History, we were told, was in the making last night, as in front of a huge audience, those who were wanting your vote appealed directly. Yes, Roundhill staged the first proper Beeston Hustings. *rimshot*
I doffed my best shirt and cherry-blossomed my best brogues, and set out. Outside, anti-BNP campaigners were busy giving out leaflets (the BNP cried off, the thought of returning to a school too painful for them). Despite donning my best Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall disguise (anyone offering free haircuts, please pop round. Bring shears) I was recognized at the door by one ofthe campaigners. Basking in fame, I then realised it was because one new years eve,at a party that went so awry I didn’t drink for a year after, I borrowed a book off him. Even more bizarrely, the author of the book was with him. I’ll drop it back soon, honest. And in the meantime, a plug for a very worthy cause to stop nazi politics creeping into the debate: http://nottmstopbnp.wordpress.com/
Soubry arrived just on time, looking flustered. As mentioned previously, the BNP didn’t show, so we had five faces staring imploringly out at us. I instantly regretted sitting directly in Soubry’s eyeline, lest she had read Beestonia passim and my observations on herself and the Tories. I put my head down,and earnestly took notes.
Questions were asked from the audience, yet this had a contrivance about it: the questions were selected from a pile submitted on paper from the audience, rather than on a spontaneous basis. Pragmatically, I can understand this; the main issues: the economy, the tram, housing etc needed to be addressed in a relatively short time scale as the hall was booked for just ninety minutes, but it took away any real hope of interaction with the audience.
I wont dissect each subject, my expertise in analysing policy promises is akin to a jellyfish’s expertise at hopscotch, but rather a few choice cuts. Most surprising was Dr Palmer’s admission that he was wrong to vote for the invasion of Iraq, possibly the first contrite statement a Labour MP has made on this issue. This elicited a wonderful response from the Lib Dem, David Watts, who after thanking Palmer on his bravery in saying sorry, pointed out that his was the only party to vote against ‘Charles Kennedy was drunk at the time, and he still got it right’.
On economic recovery, Palmer compared the tories plans as similar to a pet gerbil he once had, running around in no intelligent direction. Despite his sober appearance, Palmer has a gift for the deliciously absurd put-down. This incensed Soubry, who thought this analogy was trivialising the debate. Unfortunately,she rather misjudged the mood and appeared to lose her temper, then compounded matters by praising Ken Clarke and describing him as ‘the best Chancellor ever’. The boos suggested that the fat tobacco baron of Rushcliffe might not be quite the hero she imagined.
The Tram inevitably got a mention, all for it, though the route was disputed. The most interesting comment came from David Mitchell, for the Green Party, who argued that the debate was answering the wrong questions, and while the tram was fundamentally a good idea, cheaper, greener alternatives had been left out of the debate.
Most other issues were just trotting out the party manifesto line, so I decided to examine each candidate on other criteria.
The best debater, with a strong voice, passionate intonation and a sly sense of humour was David Watts. I’ve never seen him ‘live’ before, but he has been an effective and committed counciller for some time now, and he is an asset to Beeston. He was fighting a losing battle to convince the audience that Broxtowe is a two horse race though, yet he was also aware that his popularity meant both Soubry and Palmer were desperate to align with him, to draw the tactical voters to there camp. To paraphrase the god-like Ray Davis ‘I bet they wish they could be with David Watts’. I’m sorry, I can’t help it..
Chris Cobb, for UKIP, was fairly marginal on issues, despite the usual bombastic attack on all things EU in his opening speech, he failed to live up to the little-england stereotype I expected. Quiet, agreeable, and I cringe as I write this: likeable, I was almost willing him to make a Farage/Kilroy-esque rant about the evils of foreigners. But he kept a mild demeanor throughout, and was excessively polite when I later asked for a photo. This is the opposite of meeting a hero only to find they are arseholes; I almost felt guilty of past descriptions of him. I still despise that odious git Farage though, who looks to me like the type of man who would pay to be peed on. Hey, he was appalingly rude to Van Rompuy in the EU Chamber, so its open season.
