Thursday, 22 April 2010

Battle of the Bush: The final debate

Tepid. Lukewarm. OK, but not something to set the world on fire. Such was the last debate between the four main parliamentary candidates asking for our votes in the Battle of the Bush this evening at St Paul’s Church in Hammersmith. There were some interesting moments and you got the sense that there were tensions bubbling under in the audience, punctuated as the debate was by odd cries of “filthy liar!” by one particularly intense lady prone to eruptions at the front, but it only really got heated at the end.

Highlights for me were:
  • Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey, after having been surrounded by angry residents at the end of the debate, giving a clear pledge to “fight the council” if residents were threatened with eviction in order that the Council could redevelop the area but wanted to stay in their homes.
  • A small shopkeeper saying that there was a lot of “talk” about the value of small businesses to Hammersmith & Fulham, but very little real help on the ground
  • All candidates professing their love for the NHS and lack of private healthcare but disagreeing over the future of Charing Cross Hospital
  • And of course the melee created by the crowd of international media shuffling around the cavernous hall. TV crews hailing from Japan and Germany rubbed along with hacks from the national and local press
On housing, a woman from the Queen Caroline Residents Association demanded to know what each candidate would do to work with residents and to prevent forced redevelopments of housing. This led to some fierce accusations from Shaun Bailey of “horrible” tactics from the local Labour Party who had, he said, been scaring local residents in a “self serving political battle”. He denied that the Council had ulterior motives when it wanted to redevelop housing, he argued that the real agenda was about spreading the housing stock across the borough and making it more equitable. Cue much clapping from enthusiastic Shaun supporters in the audience.

This prompted Labour's Andy Slaughter to respond by angrily denouncing the Council’s “gerrymandering” and its activities which were “destroying decent communities”. He spoke about what he described as the Council’s appalling track record of cutting out local residents from major decisions about their communities and challenged those in the audience who had clapped Shaun Bailey to consider whether or not they would want a vote on their futures if they too found that the Council wanted to redevelop their homes. This was the basic demand of residents, and it was something he would support.

Lib Dem Merlene Emerson repudiated Shaun Bailey’s argument that there had been scaremongering. The threat from the Council was real, she said, and residents deserved genuine consultation. Green Rollo Miles agreed that housing was a critical local issue and argued that the sheer expense of living in London made life difficult for some, and the last thing they needed were threats to their homes.

On small businesses all candidates agreed that they were both the lifeblood of our local economy and that there was much to be done to alleviate the pressures on them. All spoke of the need to reduce red tape and support thriving local business communities, while Merlene Emerson made a pitch for “Saint” Vince Cable who had, she said, predicted everything about the recession before it happened! Interestingly the Chair returned to the questioner, who herself was a small family business owner, to ask what she thought – she had been distinctly underwhelmed.

On the NHS all of the candidates professed their love for the institution, with Rollo Miles declaring that having lived abroad he didn’t think that the British people realised quite how lucky they were to have access to healthcare free at the point of use. Andy Slaughter, referring to past Conservative claims that Charing Cross Hospital was at risk of closure which was denied by the NHS and the Government, warned the audience not “to let anyone tell you” that there was a risk to the hospital. We were, he said, lucky to have one of the top performing hospitals in our area. Shaun Bailey also paid tribute to the hospital but said that the NHS had been considering major cuts to services in the capital, and that therefore there were real fears about whether the hospital would suffer as a result.
At the end of the debate Shaun Bailey was cornered by some women from the Queen Charlotte’s Residents Association who wanted to know why he didn’t support their right to have a vote on whether or not their homes should be demolished rather than have the Council’s plans imposed on them. There followed an exchange between them about whether votes should be a requirement or not, but Shaun in fairness answered a straight question with a straight answer. He would, he said, support residents against the council, “fight the council” in the residents words, against Council plans if residents opposed them. I’m not sure Stephen Greenhalgh would approve, but it took the wind out of the residents sails – he’d just agreed to support them after all.

Will the debate swing the result? Probably not. Did most of the journalists, some of whom had gone out of their way to come along, get the fireworks that they wanted? No. But it was worth having and I’m glad I went. I hope this account is helpful to you too.

Whatever the result Shepherd’s Bush is going to change – so please for goodness sake use your vote and have your say.

I'll be posting film clips of each of the candidates closing pitches for your votes on here in the next day or so - keep checking back to see what they had to say


  1. I was there. It was an interesting debate. As well as the intense lady, I noticed that there was a "claque" of Labour supporters and the women from the Queen Caroline that you mention. They had a prepared script and had all got together in advance to plan their attack. Slaughter spent the entire time trying to smear the Council. He is so desperate that he knows that is the only way he stands the slightest chance of keeping the wheels on the Labour "bus".

  2. I do not know why anyone believes these pre-election debates ever influence the vote. Very few genuine members of the public attend them.

  3. I wasn't there, so thank you Chris for putting this up - always useful. As regards supporters, is it at all suprising that Labour supporters went? As Chris himself mentions, there were certainly a lot of Bailey fans there. It's a fact of life.

    As for smearing the council - didn't Bailey sort of do that too? If he didn't think there was a potential problem with the council then why agree to ever fight against them? One of their members is after all his own election agent!

