel to hold a Food Summit on the 9th June if elected; she says she'll use her food contacts to help support foodbanks so volunteers don't need to buy food. I'm shocked that they have to buy food because donations have fallen due to Brexit inflation! Long term would address low-pay that leads to reliance on foodbanks.
  • TW: States that Labour City Council should be doing more to support those in poverty (money cut to St Mary's project in Lincoln which helped people in "desperate situations"). Says that the NLW needs to be raised and system needs to be changed so people don't fall through the net.
  • PG: Buys food at the "reduced counter" in food stores but states he'd probably have to use a foodbank because his pension isn't much. Need to alter the "overall economic trend" in the UK- stop people getting into debt.
  • KL: Labour Council have had to make cuts because of Conservative cuts to local Government funding. Labour would bring in £10 NLW by raising Corporation Tax (raise £20bn?). Abolish zero-hours contracts & abolish benefit-sanctions so people feel more secure.
  • KC: Labour answer was "prepared". Bitches about Socialists- says that people are keeping more of their money so need to "manage". CT has been lowered but amount of tax has been increased....hmm...
  • BL: Malnutrition cases shouldn't be as prevalent as they are in Lincoln. Low pay needs to be addressed. Areas where Universal Credit (including Lincoln) has been rolled out have seen a huge increase in foodbank use. Need to reduce food waste - change the nature of farmer-supermarket contracts.
Best answer for me: CK. 

What do you plan to do locally to benefit residents over the next 10 years? 
  • BL: Wants to look at improving NHS services in Lincoln; has read the House of Lords' plan for Health and Social Care which includes recommendations to create a tailored workforce plan to improve safe staffing levels at Lincoln County Hospital.
  • KC: Lincoln's a brilliant place but need to improve transport and infrastructure and make Lincoln more attractive to businesses so that job opportunities are created for graduates as well as school and college leavers. 
  • KL: More affordable housing, abolish tuition fees and more investment in utilities  as well as reducing traffic congestion. Supports BL's recommendations on the NHS.
  • PG: Investing in children rather than infrastructure. Work towards scrapping Trident and use the money to abolish tuition fees and find ways of supporting children's learning, regardless of whether they want to attend Uni or not.
  • TW: Create a medical school in Lincoln which would be located alongside Lincoln County Hospital. Offer an incentive by waiving the last year's tuition fees for medical professionals to encourage them to stay in Lincoln on a two year contract. 
  • CK: Can't be complacent about Lincoln. Create a scheme with the University of Lincoln for primary children (Year 3) in areas such as St Giles to inspire and empower them to aspire highly. Wants to attract more businesses to relocate to Lincoln.
Best answer for me: CK.

What will you do to help disabled people in Lincoln?
  • TW:Attacks present Conservative Government's attitude to disabled people. Agrees that abuse of the system was right to be addressed but it's a "step too far."
  • PG: Talks about "model" adult social care facility Ashley Court (run by the Longhurst Group: https://www.landh.org.uk/care-support/care/ashley-court) for disabled residents in Lincoln which has been rated "Good" in their recent Care Quality Commission inspection in July 2016 (yet their safety required improvement: http://www.nhs.uk/Services/careproviders/Overview/DefaultView.aspx?id=58788). Admits more could be done- e.g. reviewing the benefit changes because at the moment it's target driven.
  • KL: Cuts to disability benefits should be reversed. Wealthier people should pay more tax which would provide the money to improve NHS Services. Brexit needs to be done in a "sensible way" and maintain the protections brought in during our membership of the EU.
  • KC: EU protections will remain in place and none would be negotiated away. Ensure that carers are looked after (yet Govt won't increase Carers Allowance as Labour have pledged to do) and give them more respite care time so carers can recharge their batteries. Agrees with national policy to allow employees to take unpaid time off to care for disabled dependents. 
  • BL: Increase the amount we pay towards Personal Independent Payments; get rid of the Bedroom Tax so that disabled people can still use their spare room for equipment. Change disability assessments; perhaps getting more disabled people involved as assessors as per Adam Hills' suggestions.
  • CK: Make changes to the Access To Work Programme to make it easier for disabled people to access the jobs market. Encourage businesses to change their recruitment processes. 
Best answer for me:CK.

We need to improve disabled people's rights. What would you do to stop disabled people from being pitied and to increase respect for them from society in general?
  • PG: Heard about new rail footbridge on the Brayford Rail Crossing not having a lift/wheelchair access. Need disabled people to speak up and point out where things need to change.
  • KL: Surprised that the new rail footbridge isn't compliant with legislation; would fight to get wheelchair access in place by discussing the issue with City of Lincoln Council.
  • KC: Doesn't know how many disabled people there are in Lincoln but will represent them "to the best of his ability". 
  • BL: Hopes that society is changing due to the Equality Act 2010 being in place and because of the high profile of the Paralympics and disabled veterans.
  • CK: Structural engineers should have understood the needs of disabled people; plans always need to be inclusive of disabled people's needs. Need to respect every disabled person, not just those who are outstanding at sports.
  • TW: Times have changed RE societal perceptions and infrastructure changes to allow disabled access (however, TW, disabled football fans still need more wheelchair spaces and ramps in stands!!!) Disabled people need to represent themselves and push for further change. 
Best answer for me:CK. 