David Mitchell, no, not that one, was the best dressed, and most pleasantly mannered, though the latter is not always a boon in politics. He struggled to get any real point across, yet was refreshingly honest on his reasons for standing: to show Broxtowe an alternative, and build on that. Maybe when the ensuing Enviro-geddon floods the Rylands and makes the Victoria a pleasing Marina Bar; cometh that hour, cometh that man. Sadly, right now, we can reverse the Tories ‘vote blue, get green’ with Mitchell: vote green, get blue.
Before I attended the hustings, I wrote a few notes here (see previous post) about how Anna Soubry would try and portray herself. Man,she needs a new PR person, Ashcroft must dig a bit deeper. She appeared to have a touch of a sore throat, understandable with the amount of public speaking necessary right now (though as a former news anchor, a familiar problem). She arrived late, flustered, and decided to pitch herself on the Torie’s ‘Change’ agenda (If Davey Cameron is our Obama, we should seriously just have a revolution right now. Im serious. And some LSD in the water system to kick-start our obviously turgid imaginations). She stressed her green credentials heavily, and her Notts roots, yet it missed the mark.
The parallels I mentioned earlier with Thatcher are hard to escape from. Her voice was reminiscent on Grantham’s most infamous, as was her rather hectoring style of oration. There also lacked any humour, aside from a quick mug when the compere described her as on ‘the far-right’ (seating wise, though maybe he knew something we didn’t). Her admiration of Clarke and her praise of the Tories pre-Blair legacy painted her as an unreconstructed old Tory, an image Cameron has spent a fortune trying to paint over. At one point, she reacted to a heckle badly, and looking at my notes I seem to have written 7.48: Crowd heckling,shouting, punch up imminent. Check exits. Yet no Simpson’s Town hall brawl kicked off, though it put Soubry on the back-foot, and she didn’t recover.
Nick Palmer, Broxtowe’s incumbent MP, was comfortable and was, after Watts, a winner. He doesn’t look the type to get into a scrap, but when he does, he relishes it. He won points from the audience for his aforementioned Iraq apology, and didn’t give Soubry much room to draw blood. It could be said that he was on home turf: hustings very rarely attract swing voters, rather party faithful, and Beeston has a more leftish inclination than other parts of the constituency,so he did have an advantage. Its also hard to get in attacks on his character when he, at least in comparison with other MPs, is quite spotless. Soubry failed to get a good punch in, leaving Watts to inflict damage where he could. Its quite a sight to see, as was reflected in the later national debate, the Lib Dems holding a position of power and knowing that either side is terrified of attacking them. Palmer concluded by acknowledging this, urging the Lib Dem faithful to join against Soubry. How convincingly, we will find out soon.
The meeting broke up, and I discovered I was sitting two seats away from the creator of Broxtowe2010, which gives me a good opportunity to give his site a plug: http://www.broxtowe2010.co.uk/ . He is organising the next hustings on Tuesday at College House, full details are available off his site. Very nice guy, and I swear he offered to buy me a pint next week. Should prove to be an unfettered, more pugilistic affair. The hustings, not the pint. Though I have been on the wagon for a week, so who knows…
The Evening Post wrote a fairly paltry write-up of the debate, yet did photograph the back of my head for the illustrative photo. I so need a haircut. I’m not joking, anyone willing to do it today, for free, will receive a 2,000 word hagiography right here. And some anecdotes about my holidays.
Cheers to the people who said hello and have discovered the Joys of Beestonia, feel free to have a look around, theres an archive widget and a search engine now, so have a gander. Subscribe too, it’ll cost you nowt and you’ll get freshly laid Beestonia in your inboxes straight after I’ve laid them, which is quite a worrying analogy…
Little follow-up: The Bohemian Boozehound of Beestonia, who I wrote about last month, has been in contact and far from threatening me with a knee-capping for my indiscretions has instead arranged to meet me for a pint/pints/three-day-bender. I am considering selling tickets, will be a startlingly exciting affair.
A friend of mine has had to cancel his stag-night in Amsterdam because of the ash-cloud. First the banking collapse, then Kerry Katona, now this. I declare Beestonia officially at war with Iceland, and have kidnapped Bjork and put her in my shed until Reykjavík surrenders.