Heckling, applause and mocking laughter were all heard at a hustings event yesterday (Monday May 22) for Kenilworth and Southam’s five prospective candidates for the upcoming general election.
Rob Ballantyne (Greens), Harry Cottam (UKIP), Richard Dickson (Liberal Democrats), Bally Singh (Labour) and Jeremy Wright (Conservatives) sat in front of a packed crowd at St John’s Church on Monday May 22 to answer questions from audience members and put their case forward as to why people should vote for them.
The evening got off to a hostile start when an audience member interrupted moderator Rev Jim Perryman’s introduction by criticising the questions having to be submitted in advance, claiming it did not give people a voice.
Following this, Ros Bannister of the group ‘Our Schools: Kenilworth Fight Cutbacks’ stood up and shouted: “Not good enough, not good enough, you’re excluding me,” prompting several in the audience to angrily tell her to sit down.
She then shouted: “I’ll interrupt until the schools are fully funded.” In the end, Mr Singh got up and had a quiet word with her to calm her down.
However, she would continue to mildly heckle throughout the debate, mainly towards Mr Wright and Mr Cottam.
The five candidates started with their three minute opening statements. Mr Singh went first, saying Labour was a ‘refreshing choice’ and had ‘a vision for a better future.’
He was followed by Mr Cottam, who said people should vote for UKIP despite the result of the EU referendum because Brexit had not happened yet, and his party was against HS2.
Mr Ballantyne said the area meant a lot to him and called for a more equal society. He also claimed people did not vote for a hard Brexit.
Mr Wright said the choice of Prime Minister was between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, and said voting for the Conservatives meant getting the best possible deal for the country as it leaves the EU.
Finally, Mr Dickson said the election was about three things: what sort of Brexit the country will have, how to invest in public services, and how to ensure the MP best represents the wishes and needs of its constituents.
After these speeches, there was time for seven questions to be asked from the audience, focusing on immigration, the NHS, Brexit, state pensions, climate change, possible coalitions and whether the priority was the country or the constituency.
The candidates noticeably clashed on several of these issues. Mr Cottam reiterated UKIP’s policy of aiming for zero per cent net immigration, contrasting with Mr Wright who said immigration ‘makes society richer’.
On the NHS, Mr Wright was heckled when he said more money had been put into the NHS by his party than previous governments in real terms, and Mr Singh got huge applause for saying the problems in the NHS were caused by cuts rather than an aging population.
Mr Singh also got applause for claiming Brexit was the result of a Conservative party squabble brought about by David Cameron. Mr Dickson promised a second referendum on the final deal, whereas Mr Wright said the country had to accept the result. Mr Ballantyne thought Brexit was a ‘huge mistake’, but Mr Cottam said Brexit meant ‘not being bullied’ by other countries.
The candidates struggled to answer a specific question on how they would help women born in the 1950s get their state pension. Nearly all of their answers were heckled in some way by WASPI members in the front row, with many claiming they had not answered the question adequately.
On climate change, Mr Wright’s stance that fracking is acceptable if done safely was met with opposition from Mr Singh, Ballantyne and Dickson, who were all against it, as were any of the more vocal people in the audience. But Mr Cottam received howls of mocking laughter from the audience when he claimed people had an ‘almost religious obsession’ with climate change.
When asked about possible coalitions and ditching parts of their manifesto, the candidates were reluctant to speculate. Mr Cottam said Brexit would always be his party’s priority, while Mr Ballantyne said action on climate change was key if the Greens were to ally with other parties.
Mr Dickson received laughter when he joked his party would not go into a coalition with anybody. This was countered by Mr Wright, who said the Lib Dems should not support proportional representation if they were against coalitions. He also said the 2010 coalition was ‘not all that bad’.
Mr Singh said Mr Wright should have said he would ditch foxhunting, which received great applause, although he insisted Labour would not form a coalition. He also favoured a proportional voting system, which is not in Labour’s manifesto.
Finally, a quick question on the whether the candidates prioritised their constituents, their country, their party, or their conscience resulted in differing answers.
Mr Cottam, Singh and Wright all said the country should come first, while Mr Dickson and Ballantyne felt constituents should come first.