A good welcoming space and an anticipatory buzz as the start neared. It was High Peak’s seventh event. Other constituencies nearby have not had one. In some cases this may be understandable but is still concerning. There are issues of civil disorder in Oldham where Phil Woolas (Minister for Immigration) is standing in an area where the issue is inflammatory. The BNP are standing too and it is feasible that a public meeting could become an excuse for a major punch up. The fear of angry voters permeates much of the local engagement.
Tonight the minister in charge calmed us down with a prayer for the candidates including a request, “to listen with open minds,” and “to pray for good governance to be pre-eminent in our lives.” He also set out the ‘rules’ which basically meant sit still, clap politely and shut up.
Then the bombshell that once again the questions submitted had been sent to the candidates before the meeting. Having experienced the deadening effect this had on Saturday’s event I expressed my concerns that passing on the questions took away the spontaneity and the chance to see how the candidates think on their feet. It then emerged that 3/7 of them had only seen the questions as they arrived!
Give the churches credit for at least trying. Where are the community groups, unions or local arts associations? And why, in a relative backwater, is there such a wish to control us and keep us calm and pacified? This fear seems to come from the organisers, not the candidates, although any evidence to the contrary would be welcome. And why do some of the churches seize the moment to promote their faith? Out of an audience of 150 I was told that there were about 20 from the hosting church. There were a number of people with eye-patches too giving a piratical slant to proceedings.
A different UKIP representative is on the platform tonight, who spoke coherently on some issues and another Independent with local form and bottle. The other, tiny, Independent has a vocal tic in that he inserts ‘by the way’ into every response and seems to feel that if he is given two minutes to speak, he must use all of it. Not a good idea. The Green continues to impress with his energy, delivery and commitment. The Tory favourite is better and shows a degree of passion as does the LibDem. The UKIP guy made the interesting point that despite claims to the contrary the Tory party were anti-change and implicitly endorsed voting LIbDem to help reform the electoral system. The Labour candidate is uncomfortable in this arena and struggles at times to articulate her thoughts. She admits as such in her closing remarks with commendable honesty.
Just how much engagement is actually going on in this election? The Greens said that 40% of their doorstop canvassing returns were genuine ‘don’t knows’/’not sure’. With the polls close and the three main parties not saying how they are going to save £40-50 billion, just what are voters going to decide on where to stick their X?