To Salford, to visit Imperial War Museum North to see the very impressive and moving Don McCullin photography exhibition. Then on to Oasis Academy, Media City in the constituency of the infamous Hazel Blears. The Academy hosting the event had the theme, ‘Issues affecting young people’ and had invited candidates from the 3 main parties to address questions. Several Independents (mainly from the ‘Hazel must go’ camp) were excluded but given a mention to appease them.
Her chief rival, Norman Owen, is the leader of the LibDem group on the local council. An ex-engineering manager, he came to life when discussing Tory policies during the eighties and problem estates. At other times he was toe-curlingly awful. Unprepared and rambling when discussing education issues posed by youngsters from the school, he did not inspire confidence. Matthew Sephton, the Tory candidate began well as he is a Primary teacher in Stockport so he had an advantage to begin with. This quickly dwindled as he tried to bring in Conservative policies and values.
The audience were slow to warm up despite being prepared by a ‘fantastic’ introduction by a fantastically enthusiastic rep from ‘Charities Parliament’ which as you would imagine, is a fantastic organisation doing fantastic things for society. You get the picture. He managed to cram at least seven ‘fantastic’s’ into his opening remarks. We were also given the opportunity to write questions and to wave White and Black pieces of paper at appropriate times. Black = disagree; White = agree.
Hazel Blears has a problem. Not only is she tainted by her behaviour with expenses, she is also damaged by what she did when she resigned from the Cabinet. She has disappeared off the radar for several months. She has the unfortunate demeanour of someone sucking sherbert lemons through her bottom when the others were speaking. Absorbing to watch but a real barrier to communication. Interestingly, this expression disappeared as the evening wore on.
It was fascinating to watch her in action. She is very, very good. Not a sentence I would have expected to write. She knows her stuff. She cares. She is enthusiastic and has drive and character. She is articulate and has the bottle to take her opponents on and gives far better than she gets. She thinks on her feet. At one point she absolutely kebabbed the Tory and left him looking like he wished he were somewhere else. On the whole she was very positively received.
The event was well organised and the panel managed to get through 13 questions in 80 minutes. The Black Sheets came into their own when a question was asked about a hung or ‘balanced’ parliament. Tory boy tried to tell us this was a very bad idea, only to be met with a forest of black sheets and laughter.
An oddity; one of the Independents had attended and asked a question from the floor, implying that 40 years of sex education was responsible for most of societies ills. I paraphrase but it was the only time all night that a questioner got the Black Sheet treatment.
150 mixed people in a school hall will not determine the outcome in Salford and Eccles. However if the runes from tonight mean anything it is this. Should Blears hold on to her seat then the rehabilitation process will have begun. She is streets ahead of Hatty Harperson and will make her way back onto the ‘A’ list.
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