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Wednesday, 15 April 2015
Oxted election hustings

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This evening I attended the General Election hustings in Oxted for the constituency of East Surrey, and once again reminded myself of how we tend to boast about our democratic state and yet ignore the reality of how tenuous and fragile our democracy actually is:

Westminster is sometimes called the mother of all Parliaments, presumably because it was exported (with colonialism) to various other countries. However, as any geek knows it is not the oldest parliament in the world and the United Kingdom is not the oldest democracy.  In the lifetime of my own grandparents: the franchise was extended to all men over 21 (in 1918), the franchise was extended to all women over 21 (in 1928), wealthy people were restricted to only one vote (in 1948), and the vote was extended to all aged 18 and over (in 1969). Only a few years ago (in 2006) it became legal for an 18 year old to stand as a member of parliament. Today we still have an unelected House of Lords and a Monarchy with unelected powers.

(As I stated five years ago).

The hustings was held in the Oxted School Hall and the following candidates spoke: Sam Gyimah (Conservative); David Lee (Liberal Democrats); Sandy Pratt (Independent); Matt Wilson (Labour); Helena Windsor (UK Independence Party) and Nicola Dodgson (Green Party).  Two things struck me as I looked at the line-up: Last time Sandy was an Independent Conservative; I wonder why he dropped the Conservative label. And Labour has chosen another candidate called Matt. The previous candidate (Matt Rhonda) is standing this year in Reading East (where he stands a better chance of selection). So my neighbour’s observation half a decade ago was apt, when he suggested to me that Rhonda was ambitious and would surely use a (failed) East Surrey candidature as a platform to stand somewhere else in a more electable seat.

There is so much to write up about the hustings, that I will just limit myself to a few points on each candidate, giving my general impressions:

As with last year, the session ended with a complaint about questions having to be submitted via email prior to the event. An elderly man pointed out that he is not on the internet.  He then went on a ramble about the sanctity of life (from conception to eventual death) and asked for each candidates view of abortion and the sanctity of life.  Andrew was at that point drawing the meeting to a close, and instead asked the candidates to each provide one word to sum up their approach to life in general. The elderly man was then frustrated, because he (obviously) didn’t get the answer that he wanted.

The first open question from the floor at the end of the prepared questions was from a man who stated that he wasn’t going to vote, but asking the candidates what they intended to do to address the issue of voter apathy. It was interesting to see after the hustings that the young man had decided to vote after all:

If the hustings experience motivated one young voter to vote, that can only be a good thing.

My final observation concerns the different tone of the hustings to last time. Perhaps it was because the candidates were now standing against an incumbent (Sam was a new candidate last time also). Perhaps it was because the candidates were all standing against the record of the coalition government (except Sam, and partly David). Perhaps it was because there was a stronger voice on the left this time with Nicola and Matt posing alternatives to the comfy right-wing thinking in this constituency. And of course there was the refreshing organisation and chairing (which I have already mentioned).

The photograph above was taken at the end of the hustings and shows Sam and his Sure Start critics discussing the issues after the event. The discussion was still quite heated, and I don’t know what they resolved.

Posted by bigblue on 15/04/2015 at 10:23 PM
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