I can safely say I just got home from one of the most bizarre electoral hustings I’ve ever been to.
Tonight’s debate, hosted by Horsney Parish Church and moderated by Father Bruce Batstone, invited candidates from the five largest parties running in my constituency, Hornsey and Wood Green:
- Suhail Rahuja from the Conservative Party
- Gordon Peters from the Green Party
- Catherine West from the Labour Party
- Lynne Featherstone from the Liberal Democrats (incumbent)
- Clive Morrison from UK Independence Party
The other three candidates were invited to submit questions for the debate.
That’s not what happened though.
Before the debate could even start (to a full church), a man walked up to the front of the room with a chair and set up beside the Tory candidate. Once the introductions happened, he announced he was Geoff Moseley from the Hoi Polloi party and he had a democratic right to attend the debate but hadn’t been invited.
He rambled and argued with the Father Bruce for a couple minutes while the audience booed and heckled for him to leave. He continued to refuse, getting increasingly obstinate until finally Father Bruce capitulated and said his rambles counted as his two minute introduction. We then had the introductory remarks from the other candidates, after which Father Bruce invited Helen Sbipy-Vann of the Christian Peoples Alliance to the stage to present her party. Finally, Moseley argued for another 2 minutes and got to make his introductory comments.
We were promised a 5 party debate and got 2 more candidates for free. Sadly Frank Sweeney of the Workers Revolutionary Party wasn’t there.
Further chaos ensued after the first round of questioning, when Moseley began arguing with the Tory candidate during his attempt to answer the question (which was about protecting local government services). The audience got rowdy and a number of people rushed the stage to encourage Moseley to leave. During this confrontation, Morrison (UKIP) started blowing a whistle.
Finally, Father Bruce asserted control over the situation and calmed everyone down. He reminded both Moseley and the audience that he was in charge and he would allow the debate to proceed if everyone could maintain some level of respect for his chair.
At some point during this altercation, someone called the police because later they were observing the debate from the back of the church.
The debate ended far more peacefully than it proceeded with a moment of silence led by Father Bruce.
So what was actually said during the debate?
Rahuja argued Tory party lines about the dangers of putting a Labour-SNP government in charge and how his government had made necessary cuts. He was condescending to Moseley (who snapped at him too) and West.
Peters argued for action on climate change, inequality and democracy. He was much more passionate during the questions and earned some supportive applause from the audience.
West was articulate and intelligent. She showed compassion for Moseley’s right to present his views. She wants to lobby for local businesses to pay a living wage – a commitment beyond the Labour manifesto. She drew strong support from the audience on numerous occasions. Easily tonight’s winner.
Featherstone talked about her values (live and let live, taking care of those less able, internationalism, civil liberties) and took credit for introducing same sex marriage to England & Wales and a campaign to end female genital mutilation. She wasn’t as strong as West but earned some support from the audience.
Morrison was not your typical UKIP candidate (not just because he’s black). He identified himself as a foster carer, a community activist, a Christian and an immigrant since 1969. He talked mostly about community and his disillusionment with mainstream parties and actually very little about the UKIP platform (though he mentioned it was fully-costed). He complained about having to deal with the perception that UKIP is a racist party and he wanted to cut across racial barriers (as he identified that racism is still a part of our culture). He was a bit soft-spoken and not deep on policy beyond supporting the community.
Moseley started his own party after being disgusted by all the mainstream parties – except the Greens. He gave up on Labour because of Iraq and blamed the LibDems (who he voted for in 2011) for getting into bed with the Tories. Not very deep on policy but very amusing.
Spiby-Vann began with “I’m a Christian and I love Jesus” and her platform stemmed from that. She was very soft spoken, read from her policy leaflet (although to be fair, she didn’t know she’d be invited on stage tonight) and focused on how the breakdown in marriage was the cause of most social ills.
As it’s late and this post is already long enough, I’ll just pull out some of the most amusing quotes of the night (as close to accurate as possible when in quotes, paraphrased otherwise) from my notes.
Spiby-Vann would make sure that our education system teaches men to respect women and strengthen traditional marriage. She would give £10K grants to newly married couples and provide marriage training courses because in her faith communities, she doesn’t see the difficulties of divorces coming up. She also suggested we could solve part of the housing crisis by removing the “stigma” of young adults living at home while starting university through advertising campaigns.
Rahuja seemed to suggest that voting for a Labour Government would mean people would die (based on the people who died in the NHS Staffordshire issue). He also said rent control is a ludicrous idea that would be a disaster – we only had to look to Venezuela or Moscow (where he lived) to see why.
Rahuja to Moseley: “This a democracy, but I guess in your case it’s more dim than democracy.”
In answer to a question about removing legislation around hiring practices for small businesses, Featherstone gave a strong defence of employment law protects us from discrimination and called it “absolutely vital.” She pointed out that under her push to improve employment for black and minority ethnic communities, the Department of Work and Pensions did an experiment where they sent fake job applications to employers – half with British names and half with more ethnic sounding names (all with equivalent qualifications). Unsurprisingly, the British sounding names were more frequently offered interviews.
In answer to the same question, Moseley said “I don’t know what kind of policy you expect me to come up with, I’m not in it to win this election.” To which Rahuja remarked that at least he was right about that.
Rahuja: “Very rarely I agree with these panellists” in reference to West, Featherstone, and Peters who all supported keeping the number of MPs around 650.
Moseley started his closing statement with: “What Gordon [Peters] said” and “I love the Greens – the only mainstream party worth a spit”.
Morrison: “I’m not tied to a political party.”
Spiby-Vann’s closing statement discussed the need for a “new moral vision” and to “promote godliness.” She said “marriage is the safest setting for sexual intercourse” and that “marriage demonstrates a man loves a woman – he pledges to remain faithful and she pledges to take care of him.” She then described how marriage protects women. I think this level of Christian fundamentalism managed to shock the relatively godless and liberal residents of Crouch End.