Saturday, 23 May 2009

The main parliamentary candidates for the Calder Valley constituency were on the platform at the Methodist Church, Hebden Bridge this morning. The Rev Tony Buglass ably presided over the “Question Time” type format. Although there was not the audience involvement we are used to seeing on the TV Question Time, members of the audience did ask the questions on "sustainability and other green issues".

Big Green Debate

Left to right: Steph Booth (Lab), Craig Whittaker (Cons), Rev Tony Buglass (Chair), Hilary Myers (Lib-Dem) and Kate Sweeney (Green)

What follows is a report of some of the issues which were discussed. The candidates on the platform were Steph Booth (Labour), Hilary Myers (Lib-Dem), Kate Sweeney (Green) and Craig Whittaker (Conservative). The meeting was well attended with nearly all chairs taken and some people standing at the back.

As previously reported on the Hebweb and elsewhere, controversy has surrounded the recent selection of Steph Booth as the Labour candidate. This was the first opportunity voters in Hebden Bridge have had to ask questions about her policies and see her in action.

While the other three candidates were confident and familiar with their brief, Steph Booth, although she had clearly prepared her answers, didn’t display a flair for public speaking, often relying on reading her notes.

It soon became clear that her political beliefs were strongly New Labour. In fact, towards the end of the meeting, the chair of the local Calder Ward Labour Party, Paul Clarke, distanced himself and other members of the Labour Party from Steph Booth’s views on nuclear power and nationalisation. (Ex-mayor Susan Press has since emphasised this on her blog).

Hebden Bridge isn't used to Conservatives attending public meetings. Craig Whittaker, showing himself personable and prepared to discuss issues, surprised most people present by recounting how his father was a shop steward and that his parents were Labour supporters. Both Hilary Myers and Kate Sweeney showed that they too would be competent Members of Parliament if elected next year.

Anthony Rae asked the first question: “Will each of the candidates commit to working hard with Calderdale Council and the community to secure the successful implementation of the requirements of the Climate Change Act 2008 for areduction in CO2 emissions of at least 30% by 2020 (that's basically in one decade) - including the retro-fitting of every house with energy efficiency measures - which will require very large amounts of funding?”

"Greens would reduce emissions by 90%"

Steph Booth said that the Labour Government had already taken steps down this route, especially in the recent budget, and she would like to see Calderdale improve on its performance. Craig Whittaker told those present that Calderdale aimed to reduce its fuel bill by 11% by 2011, mainly by targetting schools. He spoke of the need to ringfence green taxes. Hilary Myers commended the scheme adopted by Kirklees which is offering free cavity wall and loft insulation to every Kirklees resident regardless of their income or age. She said the Liberal Democrats will insulate all homes in the UK. It was Kate Sweeney's view that the Climate Change Act doesn’t go far enough; the Greens would reduce emissions by 90% by 2030. Kate pointed out that the Kirklees scheme was actually initiated by Green councillors.

"Ringfence green taxes"

The next question was from Susan Thomas: “Does the "credit crunch" and the recent revelations of dubious expenses claims push the concerns about climate instability further down either the political or personal agenda?"

"We need a general election now"

Craig Whittaker said it did and called for an immediate general election. Hilary Myers said she had been seething on hearing of the expenses claims, and was disappointed in MPs of all parties. We must, she continued, take the green road out of the recession but the current government is actually cutting funds to the green sector. Kate Sweeney said that concerns about climate instability had not gone down the Green agenda. We need major changes, she argued, including electoral reform. Steph Booth said that she agreed with the other candidates about moats and duck houses. Gordon Brown had just negotiated a new green deal which will create 4000 new jobs.

"Take the green road out of recession"

Christopher Reason asked the following qustion: "The economic and environmental crises that confront us are going to require imagination, creativity and co-operation if they are to be solved. However, much current political debate displays a chronic lack of motional intelligence - the absurd bear pit that is PMQs being a prime example. What reassurance can the candidates give us that they will put the old tribalism behind them and behave like grown-ups?"

"grownup politics"

Hilary Myers replied, ”Grownup politics! Wouldn’t that be great. We do need a complete makeover. However, it should be remembered that what unites us is often greater than what divides. In the local councils, the parties often work together very well.“ Kate Sweeney said she abhorred tribal behaviour. Steph Booth wants a reasoned, informed debate and to stop pandering to soundbites.

Rev Tony Buglass read out a question from Mick Piggott who wasn’t present but had sent in his question: ”Will any candidate support a policy of renationalising the whole rail network and applying appropriate subsidies to keep fares low as part of a policy of encouraging use of public transport in order to reduce exhaust emissions?"

"privatising the railways would be a mistake"

Kate Sweeney said that the Green Party would renationalise the whole rail system and subsidise fares. Steph Booth said that she totally disagreed. There wasn’t the money and even if there was, we would then go back to having to moan about British Rail. There had been a massive increase in train use since the Labour Government but we still need more trains and car parking. Craig Whittaker applauded the new private service which is going to operate trains from Halifax to London later this year, and said that we need an integrated transport service. Hilary Myers agreed with Steph Booth and said that privatising the railways would be a mistake. The Liberal Democrats are committed to doubling investment in the railways and introducing a toll on road freight.

Susan Press asked about the candidates' attitudes to the third runway at Heathrow. All except Steph Booth were against it.

Chris Ratcliffe's question was about nuclear power: "In the 1980s, we had the opportunity to develop renewable technologies and become a world leader in them but we took the nuclear route. Now we are at a similar crossroads. Don't you agree that it would be a fatal mistake to waste more billions on the nuclear white elephant when serious investment in the renewable technologies could still make Britain a world leader with the Calder Valley leading the way?"

"nuclear power was an absolute no brainer"

Hilary Myers said it would be disastrous to spend money on building more nuclear power stations, not least because we are still no nearer solutions to deal with nuclear waste. Kate Sweeney said nuclear power was an absolute no brainer; we should stop messing around with nuclear. Steph Booth believed that renewables are the best answer but believes in the need for an informed nuclear debate and she would support nuclear. Craig Whittaker said that he did not think that nuclear was the long term solution but pointed out that every winter we get nearer the point where power-cuts might be necessary.

Other questions were on the candidates’ attitude to disability legislation, Central Street non development, tuition fees and world hunger.

Jason Elliott, Big Green Weekend organiser, express himself very pleased with how the debate had gone, and already has ideas for how the format could be developed for next time.

See also

Hebweb Forum: Big Green Weekend Debate

Hebweb News: Big Green Weekend 2009

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