What would you do to help RAF personnel in Lincoln?
  • KL: Give Armed Force personnel a real living wage with a "proper contract" and build 100,000 more affordable homes a year for 5 years (in addition to those being built by the CC) with a proportion of those houses designated for Armed Force personnel. 
  • KC: Labour Government made Armed Force personnel buy their own kit; Conservatives would keep buying the best kit for personnel. "Times have been tough" but the £38bn blackhole needed to be filled and it was.
  • BL: Scrap Trident and use some of the money to fund the frontline Armed Force personnel.
  • CK: Successive governments have "abused the Armed Forces" a "pitiful rag" of what it used to be. Armed Force cuts have been a disgrace. Support a partial Trident but need more funds for the Armed Forces.
  • TW: Need to fund the Armed Forces and should not give up Trident because only France has nuclear weapons and that's to Putin's advantage.
  • PG: Agrees with CK that the Armed Forces are demoralised because they have fought "unjust wars". A lot needs to be done to help them when they come back, including sorting out the procurement section of the Ministry of Defence and reduce the reliance on part-time volunteers. 
Best answer for me: KL.

What will you do about school staff redundancies?
  • KC: Schools have a budget and the school management team have to decide whether they spend that money on staff or other elements to help deliver the National Curriculum. Any schools that have issues with staffing should contact him if he gets re-elected on June 9th.
  • BL: Schools need more investment.
  • CK: The Lib Dems have pledged an extra £7bn for education; Brexit can't be used as an excuse for austerity driven measures in schools. Children are the future of the country and need access to a high quality education.
  • TW: Have a shortage of teachers so wonders why there staff are being cut. Seems unbelievable.
  • PG: Fair Funding Formula means that funding per pupil is reducing (a net reduction in income) and are forced to make staff cuts. Most schools built in the 1990s and 2000s were built using Private Finance Initiative Funding meaning that they are saddled with a large amount of debt. Children shouldn't suffer because of the debt burden.
  • KL: Introduce the National Education Service and need more staff to in primary schools to fulfil pledge of class sizes being under 30 for 5, 6 and 7 year olds. Talks about the costings for free breakfast clubs being three times the amount costed from the Conservative manifesto and that makes PM May look "weak and wobbly".
Best answer for me: KL

How would you represent Remain voters of Lincoln (43%)?
  • BL: Referendum needed to be held to "clear the air". Hopeful that the Brexit negotiations will allow Leavers and Remainers to come together. Remainers have to understand the frustrations of those who voted to Leave-e.g. public services being squeezed and Leavers need to understand the concerns Remainers have about the negotiation process.
  • CK: Need a "Soft Brexit" - Eurosceptic who wanted to Remain but believed that being part of the EU had advantages for us. A Hard Brexit-or "no deal is better than a bad deal" is a terrifying prospect for the country. Cannot walk away from the EU without a deal and need to negotiate in a conciliatory manner. 
  • TW: Passionate anti-EU. Believes there will be more jobs for young people. The £350m for the NHS bus was an exaggeration but would be £500m for the UK that could be put into the NHS. We'd be able to negotiate our free trade deals which will help Lincoln.
  • PG: Brexit worries me. The General Election was unnecessary- £125m to hold it. PM May is pontificating and slagging off EU leaders and it's no way to begin a negotiation. The referendum result needs to be respected and should be getting on with the process now.
  • KL: Very keen to protect the £2.8bn worth of exports made to the EU from the East Midlands annually and protect the 200,000 jobs that depend on those exports. Was a Remainer and need a "Sensible Brexit" - i.e. try and keep close access to the Single Market and Customs Union, protect the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK and seek reciprocal rights for UK nationals in the EU and keep employment directives, consumer directives and environmental protections. Can't go into the Brexit negotiations like a "playground bully".
  • KC: "Some candidates have reverted to type"; blames Remainers for their hostility. We live in a democracy and Remainers must respect the result (someone said they'd ask for a recount if there was 1 vote in it and I completely agree with them :)). Article 50's been invoked so tough luck basically. (I find his attitude reprehensible). 
Best answer for me: KL.

Can you promise not to U-Turn on the policy platforms on which you are standing?
  • CK: Judged by her record; been in business over 20 years and has a strong reputation in the area. Has a business relationship with the World Food Programme (United Nations). She's running for office because she believes in her platform. Judge her fairly.
  • TW: UKIP are a radical party and they do not U-Turn. "Brexit Means Exit" and will hold Theresa May up to the 6 UKIP Brexit tests. We want the country running on "its own steam".
  • PG: Won't U-Turn because he'd offer "strong and stable leadership"- stay independent and remain independent. Represent Lincoln rather the views of a party or a lobby group.
  • KL: Proven track record-been a City Councillor for 13 years, was re-elected 4 times and received the highest votes of any City Councillor in the 2016 local elections. Theresa May's record is dire - "very weak and very wobbly".
  • KC: Need to be pragmatic; have a little influence on the backbenches (unfortunately)- shouldn't toe the party line and "fight for a minority view". Could trust anyone but bigger game to be played if you're part of a party.
  • BL: We live in a democracy and sometimes leaders make a wrong decision and U-Turns are sometimes necessary. 
Best answer for me: CK/KL. 

