Wednesday, April 20, 2005

To the Hustings

Last night, Mrs. Commuter and I joined a gathering of about 130 at a local church to hear the candidates for the Ruislip-Northwood seat. There were sharp contrasts and many surprising points of agreement. We know the winner of course, R-N being one of the safest Tory seats in the country. He is Nick Hurd. He came across fairly well, a typical Tory candidate with a public school/Oxbridge/banking background and extremely well connected thanks to his famous father. The young Labour candidate, a child nurse, impressed with his enthusiasm. I hope he is selected for a more promising seat next time. I was somewhat less taken by the LibDem, although he is a well known local councillor and will get my support anyway as the only way I can register a protest against a Labour Government that in many ways I would like to see continue in office. The Green bloke came across like a quirky teacher, which we learned in the course of the evening he was, well intentioned but so never explained how insulating a few homes in the UK and taxing aviation fuel is going to cut global warming and save the rainforests. And a very odd UKIP person who rattled through a list of policies without putting any in context and relied on the mantra of taking Britain out of Europe and cutting bureaucracy. To be fair he only agreed to stand for election a couple of days ago. To be even fairer, he only strengthened my belief that UKIP are a bunch of weirdos and loonies who haven't the faintest idea what their policies would really mean for the country.

It was very heartening that all candidates spoke positively about their parties, rather than attacking the others, and listened politely to the questions and to the answers that the others gave. They all paid lip service to the latest bandwagon, "Matron" as the answer to dirty hospitals. I always assume that when everyone thinks something is a good idea that it probably isn't. When everyone goes on about cutting red tape and layers of management, and simultaneously claim to believe in better administration, shorter waiting lists and cleaner hospitals you just have to wonder if they have any idea how large institutions work. Actually the GMB union has got it dead right. In an advert in today's Guardian they make the simple point that if you want cleaner hospitals you need to pay for people to clean them.

This being largely a Christian audience there was no particular support for anti-immigration policies and Hurd made very little of his own party's views. Abortion was discussed and all the candidates seemed to think that this was a matter of conscience but that the present arrangements were the best we could get. The LibDem, Mike Cox, asserted that as a Catholic he was against abortion but also that he would not change the current law.

There was little passion in the air (good, clouds the judgement), a lot of understated support for the Labour Government's investment in health and tax credits, some boos for Metronet for not putting a lift into the rebuilt Ruislip Manor tube station, and no women on the platform. With 5 candidates and 1 chairman, this seemed wrong.

My heart went out to one questioner, who asked why two druggies who burgled him got a lower sentence than he had when doing 46mph on a 40mph road. The panel argued that stiffer sentences were needed but that prison didn't work, so no very clear result. They weren't very sympathetic to him about the speeding. As one who frequently finds that the only safe speed on the A40 is at least 10mph over the limit, in order to keep up with the traffic and prevent being endlessly boxed in by big trucks, he had my total sympathy.

Full marks to the chairman for ending exactly on time (the wife was finding the wooden seats hard going).

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