    I'm not sure of Slaughter's motives on the council, but one has to be the prominence given to them by the central Conservative party. They have been hailed as the vision of the future and the way forward. Problem is that many people, like the Queen Caroline residents, just don't think they are. As much as I would like to see Bailey fight the council tooth and nail on the housing if the residents pushed for it, I for one just can't see that happening.

    The council, Greg Hands and Mr. Bailey are just too close and have worked together for too long for there to be any real difference between them. Sadly, nothing has indicated otherwise!

    Back to work now, very distracting Chris!

  4. People have very short memories! While they are busy slagging off this present Council, don't they remember the old Labour Council (at one time led by Mr Slaughter) which borrowed almost to the state of bankrupting the Borough and at one time gambled on the money markets?

  5. I was at the meeting last night and, to be fair to her, the "intense lady" had a point! I have never heard so many untruths and half-truths spouted by Mr Slaughter on behalf of the Labour Party! It made me wonder what he was so frightened of.
    I think it was Goebbels who said (and forgive me for not having the quote at my fingertips) that a lie repeated often enough "becomes the truth".

  6. I was at the meeting, Slaughter was polished but too smug. More appealingly, Emerson and Bailey let their personalities come through, esp. when discussing social housing and Christian B&B owners.

    It's hard to see how Bailey could be that different from Hands and Slaughter seems too far removed from the local area. Emerson seems the most realistic about what the area needs to keep the momentum going to continue out of the recession. Last night tipped it for me in favour of the LibDems.

  7. Thanks Chris, I would have gone myself but had 2 teenagers (non voting age, just) at home who were dead set on watching "the debate" so I plumped for Leader rather than Local in order to watch them (the teens) watching them. Fascinating! I wonder at what point int their lives they will switch off from politics? Maybe they won't.

  8. if they watched that Leader's debate they might do, it was turgid!

  9. Good that you've written about this event Chris. I'm the 'woman from Queen Caroline' who asked a question and for the sake of accuracy I'd like to make a few points. Firstly, my question was specific: given that all parties talk about community empowerment, do the candidates believe that council estate residents should be entitled to a vote about the future of their homes rather than having decisions imposed by local councils? And will they guarantee to fight for us to have that right in H&F?
    Mr Bailey didn't answer that question, which was why I approached him at the end to try and get an answer. He wasn't surrounded by angry residents - only me and a swathe of journalists! Your photograph above confirms this. His answer on the vote was no. His reason - that people on the estates aren't able to understand the issues and would be manipulated to vote incorrectly. A rather startling and patronising assertion from our point of view. Not the way you empower people. I wonder if he thinks we should be barred from local and general elections too?
    On another point, I was more than happy to receive his assurance that he will fight with us to stop H&F Council making people move against their will - far from taking the wind out of our sails this was a goal achieved. Good that he disagrees with David Cameron and Stephen Greenhalgh on this. And given his closeness to the Council I would hope he will be taking this issue up whether or not he wins the seat.
    In response to Jonathan's bizarre comments:
    "...a "claque" of Labour supporters and the women from the Queen Caroline that you mention. They had a prepared script and had all got together in advance to plan their attack." This is conspiracy theory taken to the extreme. Firstly, what "attack"? Secondly,there was no pre-meeting that we were part of - we just turned up and sat with our friends and neighbours and submitted written questions - one of which was selected. Is this what he means by a prepared script? All audience members were asked to submit written questions and other than that had no opportunity to speak.
    Lastly - the 'intense' lady. She was sitting directly behind us and was not simply intense, she was personally abusive to us, in front of the children, with no provocation. If she had been from our estate rather than a self proclaimed member of the Tory party I wonder if she would have been treated with such amused tolerance?

  10. Shirley, what on earth were you doing taking your children to a meeting like this? A political forum doesn't seem a very suitable environment for little ones.

  11. Mothers have always taken their children to political events, meetings and hustings. As well as taken them along while canvassing and leafleting. Many politicians attribute their involvement in politics to having a mother who did this.

    If women had to arrange for care, then they'd rarely be able to participate in politics, or their male partner (if they have one) would have to attend on their behalf, which isn't exactly equality.

    But above all, I don't see why a meeting like this shouldn't be suitable - there's absolutely no need for personal abuse.

    Thanks for reporting this, Chris. I stayed in and watched the Leaders debate on TV, because our youngest wasn't well - so it was good to know that you'd be writing it up for us.

  12. thanks. and I agree Shirley had every right to take children - what kind of politics do we want that aren't suitable for kids?

    for the record though there was a crowd from the estate asking questions of Shaun. The next lady after Shirley had a go at Shaun about comments he made recently about black people not having to vote Labour. Not a housing issue clearly, but she was from the same residents association!

  13. Very interesting report of the meeting. The whole issue of how the residents of both the Earls Court and Queen Caroline Estate are being treated by this council sits uncomfortably with the notion of empowerment and the Big Society espoused by David Cameron. In relation to the comment about the children being present at an early evening meeting, if these are to be truely inclusive then the organizers need to set up a creche for local residents to use. Not everyone has access to or can pay for childcare in order to go to events where their futures are decided.

  14. I for one am in support of the way Hammersmith Council operates. Having dealt with them on several occasions I have found, way too often, a patronizing attitude which suggests that one is not capable of having an opinion or knowing what is what. I also find that there is too much secretiveness generally. Other council sites are far more open in getting information that you actually want to see rather than what a council might like you to see, so well done to the women who stuck up for themselves at this meeting.