OK folks just back from the debate, possibly the only debate that might take place, between four of the parliamentary candidates vying for our votes. They were Andy Slaughter our current MP, Rollo Miles of the Green Party, Merlene Emerson of the Liberal Democrats and Shaun Bailey for the Conservatives.
Rollo Miles, he of this video, rather stole the night for me with some comic genius - although I'm not sure he meant it that way. Of the Green Party he said "..some people say the Green Party is a hippy vegetarian party...and to some extent it is." Then, in the midst of the rest of the candidates debating hard about the future composition of the House of Lords Rollo appeared to be nodding off. When asked by the Chair for his views Rollo jerked up, stared at the chair and said "what are we talking about?" when informed he simply said "No" very purposefully. Superb stuff.
On more serious notes the debate was in front of what was quite a packed auditorium of Imperial College students, many of whom lived in the constituency. The main themes were:
- Where the post general election cuts will fall;
- The candidates views on education funding; and
- How to deal with the recession and emerge from it
On the question of cuts Andy Slaughter set out some of the cuts that had already been laid out by the Chancellor Alistair Darling and emphasised that Labour were committed to reducing the pain of the recession but ensuring that the poorest and least able to afford it were protected as much as possible. Rollo Miles urged politicians to be honest about the fact that cuts would be needed across the board while Merlene Emerson, who referred optimistically to "our Chancellor Vince Cable", said that the timing of any cuts was crucial and that to act in haste would be to endanger the recovery. Shaun Bailey emphasised the difference between 'deficit' and 'debt' and argued that Gordon Brown was guilty of trying to disguise our national debt as a deficit. Basically he was saying that Labour have run up huge debt and can't be trusted to get it under control again.
On education the candidates were asked about the funding needs of science courses. Shaun Bailey, in a remarkable feat, managed to get in references to Labour being funded by the trades unions into this answer until the chair asked him to address the question. He then said that although funding for sciences was crucial to Britain's competitiveness in a world economy and that in an ideal world the sector would have everything it needed we needed to live within our means. Merlene Emerson, as was noted by someone in the audience, responded by saying how she "couldn't disagree more" with Shaun Bailey, that she was very passionate about science, before going on to say basically the same thing as Shaun Bailey. Rollo Miles said that the Greens viewed sciences as the key to addressing both Britain's competitiveness but also the problems that face the environment while Andy Slaughter noted that Digby Jones, the former Business Czar, would totally disagree with Shaun Bailey. In his view investment in sciences had to be a priority area in order for Britain to emerge stronger in the global economy. He noted that in Hammersmith there were on average 40% more students in higher education now than compared to when Labour took power in 1997 and said it was a real benefit having Imperial within the constituency.
On the recession and how to get out of it Shaun Bailey rather departed from the party line when he declared that "Trident may need to be looked at again" (not sure David Cameron would appreciate him saying that too much) but he then went on to describe the savings the Conservatives believe could be made by cutting out waste in public spending, such as the legions of consultants he said were employed at public expense. They were all for the chop. Rollo Miles disagreed completely with that and made quite a passionate case for retaining public sector employment at current levels, arguing that "it's about giving people jobs". He clarified this by saying many people employed in the public sector are disabled or have other special needs that would preclude them making much headway in the private sector. I thought this was quite a brave statement and he obviously meant it. Merlene then relieved, er, the pressure by urging the banks to do something about their "constipation", saying that banks were too "constipated to lend to small businesses". oo er. Andy Slaughter said that "Gordon Brown has a number of faults and isn't perfect but he did lead the world out of recession", which received a mixed reception. He stuck to his guns and made a case for the Government taking tough decisions that had saved us from more harm.
These of course are all just highlights but I think they're the main points. Overall it was quite a pleasant debate with little of the nastiness that has been seen in this campaign to date. You got the impression that it could all boil over at the first provocation but it never did and was notable for the humour that all the candidates used. They all ended up looking quite good actually.
So now, dear readers, to bed!