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By Kevin Johnson - 11th December 2019 3:00pm
Haddenham Hustings — A Sketch
By Kevin Johnson
Nobody wanted a General Election.
We're all tired of politics. Sick of Brexit.
Not in Haddenham, apparently.
The Hall of Haddenham Community Junior School was full to bursting with voters ready to grill all six candidates standing in the Buckingham constituency.
You can watch the full Hustings recording here, courtesy of Haddenham.net.
Some might say the schoolchildren who usually occupy this space might make a better fist of getting Brexit done (or otherwise); solving the climate crisis and developing a sustainable model for social care than the 'grown ups' who have recently been sitting in Parliament.
Given there is a full contest happening this time, with no 'Speaker seeking re-election', the good burghers of Haddenham decided they wanted to taste the delights of democracy in full Technicolor.
There were lots of references to HS2 and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. Greg Smith, the Conservative candidate, repeatedly tried to convince the audience (and fellow candidates) that he had personally and singled-headedly convinced the Transport Secretary not to proceed with the Expressway folly. Mr Shapps, sometimes known as Michael Green, has promised a review.
In common with the other 649 constituencies it was truth and trust that seemed the primary concern of the good folk of Haddenham. To his credit, Mr Smith disowned the Conservative trick of converting their Twitter handle into 'FactCheckUK' during the ITV Leader's Debate.
Climate Change was clearly another major issue for the local electorate, young and old, who had turned out on a cold Wednesday evening.
With no Green candidate on the ballot paper in Buckingham (they stood down for the Liberal Democrats as part of the 'Unite to Remain' initiative), Labour could position itself as the most ambitious party on the environment.
It was a cause for which Labour's Dave Morgan argued passionately. Mr Smith implored the audience to read the Environment Bill, published just before Parliament was dissolved. A bit dry, he said, but worth the effort apparently. In an act of public service, here we are.
Antonio Vitiello, the English Democrat candidate, and to a lesser extent Andrew Bell, the Brexit Party candidate, came close to Climate Change denial. As was pointed out, this flies in the face of 98% of the world's eminent scientists. Perhaps more to the point politically, it was counter to the almost unanimous view of this Haddenham gathering.
'Brave, Mr Candidate, very brave.' As Sir Humphrey might have said.
There was Brexit, of course.
Andrew Bell of the Brexit Party opened with a familiar yarn about saving billions. He didn't have a bus handy to write it on.
Brexit was a struggle for independence, much like the experiences of citizens in some less developed nations around the world. Apparently.
There was a majority on the panel for Brexit. But not, by my 'finger in the air' calculation, in the audience. The EU Referendum result in Buckingham was 51/49 in favour of Remain.
Thankfully, Mr Smith did not deploy the 'Get Brexit Done' slogan excessively.
Mr Dorrell and Mr Morgan gave impassioned views for remaining in the EU. As chair of the European Movement, Mr Dorrell is a well-established supporter of EU membership and a 'People's Vote.' Mr Morgan was not constrained by the fence sitting of his leader on the subject.
Mr Bell should be commended for honestly responding to a question on improving mental health provision in secondary schools. He declined to answer on a subject where he felt unqualified. If only there were more politicians admitting their lack of knowledge rather than making up stuff in this election.
Perhaps most surprising was the lack of preparation on understanding local issues.
Mr Morgan gave a politician's answer to the question of what each candidate would seek to champion locally and upon what would they pursue a private members bill.
The Labour candidate would throw the question back to the locals.
Before giving an attempted crowd-pleasing pledge to secure local control of new housing targets, the Tory candidate reflected on a local appeal for a family dining venue in the village.
Put that in your election address, Mr Smith, and you might be onto a winner.
For Mr Vitiello, we should learn more from Mediaeval Britain and scrap the Barnett Formula.
No, me neither.
A fan of President Trump, who believes that we should "make science more scientific" and the self-declared most right wing candidate standing. You 'pays your money...'
Mr Morgan was passionate and self-deprecating in his concluding remarks, suggesting he may be more Clement Atlee, less Aneurin Bevin in his speaking ability.
An impressive Labour candidate in many ways, built from that mould of Labour activists with deeply ingrained values and an almost academic approach to analysing social and economic problems but not as adept at presenting political solutions.
If you didn't already know that Stephen Dorrell was a frontline politician of some years standing, you would have soon realised. His political skills were plain to see, regardless of whether you agreed with his views.
There was no clapometer installed in the hall. But my guess is that Mr Dorrell would have won a ballot had there been one.
Greg Smith is likely to win the real vote on Thursday, as things stand. A more managerial style politician, likely to be an articulate and professional representative of Haddenham and the constituency.
But he drew the only boos of the night (Mr Vitiello and Mr Bell had caused a few sharp intakes of breath and a couple of heckles). His concluding statement rolled off numbers (police, nurses and the rest) that are central to the Conservative campaign, but which turn off voters.
If elected, Mr Smith will need to work on his tin ear.
It would be a cliché to say democracy was the winner last Wednesday. But it's true.
Hustings chair, Brian Bowman, rightly complimented independent candidate Ned Thompson. Mr Thompson, a 19-year-old local student, had limited depth to his policy positions. But he handled himself well and endeared himself to the audience. He added a different dimension to the contest.
Mr Bowman, Haddenham Village Society President and Chairman, Sir Roderick Floud, and their colleagues deserve credit for staging the event.
Six candidates are standing in the General Election for Buckingham:
- Andrew Bell, The Brexit Party
- Stephen Dorrell, Liberal Democrat
- David Morgan, Labour
- Greg Smith, Conservative
- Ned Thompson, Independent
- Antonio Vitiello, English Democrats
The election takes place on Thursday 12th December 2019. Polls are open 7am-10pm at Haddenham Village Hall.