GENERAL ELECTION MEETING OAKHAM 27TH APRIL 2010
My face I don't mind it for I am behind it, 'tis the face in the front..... Martin you promised me a pic of the Rector - please may I have just one little pic?
Candidates present: Peter Baker, UKIP; Alan Duncan, Conservative; Lee Higgins, Independent; Grahame Hudson, Liberal and John Morgan, Labour. The BNP candidate, Addison, did not attend.
The increasingly cuddly rector of All Saints’, Lee Francis Daqhani, in his thick Orange brogue, opened the meeting by assuring us all it wasn’t wrong to hold an election public meeting in a Church. Apparently others have had the same reservations as I’d expressed in my blog.
The rector’s burgeoning stature is a brilliant advertisement for Sarah’s Castle Café. A parishioner, who has newly taken over administering the Church accounts, told me a fortnight ago that he regularly receives receipts for the Rector’s expenses for pastries and hot drinks consumed at the Castle Café. On the notice board, at the entrance to the Church, we are invited to ‘look round.’
Looking very round the Rector took centre stage as he sat to chair the meeting. The candidates were precariously perched on small tables with yet more tables and chairs balanced perilously upon them. Still it was nice to think that I’d found a small corner of England where Health and Safety regulations were totally ignored But sadly they couldn’t stand up to address us without sending their chairs careering toward the altar rail or even adjust their chairs without falling backwards themselves. Heaven knows what electoral mayhem might have ensued had one madman rushed the stage.
Citing Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the triple chins of Lee Francis wobbled in outrage as he denounced detractors of Church sponsored hustings while he sat hazardously in front of the altar rail at All Saints’ Church.
Well the Rector, for all his reputed ambitions to a bishopric, is no Desmond Tutu. I had the pleasure of having the Rector’s finger pointed intemperately and belligerently into my face after he chaired Alan Duncan’s expenses meeting in the Vicky Hall. His chins danced in indignation even more violently then, after I’d questioned his ability as a Chairman. Local artists seeking a model for Herod need look no further than our own dear Rector whose political bias is seldom concealed, although he took great pains to assure me that he had never voted Conservative at Dinky Dunc’s expenses jamboree. But I think the Rector, single-handedly, makes the case for disestablishment of the Church of England in Oakham.
Starting in alphabetical order the candidates gave their initial address. We really couldn’t miss the BNP candidate, as Peter, whom I adore, made the case against immigrants (can’t agree with Peter on this one) and castigated Jack Straw for giving away our legal heritage (agree wholeheartedly but the rot started with the Conservatives and merely continued under Labour). Peter told us he was part of RAF Control Command in his younger days (there is a huge service vote in this area). Peter’s amusing musings on his life in academia: as a lecturer in management, and the frustrations of dealing with small-minded academics, turned our gaze on Grahame Hudson (a lecturer at de Montford University). Peter appealed for a protest vote: ‘It is our country not theirs’ (by which he meant politicians not immigrants this time).
Next up was Dinkie Dunk the matchbox Hunk. Expertly coiffed and sleekly bronzed, the adroit, media savvy, intelligent Conservative candidate and sitting tenant of at least two homes and a wonderful Westminster expense account, oozed oily charm from every pore. Duncan gave a convincing performance of being suitably humble. He spoke of how privileged he was to live in the area and represent the people of Rutland and Melton. He cited ‘Boom and Bust’ and Labour mismanagement as the root of all our financial ills. The final solution to Labour Governments running out of money is always a financially responsible Conservative Government, he told us.
Well all I can say is that most British workers never saw the boom. Profits may have burgeoned, but ordinary workers’ pay decreased to national minimum wages during the boom years. Ignoring the fact that there has been a worldwide depression, Alan Duncan confidently urged us to do our ‘duty’ and return a Conservative Government to ensure we do not find ourselves in the same financial mess again.
Lee Higgins, political virgin and Independent candidate, told us that the three main parties appeared to be singing from the same hymn sheet which, given the venue, was apt. He was disillusioned with all three main parties, so had elected to stand in the hope that we would elect him to represent us. He runs his own business. Citing the debacle of MP’s expense scandals he said public confidence in the old political system was at its lowest ebb. (Can’t disagree with you there Lee old chum). He hopes that the voters of Rutland and Melton will restore confidence in public office by voting for an Independent candidate.
Huzzar Hudson always underlines his service in the Royal Navy – as an ‘orfficer.’ Often wonder if our bespectacled Grahame fancies himself as a second James Bond. What is it with some ex-servicemen? When asked to explain the meaning of ‘oxymoron,’ I commonly use the example of ‘Military Intelligence’ rather than ‘bitter-sweet.’ Post Navy – as an officer of course – Grahame served ‘Queen and country’ as a civil servant and said that he ‘wondered if our political masters knew what they were doing.’ Grahame lectures at de Montfort University. Bizarrely he said that what had set his blood boiling was the issue over Iraq. Yet in a 2005 hustings meeting our own dear Grahame said that on balance he would still have gone to war in Iraq. This, now denied sound bite, moved a whole family of Liberal voters to the Independent candidate in 2005. His support of the armed services is so emphasised that sometimes Grahame gives the impression of being a single-issue candidate.
