Marple Methodist Church
Candidates: Lisa Smart (LibDem); Michael Taylor (Lab); William Wragg (Con);
Darren Palmer (UKIP); Graham Reed (Green)
Yet again the assembled throng (150+) were predominantly middle aged and older. As we entered we were greeted by activists giving out information on TTIP and the NHS which boded well. Sadly it was not to be.
The previous MP, Andrew Stunnell, held the seat for the LibDems from 1997 and stood down in 2015. This meant that all five candidates were political virgins and it showed. Being set in a church reduces passion and the proceedings were far too polite. Candidates were allowed to get away with making claims without being challenged from the platform or the floor. Having experienced just how good and dynamic a hustings could be the previous night, this was a return to the frustrations of New Mills. Each candidate was given one minute to answer a question. It meant many more questions (several very good) were dealt with superficially. This was particularly evident in responses to questions asking how they would reduce food banks; the situation in the Mediterranean; Ofsted and Faith Schools. The consensus on the panel was that Faith schools were a good thing. The Labour candidate in particular stressing his catholicism (this followed his strong anti-abortion stance earlier). At this point there was a noisy interruption from the floor bemoaning the sterility and mundanity of the discussion. The point was made that this was the only chance in 4 or 5 years to challenge and test candidates who seek to represent us. This was greeted by some applause, several glares and bemusement from the lady vicar chairing the event.
Hands up - it was me….
At the end of the event the Labour candidate bounded off the stage and shook my hand. The vicar came across and asked how things could have been done differently. The examples of Bollington and Buxton were explained and other members of the audience came up to offer support.
As for the candidates…..
The Conservative said very little of substance and sold himself as a decent Primary teacher. The Green was competent and more than held his own as did the UKIP candidate. Lisa Smart for the LibDems came across as a grounded thoughtful person with decent values. Michael Taylor was a revelation - though not in a way he would have hoped. His strong catholicism and anti-abortion stance immediately turned off this correspondent. Alastair Campbell had it right when he told Blair “We don’t do religion…..”