Hough End Police Social and Sports Centre - aprox 60 people of mixed age present. The event was organised by Unlock Democracy - an organisation seeking widespread reform of the political system - clearly much needed.
This was the seat which famously had lines of students queuing up outside at 10pm when the polls closed in the 2010 election. It was held by the LibDem John Leech, who originally won the seat in 2005. He is standing again. His main rival is Jeff Smith for Labour. He has been a councillor in the area for several years. In addition there are Marcus Farmer standing as an Independent, Mark Davis for UKIP, Robert Mannion Con and Lucy Bannister for the Greens.
The event was chaired by Jim Hancock, one-time Granada Reports political correspondent who had also worked for the BBC.
Each candidate was given four minutes to make an opening statement - far longer than anywhere else to date. Several did not get near to filling the time and those who did were running out of steam.
The Independent began - he had stood in 2010 and said he had spoken in the same venue to a packed hall of 500 people. He claimed the lack of interest reflected a lack of faith in current politicians and policies. He was particularly concerned at the disconnection of the young. Therefore he had enlisted the help of some young people to help him crystallise his campaign and focus on just right of the centre ground. They were going to be called the BlueyGreens!
The UKIP candidate was another successful businessman who was new to politics but was looking for people who shared his views. He reduced everything down to ‘supply and demand.’ The Conservative was straight out of Toryboy central casting. A besuited young lawyer he arrived late having been engaged elsewhere in a meeting. He duly chanted the Tory mantra “2 million new jobs, no tax for the lowest paid and DevoManc - the latest wheeze from fellow Toryboy, George Osborne. He was listened to in polite silence. The young Green had a few supporters in the audience and they helped her as she spelled out Green policies. Possessed of a slight lisp and the unfortunate habit of inserting ‘erms' into her speech, she still came across as a knowledgable and decent campaigner. The Labour candidate made much of his local background and his service on Manchester City Council. This was to come back and bite him in ways he could not have foreseen later.
Unusually questions had been submitted for the second half (National Politics) but the Chairman wanted local questions to prevail in the first half. He asked the assembled to contribute any they thought relevant. This brought a prospective UKIP councillor to his feet and just as he was getting into his stride telling us how good he was going to be he was bawled down to ask a question. He came up with ‘What did the panel think about residents getting summonses by email’ which took most present by surprise. The discussion quickly focussed on the need for advice, help and support if wrongly sent a summons. The next question took the advice theme further wanting to know why the Labour council had cut Citizen’s Advice Bureau and other similar help centres while at the same time spending millions on so-called vanity projects in the city. [There are 96 councillors in Manchester, 95 Labour and 1 Independent Labour]. Claims of a one party state and mistaken priorities rang around the room as the Labour man struggled to justify the spending decisions. He engaged in quite a to-and-fro with the LibDem, himself a former councillor, but he still enjoyed quite a lot of support in the room.
Other issues included challenging the pro-Austerity stance of the main parties, whether your party leader would press the nuclear button and attitudes to the First Past the Post voting method. Lab were again challenged for having AV in their 2010 manifesto but then quietly dropping it and campaigning to retain FPTP in the referendum. The LibDem said he had voted against the Coalition Agreement and had therefore felt empowered to oppose anything he did not agree with. Toryboy totally in favour of current system, surprise surprise, though he had the grace to admit that a different method could help break the Labour monopoly on the City Council.
An interesting question asked how far they would go to defy their party whip in the Commons. Greens and UKIP will not be whipped, Labour would if there was a need and at this point there was an ERUPTION from the floor as Jabba the Hutt’s younger and smaller brother bellowed from the back of the Hall several unsavoury and quite nasty comments aimed at the Labour candidate in particular and then attacked the chairman when he tried to call him to order. Jabba junior was in his 60’s and clearly not a happy Hutt. Amongst the splenetic bile there were odd nuggets about 6 Labour MPs going to jail over their expenses and how crap the city council were. Several folk implored JJ to calm down as did your correspondent asking him to watch his health as he was in danger of having a heart attack. Peace gradually restored and events moved on comparatively sedately until there came another attack from the floor, this time over a casework issue for the Labour candidate.
Towards the end of a moderate discussion about how to help the lowest paid, Mr Mightily Angry JJ ROARED back into the event, this time twice as nasty and three times as threatening as before. This interruption went on for some time with JJ threatening to hit people near him who were telling him to shut up. Jim Hancock was rattled - despite the event being held in a police building there was not a copper in sight. He was asked to leave - a question which was supported by warm applause from the assembled. Having done some more sweary threats he finally got the message, told us all to “Fuck Off’ and hauled his massivety to his feet. As he was departing slowly through the back door he heard the Green candidate try to pick up the pieces and turned back and shouted very loudly “ERM - ERM - ERM - ERM” provoking more comments from us for him to go home. The Green was somewhat rattled by the ‘Erm’ outburst and took a while to regain her composure.
A question pre-submitted for the second half could not be read out by the questioner. Apparently she had left the room having felt very intimidated by JJ. Not surprising and a microcosm of the national election where political debate has been reduced to despicable pictures of Nicola Sturgeon in Murdoch’s Sun parodying Miley Cyrus. Everything afterwards was comparatively calm.