Last night saw a new event in 21st century Chipping Norton politics – the election hustings. Following similar events in Witney and Charlbury, our town saw the parliamentary candidates from the main parties take their seats in the town hall ready to answer questions from the public.
Although our MP, David Cameron, attended the Witney hustings, he did not attend the Chippy event, with Ian Hudspeth, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, representing the Conservatives, as he did with last week’s Charlbury hustings.
However, candidates from Labour, UKIP, the Green Party, the National Health Action (NHA) Party and the Liberal Democrats all took part in the hustings, which were chaired by James Kennedy, the vicar of St Mary’s.
So what were the issues that concerned the audience? The nature of political discourse, the defence of the realm, the Human Rights Act, foreign aid, UK debt, the lack of affordable housing and the lack of diversity in politics were all debated.
The latter was a particularly appropriate issue, given that the panel was entirely made up of men. The first questions were from men, too, prompting a (female) audience member to request that the next question chosen should be from a woman. In total, there was time for eight questions, of which, two were asked by women.
Housing was another hot topic, with Ian Hudspeth shouted down when he defended the Conservatives’ recent announcement on right to buy and the promise to build a new home for every housing association home that was sold under their proposed right to buy scheme.
The Phone Co-op‘s Vivien Woodell got the candidates to discuss affordable housing – and whether “affordable” means affordable to those who need it, or whether it just means it is a bit below market value.
This led to a discussion about localism and giving local communities more say in where new houses should be built – with the example of Woodstock, facing a proposal to build 1,500 new homes locally, doubling the size of the town, talked about.
The town hall was not completely full for the event, although it was still well attended. It was noted by some in the audience that the demographic was older rather than younger, with the notable exception of two articulate people who asked questions.
In addition, Labour‘s Duncan Enright and the NHA Party‘s Clive Peedell seemed particularly to have the audience on their side throughout the hustings, leading to the possibility that those unhappy with the incumbent party were more likely to turn out to question the candidates and be involved in the political process.
But the introduction of the hustings in this election has provided a great opportunity for voters to make their voices heard, to question their candidates, as well as to hear from them what they, and their parties, stood for.
Whether any of the candidates changed people’s minds about who to vote for, though, is another matter!