John Morgan has been a member of the Labour Party for 27 years, ever since he was a 15-year-old Young Socialist. He became a Labour Party supporter because he is a ‘Socialist and believes in a fairer Society.’ Quite how he fits into the New Labour ethos was not made clear. But through the evening he proved himself able to disagree on some manifesto issues, so a degree of independence could be discerned. If voters insist on voting for one of the three main parties Morgan is, in my view, the only one with any chance of beating Duncan. He knows he will have to get out the Melton Labour vote.
The first question was on what candidates would propose for Public Sector cuts in Oakham. A question more properly put to County Councillors and, of course, the moribund parish councillors of Oakham. Dinky Dunk cleverly cited the proposed closure of the minor injuries unit at our local hospital. ‘Rutland Council is lean’ said Alan, hardly daring to look at the incredible hulk, chairing the meeting, on his left hand side. Huzzar Huddie, either because he doesn’t interest himself in local politics, didn’t hear or didn’t understand the question, went on about Trident, I D cards and the Child Trust Fund. Unlike 2005, this year Hudson wasn’t consulting a crib sheet under the table before answering questions from the floor. He’d obviously crammed a lot better for this exam.
Morgan put his finger on the pulse immediately by highlighting the money lost to Icelandic Banks by our Council. ‘Cuts,’ in public expenditure, especially during a recession, ‘cause job losses,’ he said. Although he alluded to the suffering caused under Thatcher’s monetarist regime through the last depression, he held back from explicitly blaming Thatcher. Her popularity still makes it dangerous to attack the iron lady. He undertook to campaign against the closure of the small injuries unit in Oakham – which was only brought into being in 2004/5. Peter Baker said the biggest issue was Europe. He also thought the impetus to pyramid building was ‘endemic’ within the Civil Service and needed pruning.
From the floor, Richard Baggot asked a question on climate change. Without any sign of real passion Grahame Hudson said he was passionate to do something about this issue. But it sounded like sound bites gleaned from Liberal H Q, with a reference to de Montfort University and the University of East Anglia thrown in. Morgan sounded as if he knew what he was talking about. He regretted that the USA hadn’t sign up to Kyoto and added that China and the USA had put paid to reducing CO 2 emissions. John Morgan said Europe was more aware of the arguments and Europe should seize the lead. Peter Baker was, as usual, a little ahead, or perhaps outside, of his time and place and doubted some of the science behind the issues. The issue of ‘climate change,’ said Peter, ‘is a myth which has developed into a religion.’ To be fair to Peter Baker there is a growing disenchantment with some of the science. A member of the audience, known to the Rector and the Liberal candidate, was asked to add his own scientific expertise and present a ‘climatologists’ view. Poor Peter!
Lee Higgins, proving himself capable of rising to the occasion, said if the issue of climate change is not true then no real harm could accrue to us taking steps to reduce carbon emissions. But if climate change is true then we have to take those steps to safeguard our future. Not taking action now could be dangerous.
Getting a second bite at the cherry, Alan Duncan said: ‘If it’s a choice between Peter and Lee I’m with Lee on this one.’ He added ‘Grahame you cannot pretend windmills are going to solve the problem.’
A number of questions were raised on wholly religious issues. The problem of Christianity being marginalized in an increasingly secular society and faith schools.
Mr Kindell or Kindle asked what the candidates would do for the elderly generation. I was impressed that the candidates did not dodge this question. Alan Duncan tackled it head on: ‘You are retiring too early.’ Peter Baker said current pensions were paid out of current income, an unsustainable financial burden on the younger generation.. ‘There are not enough young people to fund current pensions.’ Hudson felt that public sector pensions cost an awful lot of money. Morgan, picking up on an argument that pensioners are living to a far greater age, said that people living longer is not a problem, it is a direct result of Labour initiatives brought in under the 1948 Labour Government. No one mentioned Labour’s initiative and efforts in legalising euthanasia in order to solve the problem of longevity. Lee Higgins said that it is anomalous that workers aged 65 can be summarily sacked without rights to redundancy or compensation. Higgins went on to show his mastery of the subject by citing the debacle of Equitable Life and other pension fund scandals, the loss of pension fund savings and the inability of workers to bring their entire pension fund with them when they change employers.
The Reverend Susie Parsons, wife of a naval officer, asked: If Christians are commanded to pray for peace in Jerusalem, how would the candidates start the peace process in Jerusalem? Alan Duncan said he was an advocate of a Palestinian State. Almost everyone on the platform agreed that Palestinians had been treated badly by Israel and the world. ‘Appointing Tony Blair as a peace negotiator in the Middle East was a bit like appointing Herod to be a peace negotiator,’ was an unusually adroit sound bite from the Liberal. I clapped!
After the final question on faith schools the candidates had another last bite at the cherry. Peter Baker summed it up best when he said that; ‘The truth about our current political situation is so awful, there is no need to lie.’
The meeting ended with Lee Francis Daqhani asking us to join him in ‘The Grace.’ For the secular, this was not a grace normally said before a meal, although by the look of him our cuddlesome Rector might say that grace at least a dozen times a day. So the meeting finished on a prayer.
Let’s hope that the people of Rutland and Melton have a prayer of getting a decent representative on 6th of May 2010.