Here we go, another year, another hustings. Another opportunity for a hapless group of chancers hoping we will let them rule us with a rod of iron for four more years. But this year it’s a bit different. Whoever wins only gets to feel the power for two years as it will be an all out election in 2018. It’s also the last year that Kings Heath and Moseley residents have to sit awkwardly side by side pretending that we have any interest in whether or not it’s that difficult to turn right outside the Dreams Bed Superstore. In 2018 there will be a shiny new Moseley and nobody has clue whether or not they’ll be living in it or not.
Hands up, before I start this I have to admit that I accidentally joined the Labour Party last year. It was September, we were all breathlessly excited about “new” politics, I got carried away. Since then I’ve tried to leave the Labour party but its Kafkaesque bureaucracy actually makes that easier said than done. So if you want to infer any sort of bias in this then feel free.
Only five candidates this year, some old favourites, two first timers. Also the shock omission of, seemingly permanent, hustings chair David Isgrove. I’m a bit concerned that I am about to head into this election without knowing where he stands on each question. It’s a bit like riding a bike without stabilisers. This year’s co-chairs were Izzy from Moseley and John from Kings Heath, they did an admirable job of not looking too bored.
This is what our aspiring Councillors (and one sitting Councillor) had to say for themselves.
Rob Grant – Green – A first showing for Rob in Moseley and apparently he’s the king of all of the Greens in Birmingham. Which is good. He has lived in Kings Heath for 24 years, works in a college, likes local people and wants to stop Heavy Goods Vehicle’s on the A435. Although this it wasn’t Rob’s fault, HGVs turned out to be a tediously repetitive theme of the evening. Rob also wants local initiatives to reduce waste.
Ken Lowry – UKIP – It was Ken’s first hustings, he told us that quite a lot. He’s been in the army (he was wearing medals so he must have been good at it), he’s been homeless and he’s been bankrupt. He wants to put Moseley back to where it was thirty years ago and he doesn’t like the 20mph speed limit. Was Moseley particularly good in 1986? The drugs were cheaper and you could turn left up St Mary’s Row but……
Martin Mullaney – Lib Dems – Same speech as last year
Lisa Trickett – Labour – Lisa has been in charge for four years now. That’s gone quick hasn’t it? She didn’t seem quite as angry as normal so as an electorate we might not have let her down too much, which is relief. I thought we were all in for a bollocking. She did make a good point that many of the things that happen around here happen because of local people rather than Councillors, which is true. She said thanks to those people.
Owen Williams – Conservative – Owen’s back. Fair play to him. It takes a curious form of masochism to stand as a Conservative in Moseley and Kings Heath. Owen must hope that if he keeps banging his head against this one they’ll let him go somewhere nice like Sutton. Owen would spend money on libraries, on parks, pick up all the rubbish and invest in youth services. His challenge to all of us is “Are things in Moseley better than they were four years ago?” Which is sort of awkward as they probably are.
I did try and remember the questions so I’ll try and summarise them until I get bored.
Are you committed to Moseley Roads baths? – Not surprisingly everyone was. Martin gave his detailed explanation of how he actually saved the baths once, he does seem to genuinely believe this, which is endearing. Ken reckoned that it must be quite easy to find the money as you can find money to bring refugees from Syria. That got the first boo of the night. Know your audience Ken, know your audience. Lisa set out some stuff about working with European funding and made it sound like the future of the baths is slightly more optimistic than it’s been in a while. Lisa did acknowledge that much of the reason that the baths situation is looking better is the work that Friends of Moseley Road baths have done.
Do you support all schools becoming academies? – A pretty unanimous no from everyone except Owen. Poor Owen, you could see his eyes getting wider and wider as he realised what he was going to have to say. It’s fair to say the Conservatives don’t give their candidates much to work with. Owen told us that taking schools out of the control of Councillors (a role he is putting himself forward for) and giving them to faceless corporations is actually localism. We all chuckled.
Can we move the 50 bus stop from outside the Co-Op? – Possibly the most local question we’ve ever had at a hustings. Ken said he knows the bus stop well and would move it. Rob knows this has been a longstanding issue, which surprised me as I’ve never heard anyone mention it before. Martin used to be on the bus stop committee. Owen knows a man called Tom in Hall Green who knows about buses and will sort it out for us. Lisa also uses the bus every now and then if it’s raining.
Do you oppose the TTIP and the impact it can have on the NHS? – Lisa pointed out that the Council had passed a resolution opposing TTIP, which is nice. Council resolutions have an excellent track record in shaping global events. Martin told us it’s a myth that the NHS is included in TTIP, which is just nonsense. Rob opposes TTIP. Ken opposes health tourism, which has absolutely nothing to do with the question and probably came as no surprise to anyone in the room. Owen is not an expert on this one.
If you moved HGVs off the A435 where would they go? – Ken was quite clear that he opposes a congestion charge and then demonstrated a surprisingly detailed knowledge of how buses work and relative levels of emissions. This was one of the high points of the hustings. Surprisingly it was forty minutes into the hustings and someone remembered to mention the railway line, though it was a prompt from someone in the audience shouting “railway line”. Martin told us that in only 20 years we could have trams running down Kings Heath High Street. This was a poignant moment for me as it marked 20 years since someone at a hustings first told me we would have some form of light rail in Moseley in only 20 years time. Here’s to the next 20 years.
Why can’t Kings Heath Library buy books? – This is when the heckling started. Someone randomly shouting “Liar” at Lisa, which seemed harsh. Martin told us he likes libraries and we could think about self serving libraries, which probably is not the best way to win the librarian vote. Ken and Owen told us it can’t be that hard to find money for books.
What are you doing about opposing Government cuts? – Rob felt that Birmingham was being unfairly penalised. Martin came up with some fantasy notion that in only a few years Council funding will be back where it was and we should borrow the money until then. Owen told us the current administration had enough money and was running the city into the ground spending it all on equalities officers. Just a hint of the 1986 that Ken wants us all to go back to.
Then there was another question about lorries for no apparent reason.
Anyway I’ve said enough. I’ve no idea who won the hustings, it’s largely irrelevant as I don’t think anyone but Lisa can win this year. I think the other candidates sort of acknowledged that they were all going through the motions and everyone was more than happy to be out of the room as close to 9 as possible.
Not the worst hustings I’ve been to 7/10. Remember to go and vote.