For an election that nobody wanted it certainly dragged a lot of people out to listen to four candidates explain why the Hall Green constituency is not a foregone conclusion.
This year’s Hustings Chair was a return for David Isgrove, one of Moseley Forum’s previous Chairs. As he announced that the current Moseley Forum Chair was not able to host this meeting because she had joined the Lib Dems, there was a gentle frisson of tension across the audience. We all realised that shit had just got real. David has an individual style of chairing hustings that usually involves ensuring he gets the first chance to answer the questions and scrupulously ensuring that his bias for the Conservative candidate is obvious to all.
Each candidate got to make an opening statement.
Jerry Evans (Lib Dems) – Jerry has regularly stood for this job and is an old hand at Hall Green hustings. He represented Springfield for 13 years (does anyone know where Springfield is?). He would be a committed MP and demonstrate that through writing a newsletter and promising to live in Dovey Road. This possibly takes the rules about living in the constituency too literally. As a Councillor, he wrote over 34,000 letters for constituents. For anyone that turned up to the 2015 hustings that’s an increase of 2,000 letters in just over twenty-four months. That includes the thirteen months since he lost his Council seat. Either that last year on the Council was a letter writing frenzy or he needs someone to intervene.
Patrick Cox (Green) – I think it’s fair to say the Green Party haven’t been sending us their best for the last decade. Which is odd, you would have thought that if they aspire to win anywhere in Birmingham then this is the place to concentrate on. Having said that Patrick seems to be a return to form, he has coherent answers and doesn’t disappear into some of the more bonkers proposals that his predecessors have presented to us. Patrick lives on the 50 route and rarely leaves the B14 postcode. I thought this was stupidly parochial but then remembered I rarely leave the B13 postcode; keep it local Patrick. He focussed on the relatively easy target of how cuts are strangling local services, easy but true.
Reena Ranger (Conservative) – Being a Conservative candidate in Hall Green is a thankless task. They usually throw it to someone that’s just starting out, if they get through the election without upsetting too many people then they might get a different constituency with decent people in it. The ideal tactic for hustings is to say as little as you can get away with and sit down as quickly as possible. Nobody told Reena this. She’s been working since the age of 8, she sits as a District Councillor….. somewhere, clearly not in Birmingham. She would open the Moseley railway station; BOOM and we’re off, it’s unprecedented that this promise hasn’t been made until nearly twenty minutes into a hustings. Then a vacuous trail of “best possible deal” “Theresa May, the best person to negotiate”, it’s going to be a long night.
Roger Godsiff (Labour) – Roger doesn’t like having to come and see us once every five years, he’s bloody livid that he’s had to come and see us only two years after we last sent him back to London. It’s the unwritten rule of Moseley politics. We don’t really like Roger, he clearly doesn’t like us, we will once again vote for him in massive numbers and this goes on until boundary changes free us from this mutually destructive relationship. Roger is a professional though, he knows how to play us. We all know he is an ardent Leave supporter so he is committed to a second referendum (or some form of vote) and mentioned that the Tories will privatise parks. Job done, five more years.
There were questions, lots of questions.
“What would you do about pollution and accidents in Moseley and Kings Heath?”
David has been actively monitoring pollution levels in Moseley and knows they are above safe levels, he would also follow the Chinese example of using electric bicycles. This is how you Chair a meeting, no need for candidates.
Everyone else was quite consistent in recognising the need to reduce reliance on cars. Jerry had possibly the only practical response in trying to extend the City Centre ultra low emission zone to cover this constituency. I don’t know what the ultra low emission zone is but that sounds reasonable doesn’t it?
“Has your party used the DECC 2050 calculator, invented by recently deceased David Mackay, to calculate when the UK would be carbon free?”
None of the candidates had heard of the DECC 2050 calculator and didn’t know if it had been used. Obviously, I’ve never heard of it either but have the benefit of Google. There is a lesson there in not making your question too specific. All candidates agreed that climate change is quite important. Which is a relief.
“Do you agree with Thresa May’s intention to implement the Naylor Review to fund the NHS?”
There was general agreement that selling off assets didn’t seem to be an overly sensible way of funding the NHS. With Roger making the point that general taxation is the most efficient way to fund services and Patrick saying that we should fund the NHS to a similar GDP rate as other countries.
Reena gave an answer that seemed to last for some hours that covered the various jobs her sister and brother in law have had in the NHS, dipped into apologising for not knowing what the Naylor Review was and then disputing that the review, she’s not heard of, said what was claimed. But… strong economy.
“How would you maintain the independence of international aid and ensure it was spent on aid?”
Patrick is happy that aid spending should be increased to 1% of GDP. Jerry is a fan of aid. Roger almost went a bit Brexity by telling us that aid is no replacement for trade but did manage to rein it in at the last moment. Reena said it was all fine because Priti Patel is in charge.
“Do you agree that values such as liberal democracy are the best values in the world?”
Unsurprisingly everyone did agree. I assume Reena did agree as her answer consisted of repeating the word tolerance over and over again until she faded out.
Now this was the point that everyone was going to learn what local hustings are all about. As Gillian stood up to ask her question we all knew it was going to be about a bus stop on the 50 bus route. She always asks about bus stops. You can’t just turn up here and stand for election and not know about the 50 bus route.
“Should an outward looking UK put the UN at the heart of foreign policy?”
WTF? Does the 50 take a radically different route once it gets past Sainsburys?
The consensus from our candidates was that they all like the UN but putting Russia and China in charge of foreign policy probably isn’t the best plan.
Then numerous questions about Brexit, good deals and bad deals. What would a deal look like? What would you do about it? I say questions, much of this was just people shouting.
It’s the most important part of this election and this debate took it nowhere.
David helpfully pointed out, as the Chair, there is little chance that the EU wouldn’t provide the UK with a good deal because they need us more than we need them. Because that’s exactly the sort of thing a Chair says.
Roger was up front about his position and committed to holding a public meeting where we can all come and tell him which way he should vote on a potential deal. This is no small undertaking, Roger doesn’t come and talk to us between elections.
Jerry made his party’s position clear that a second referendum should be there and that the best deal is not leaving the EU.
Patrick told us all of this happened because of Tory incompetence and we’re living through a Tory nightmare. He also added that he finds Roger’s position incomprehensible being so out of step of step with his electorate. We all nodded.
Reena……. Who knows what that was all about. She covered her holiday in Spain and then randomly told us to respect democracy, said “Strong and stable” a few times, told us Theresa May was a great negotiator and then went through it all again at a slightly higher pitch. Someone should have stopped her, for her own sake, for all of us.
There were some other questions but I, like most people around me, were getting desperate to leave so I lost track.
This year’s hustings were closed by David asking us to thank all the candidates but particularly Reena because she had a hard time. Which was outstandingly patronising.
This is likely to be the last year of Hall Green constituency unless the next Government falls over for no apparent reason. What are the odds of that? Quite high probably. Roger might need to invest in a season ticket.