Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester 24/4/15
This had a very different feel to it even before the hustings began. Organised by several groups, 38 Degrees, Results Organisation, Unlock Democracy, Open Rights Group, Equality North West and Christian Aid. The event took place very close to Manchester Town Hall. We were greeted by supporters offering us leaflets and flyers - it was a long way from leafy suburbia and complacent conservative land. An audience of about 250 had a goodly number of young people present. The constituency covers some of the poorest parts of the country and there is a massive disconnection with mainstream politics. The seat was held for Labour by Lucy Powell in a by-election in 2012 with 62% of the vote. The turnout was 18% which beggars the question - at what point should a vote be deemed to be invalid? The turnout in 2010 had been 42% Given the paucity of interest it would be reasonable to expect a similar shortage of candidates. Not so - there were 8.
Alex Davidson TUSC (Trades Union & Socialist Coalition); Paul Davies Communist; Loz Kaye Pirate Party UK; Myles Power UKIP; Xingang Wang Con; John Reid LibDem; Kieran Turner-Dave Green and Lucy Powell Lab. The LibDem did not turn up - apparently he could not get back to Manchester. The sitting MP Lucy Powell was also unavailable - she had offered several dates but this was not one of them. In her place was a local Labour councillor from the Beswick ward Rosa Battle.
The event was well organised and chaired. Proceedings began with a series of questions from the organising groups and candidates had 75 seconds each to respond. The second half was turned over to the assembled masses for questions from the floor.
The values on show were unlike anything seen before. There was broad agreement on many issues between Loz, Alex and Kieran who spoke with clarity and passion, expressing deep hostility to the Coalition’s Austerity plan. Rosa was also a passionate defender of parts of Labour’s policies but was clearly unhappy at other aspects. The UKIP fellow was of the more moderate persuasion, recognising he was not among many friends. The communist used the Cuban regime as a model for workers struggle against the capitalists. He was particularly strong on the effects of dropping bombs on parts of the Middle East. The Conservative candidate had weak english and did not grasp the meaning of some of the questions and comments. He parroted ‘Long Term Economic Plan’ as the panacea to all problems - so much so it became a running joke. The standout performer on the night and of all those candidates in the other constituencies seen to date was the Green. Kieran Turner-Dave is about 25 and a name to remember. He has the lovely ability to communicate with warmth and good humour. He was also genuinely delighted when a fellow panelist said something he agreed with. Excellent on Green Party policies, he deserves to go further. Several of his ilk could transform politics into something that not only matters but is engaging and inspiring too. No doubt the bastions of privilege and wealth will summon up all the tools in their media armoury to ensure that this does not happen.
Several Labour supporters were disappointed that Lisa Powell did not attend. She would have had to be on her mettle as Labour are seen by the left as just as much the enemy as the tories. Unsurprising when the Westminster party voted to maintain tory cuts of £30 billion.