Last night, I joined around 300 people at the Wyvern for the South Swindon (SS) hustings. The chair (Editor of the Adver) asked if anyone was undecided in the audience, and I was one of a minority to put their hands up. I am still undecided, but it was a very helpful evening. All that follows is just my opinion on the evening, but I’m not trying to be independent, so no apologies for that. Apologies however if I do have any facts wrong, I haven’t particularly checked them, so this may be my perception of the facts.
Questions ranged from local buses to Trident, and gave the candidates a good opportunity to show their local knowledge and represent the position of their parties.
Lib Dems (LD), Conservative (C), Labour (L), Greens (G) and UKIP were represented, and each gave a 2 minute speech at the beginning. C, L and G were all well-rehearsed and fitted nicely into the two mins, with C and L using a hand held mic instead of the lectern. L came across as energetic and confident, C as self-assured and local, G as idealistic (to use her own word) and enthusiastic (despite being quite ill). LD struggled a bit, listing some of the LD achievements in coalition, but it didn’t seem like his heart was really in it, and throughout the evening he often ploughed his own furrow (e.g. on Trident). UKIP spoke about his experience as Deputy Chief Executive of Swindon Council.
From my personal point of view, I am choosing between C, L and G. I think the LD are a spent force, they have had their time in Government, and I don’t entirely see the point in voting for them at all, and this is particularly true in SS. The UKIP candidate is also standing as a local councillor in my ward, which I thought was interesting, as it did reflect the little chance of winning. I am also very unlikely to vote UKIP in general, as I believe lots of their policies are designed to foster resentment of different people. And leaving the EU would be bonkers.
SS is very marginal between C and L, and having had a few chats with the two candidates I think there is little to choose between them as individuals – both seem very enthusiastic and committed, both have experience as MPs. They give the impression of not liking each other very much, but I suppose that is inevitable when they are in competition and have to spend 6 weeks disagreeing with each other.
I am also tempted by G, in that I like the groundswell of popular support they are getting, and like some of their more outlandish polices (a set wage for all, whether working or not). I was also impressed by a phrase at the local hustings that reflected the real situation, in that she said “if we were to have influence in government” then they would push for certain policies. I think it would be a lot more of an interesting election if all the “minor” parties took this approach, rather than pretending they have a chance of getting a majority and being able to put their policies into practice.
The obvious problem with voting G is that even if you believe in all their policies, you are leaving the choice between L and C to all those who vote for either L or C. G addressed this point directly in her address, saying that if you keep voting for people you don’t want, you’ll keep getting people you don’t want, which was a fair point.
The UKIP candidate came across as perfectly reasonable and sensible, to the extent that one wonders why he is the UKIP candidate. Please don’t vote UKIP, as outlined above.
So I will mainly focus on L, C and G candidates, and the main memorable points for me.
The main flashpoint between L and C was over the so-called “bedroom tax”. I really dislike this phrase, as it doesn’t seem to reflect what the policy is actually about, but never mind. The irritation on the evening was that L and C had a disagreement about facts, as to whether C had supported it, whether L had brought it in and so on. Disagreements about facts on panels really annoy me, in that there is very little point in arguing about them. Someone should stop the discussion whenever it happens, and Google whether it is true or not. Instead, it is always left unresolved, like a pub discussion about “who that bloke was who played that part in that sitcom” in the days before mobile phones. Opinions about what should happen in the future are worth discussing, discussions about facts about things that have happened in the past should not be allowed.
Locally, there was interesting discussion of housing, particularly to the East of the A419, but the candidates (if I recall) were mostly in agreement that it needs the infrastructure to support it. C is very keen on buses not going through the centre, and seems very pleased about the new bus station that will be built, but in a week where the number 20 bus is being axed, this was never going to be a good selling point. This discussion also sparked the introduction “Talis, you like buses…” from the chair.
G made a good point about the subsidisation of public transport – I had never particularly thought about buses being a public good, but it does make a lot of sense, in that they bring people together and help people who can’t necessarily afford (or use) transport for themselves. All the candidates said very strongly that local groups should always put pressure on transport companies, so I had better go and write that letter.
So who to vote for? Nationally, I think that the accelerated austerity that C is promising is going to be damaging to vulnerable groups, and the more C candidates that get elected, the worse it will be. L do not have plans to completely reverse the cuts, but equally not to accelerate them. If L were to reverse some of the cuts I think that would be a mistake, as to a certain extent once the pain has been inflicted you should get the benefit, and the benefit should be making more jobs possible. G are not going to be elected in SS, realistically, but the candidate is fantastically committed and the cause is good.
So after last night, if you are choosing between C and L, vote L, if you are choosing between C and G, vote G, if you are considering UKIP or LD, I’d be interested to know why. So that leaves choosing between L and G.
I think Miliband is running a good enough campaign to avoid anyone getting a majority, and I don’t think “Bluekip” will get enough votes for a majority, but neither will the “Coalition of Chaos”. I love these terms. So given that, I think voting for G is probably a good thing to do, as the whole thing is going to be a ridiculous mess that no-one can predict. So in that case, it’s probably a good idea to vote for change. Which I think means voting Green.
That’s my take – here is what the Adver thought.