The event was organised by Sustainable Hayfield and held in the Royal Hotel - a good albeit warm venue. Over a hundred people in attendance with yet again only a sprinkling of younger people.
The candidates have become very familiar with each other - they have taken part in as many of these events as anywhere in the country. Questions had been pre-submitted but those chosen were read from the floor. We were informed by the chairman, Laurie James, that our only contribution was to clap or withhold our claps. Shouting out and commenting were not welcome. Democracy? What democracy?
It quickly became clear that this approach applied to the candidates too. Each at some time in the evening made claims that needed to be challenged. They were allowed to get away making statements that in the centre of Manchester would have been rightly howled down. The clap-o-meter approach was a poor substitution but it did at least give some measure of support in the room.
Bingham (Tory) had a small group of his supporters sitting right in front of him again. Bisknell (Lab) clearly had a good following with Farrell (Green) and Worrall (LibDem) having some support too. There were very few Kippers in attendance for Mr Guiver to rely on.
He also said something quite strange in his opening remarks (candidates were given 5 minutes each to speak - far too long) when he said that he was a wealthy man, in fact so wealthy he was probably the wealthiest man in the room. This was greeted in total silence. He may have been attempting to use the American model of poor boy done good but it seemed out of place and even a bit offensive. The LibDem went last and used his usual humour to ask us if we were still awake. The questions were on the whole quite challenging but the responses were not. Bingham was allowed to get away with quoting food bank figures from 2012 and of course the big Tory lie about the debt without ever mentioning that national debt is double that of 2010 and that we are heading backwards economically. One area where candidates have moved forward was the Tory policy of subsidising people in Housing Associations to help them buy their houses. All four other candidates spoke out strongly against the idea with much support from the assembled. Bingham admitted later that he had taken on board the feeling in the room. The Tory’s opening comment on the NHS question again needed scrutiny when he said he was concerned at the rising levels of obesity. Quite. So how do you justify your governments complicity with the food giants allowing them to get away with slow murder? This was not said. Neither was he challenged about his assertions that the NHS was improving and for us the great British public to let the Tories get on with running it.
The final question asked candidates which part of their manifestos they disagreed with - or were they party clones? This produced ‘Fracking’ from the LibDem, ‘HS2’ and ‘Trident’ from Labour and some waffle from the Tory about voting against Syria -until he was reminded to answer the question, when he thought defence should not be cut. UKIP said he agreed with their policies but was unhappy at the tone of some UKIP spokesbods, particularly on immigration. The Green admitted she was a clone as she agreed with all Green policies.
The High Peak is a marginal seat and as such should have produced some real debate.
The organisers could feel happy that the event passed off peacefully but for this observer it felt that we too were treated as clones.