As the General Election approaches, the hustings are bustling, sleigh-bells ring in the distance, and spectres of Christmas past, present and future loom long over the upcoming winter – the time has come to place a vote and elect a candidate to represent Hastings and Rye for the next five years.
When considering who to place a vote for there may be many conflicting motivations and sources. Firstly, in a first-past-the-post system most MPs will be part of a parliamentary party and their votes on House of Commons motions will be determined by the party ‘whip’. The manifestos of each party are available online and looking at these policies might help in understanding which party best represents one’s interests and views. Be sure to find an official version of each party manifesto and watch what the leaders of these parties have to say for themselves on the Question Time Leaders Special available on BBC iPlayer.
Secondly, we must choose which person represents us as an MP. In Hastings and Rye we have four candidates running: Peter Chowney (Labour), Paul Crosland (Independent), Sally-Ann Hart (Conservative) and Nick Perry (Liberal Democrat). Each of these candidates have shown experience in politics from various backgrounds and it is worth researching each of these people to see if you would support them as an individual to represent you.
In making the decision of who to vote for, we choose for ourselves, we also choose for our neighbours. Hastings is a town with high welfare dependency, large public sector employment, areas of deprivation, high rates of poverty and teenage pregnancy, high drug-related crime and a higher-than-average homeless population. Property prices and rents have risen dramatically over the past few years, whilst wages have stagnated. You might be affected by these issues or know people who are. These are the kinds of things to consider when choosing a political party and candidate.
Brexit has been a large factor in the discourse in politics over the last three years, now with clear water between each of the parties. The Labour Party has pledged to negotiate a customs union-based Brexit deal within three months, to hold a referendum on this deal versus remaining in the EU within six months, to remain neutral in this referendum and to make the outcome legally binding. The Liberal Democrat Party promise to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. The Conservative Party want to ‘get Brexit done’ with Boris Johnson’s deal, like Theresa May’s deal but with checks on imports and exports between Britain and Northern Ireland instead of the ‘Irish backstop’.
The environment has also become a key issue in public debate, Extinction Rebellion (XR) has raised the profile of climate crises globally and locally, with our local XR group hosting a hustings for the Hastings and Rye candidates. This event was well attended and showed each of the candidates in a positive light with the Lib Dem and Labour candidates sticking to party lines and Crosland speaking from a more esoteric and prophetic heartfelt authority.
Perry’s best moment was the incredible dignity and presence of mind in refusing to answer a particularly sinister question about population control and limiting human reproduction. This primitivist green perspective was also challenged by a member of the audience and all the candidates followed Perry’s example in rejecting the notion that humans are the problem with climate crises. Perry highlighted the Liberal Democrat commitment to investment in education and mental health services whilst maintaining a budget surplus, as well as reducing UK emissions to carbon neutral by 2045.
Chowney won the contest of personal green credentials with his self-imposed flight restrictions, diligent recycling and electric bike. However, Chowney was challenged by other candidates on his record as Leader of Hastings Borough Council (HBC). Chowney carries the weight of being Leader of HBC and all the decisions that have not worked out for the council count against him in this contest. This does however give him a broad understanding of the workings of this town and Chowney is very knowledgeable of the problems we face. He missed a key party policy – using renewable energies to power a regeneration scheme, offering 20% of profits from local renewables to regenerate deprived coastal communities like Hastings. Of each of the parties, Labour are offering the greatest investment into what they call the Green Industrial Revolution, promising the largest number of jobs created, the quickest reduction to carbon neutrality and a National Education Service so that every person can be given six years of education to retrain into the jobs of the future at any point in their life, for free. Chowney commented, “Change is possible through the actions of individuals.”
The comment of the night came from Crosland when he said, “The micro is indivisible from the macro.” Which is the point Chowney lost in his statement about the actions of individuals. Recycling and electric bikes are going to do very little to offset the massive emissions created by major military-industrial complexes or the fall-out of ever-looming nuclear apocalypse. Instead, Crosland suggested a cultural shift towards a sharing economy. This touched on the need to change the systemic destruction of the environment through personal actions, national and international legislation.
Hart decided not to attend the event and was ‘empty chaired’ by the hosts.
Instead of attending the XR hustings the local Conservative candidate chose to do a ‘live’ Facebook Q&A that turned out to be a video selection of pre-prepared questions. In which, Hart continued her predecessor’s nine-year promise to do something for local fisherman, offered her support for council houses but claimed the council was responsible for that issue, and suggested that Hastings and Rye have a local referendum to determine what her position on foxhunting should be but did not indicate if she would campaign one way or another.
Whilst local candidates were being grilled by XR, national leaders were each given half an hour to answer questions from a live television audience in a BBC Question Time special. This extended exposure has been the most clinical dissection of each of the leaders in a campaign characterised by sound bites and media training.
Corbyn was challenged again on the party record on antisemitism, his plans to borrow and tax to fund a huge investment package, perceived fears of him as Prime minister and his ambiguated stance on a future Brexit referendum. Corbyn announced for the first time that under a Labour government he would remain neutral in any such referendum. This settled a previous unknown variable, after which he was calmer and more confident than previous appearances, answering questions in coherent plain English. According to several polls after the event Corbyn won by large margin.
Nicola Sturgeon was next to take questions and was clear, concise, competent, largely responding to questions about Scottish independence.
Jo Swinson was caught off-guard in the headlights of robust questioning. For the first time in this campaign a tough interrogation exposed inconsistencies in Lib Dem policies on Brexit: both offering to revoke and hold a referendum, asking for collaboration but refusing to work with anyone, her promises to invest in public services and her voting record of supporting cuts to public services, promising to protect the environment and having a positive enthusiasm for detonating a thermo-nuclear device. Swinson drifted back into her native Scottish accent when flustered and was visibly relieved to leave the stage, having said, “I do think the best use of nuclear weapons is to use them to negotiate a way other than nuclear weapons.”
Boris Johnson was flustered and repetitive, speaking mostly in slogans and when he did drift off script he seemed abrasive. Johnson took every opportunity possible to fall back on the comfortable territory of Brexit soundbites, promising to “Get Brexit done.” After questioning, he refused to clarify why he wouldn’t release a report into Russian interference in British politics or apologise for using Islamophobic and homophobic language as a journalist, recalling Johnson’s references to Muslim women as “letterboxes” and “bank-robbers”, as well as gay men as “bum boys”.
Given that Hastings and Rye is a marginal seat, with only Labour and Conservative candidates having a reasonable chance of winning, there is also the consideration of tactical voting. In this election, in this constituency, voting for either of the major parties will have the most impact in deciding our future MP and government. Not for a generation has the difference between these two been greater.
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