Sum up:
  • BL: Received a lot of emails from constituents who asked BL about Animal Rights. The Hunting Act should not be debated in Parliament and when we replace the Common Agricultural Policy we make sure that farm animal welfare is central to the new policy. There should also be tougher sentences brought in for animal cruelty as per recommendations made by Battersea Cats and Dogs Home (there should be a maximum of 5 years in place for the most serious offences).
  • KC: People make their decision based on the Economy (Lincoln's doing quite well), Brexit (need to have a very good deal) and Security of our nation (they'll put the X in the box based on that).
  • KL: Make sure you use your vote. Choice between continued austerity or a much fairer country.  Vote to help the many, not the few.
  • PG: Choice between Hard Left and Hard Right Brexit. Parties are not working for the people; need to take back control by not leaving the EU entirely. Need to think about the future and have good relations with the EU.
  • TW: UKIP has inspired people to get involved in politics because they are fighting against the rigged system. Very happy that Lincoln voted to Leave the EU. Made the right decision.
  • CK: Occupying the "Central territory". The Lib Dems have called for a 2nd Referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal: "it started with the people and it should end with the people". 
Best summing-up for me (that talked about an issue not mentioned in the hustings: BL).

Overall:
I learned some very interesting facts about our current candidates (although it was a shame the UKIP PPC couldn't attend the hustings event). I was very pleased to hear  Karen Lee's position on Brexit agree that we must protect the jobs that come from exporting goods to the EU. It seemed to me that Ms Lee had a really good grasp of the Labour manifesto and of current events, criticising PM May for her social care "Dementia Tax" policy and the "Free Breakfast Club" costing shambles. Her answer on disability rights was OK but I'd have liked to have seen her reference Labour's commitment to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into law which the Conservatives have refused to do and perhaps also reference the fact that "Labour will give British Sign Language full recognition as an official language" but perhaps I'm nitpicking a bit here. 

The answer to the disabled questions in general were a bit lapse except for Caroline Kenyon who talked about the need to expand the Access To Work Programme by encouraging more employers to recruit disabled employees based on their own individual merit. I was also intrigued by Ms Kenyon's 
plans for Lincoln; I'd like to hear more about the plan to create a Food Summit and more about the University of Lincoln's possible Aspiration Programme and to see whether the programme will directly benefit children in my local ward, Birchwood. 

I found Ben Loryman very personable and I was very happy to see Animal Rights get a specific mention (albeit in the summing-up stage of the proceedings). He also sounded very pragmatic on the issue of Brexit and is right that both Remainers and Leavers need to find a way to make a success of Brexit, which includes having our say on the nature of the deal through the holding of a 2nd Referendum. 

I was, however, very disappointed by Karl McCartney, especially on his answers regarding schools, disability rights and Brexit. It's alright that he has a strong transport infrastructure record but he has to ensure that he represents all constituents in Lincoln who care about improving equality in Lincoln. I understand that he is "merely a backbencher" but perhaps I want a Lincoln MP to aspire to having more influence in party policy. It was also lamentable that Mr McCartney couldn't reference manifesto policies in his answers; for example, there is a section in the manifesto that addresses disability rights (e.g "giving employers the advice and support they need to hire and retain disabled people and those with health conditions" p.57 of the manifesto). Mr McCartney was also surprisingly weak on his answer to improving armed forces personnel living conditions in Lincoln. The manifesto talks of "protecting them from persistent legal claims"  and "introduce better compensation for injured armed forces personnel and the families of those killed in combat" (p.41) as well as "investing £178bn in equipment over next decade" (p.41). Constituents may not have read the manifesto so may have benefitted from hearing those policies being made clear at the hustings event, especially considering Mr McCartney talked about the past record of the Conservatives when in coalition with the Lib Dems. 

Tony Wells gave a good account of UKIP's position on Brexit which would please voters who may not trust the Conservatives to deliver on their promises. 

Phil Gray I found an absolute joy to hear and was a real breath of fresh air; he made me laugh but also brought up important points regarding school funding which should be taken on board. 

Generally speaking, it was good to see the issue of the Medical School raised by several candidates and I hope whoever the next MP happens to be will take action to secure funding for the Medical School from the next Government. Foodbanks do need to have funding whilst there is a demand for their services and even more co-operation is needed with the City Council to reduce poverty levels in Lincoln. I did get the impression that Ms Lee and Ms Kenyon would be better at this than Mr McCartney has been and would be in the future. 

As a result of the hustings, I feel my vote is leaning ever so slightly towards Labour. I'm reassured by Ms Lee's ability to express herself eloquently and her track record does indeed speak for itself. Whatever happens on June 9th, I know that I'll have voted for a change candidate.