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Political Exclusion Zone

From Jason Elliott

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

With the latest news that, following the NUT’s example at the recent debate in Todmorden, the Churches Hustings are excluding the independent, Chris O’Connor, UKIP representative, Greg Burrows, and Kate Sweeny, the Green Party candidate, it would now seem that there is a political exclusion zone in place to make sure that no-one votes for any party in the Calder Valley other than the "big three", i.e. to maintain the status quo.

Of course, the majority of the local electorate will vote for either Steph Booth, Hilary Myers or Craig Whittaker. They have the history, the organised and polished policies and the budgets to make sure that, to some degree or other, tribal voting patterns will ensure they retain their deposits.

But what about those people who feel disenfranchised by the current arrangements?

If we take a look for a moment at the offerings of the three candidates excluded, one party had the second highest votes in the European elections, another is not only very popular in the Upper Valley, but part of a groundswell movement linked to the sustainable development of low carbon economies right across the world, while the third appeals directly to the voters who are apalled by the recent shenanigans surrounding the (still ongoing) MP’s expenses scandal and the bankers bailouts.

Whilst I may not personally agree with them, all three candidates actually have messages that strike a chord with a great many people, so why are they left out?

Surely the churches have no political agenda?

All credit to the organisers of the Lightcliffe debate, who did manage to include everyone, but it looks like that may be the only time we get to see them all together.

From Kate Sweeny

I’m grateful for Jason’s support, but actually I disagree with him on one point - I don’t think it’s certain that most people will vote for the “main parties” in the election.

Those numbers again: In the last general election nearly half of the total electorate didn’t vote for the 3 usual suspects (19 million out of an electorate of 44 million)

At last year’s Euro election, with proportional representation and an expenses scandal, that number rose to a cool 36,654,902. That’s an awful lot of people to disenfranchise on a whim! (Of course lots of those didn’t vote at all, but that’s rather my point - they don’t see anyone reflecting their viewpoint so they don’t bother)

In Calderdale we have all sorts of special circumstances and, while second-guessing elections is a fool’s game, many knowledgeable people think that the “big 3” won’t finish in the “top 3”

I should reiterate that Hilary Myers and Craig Whittaker have supported me, actively and consistently, in my efforts to be included in the democratic process. Good for them, whatever their other political views!

I won’t deny some sense of personal disappointment with all this - you have to have a little bit of ego to be a Parliamentary Candidate and I have done well in the debates where I’ve been allowed to take part. But there is a much bigger picture, in the form of our democracy. The reason given for excluding us is that we don’t have “power” - a classic circular argument because we can't get “power” if we’re excluded from the democratic process! I thought I was already pretty cynical, but it’s come as a genuine shock that people with influence are so dismissive of core democratic principles.

From Rev Robert (Robbie) Bowen

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Churches’ meeting is misunderstood! Our meeting on April 14th (Hebden Bridge Meth Church, 7.30pm) will not be a hustings meeting. Rather it is a lobbying meeting.

It follows a series of three meetings, backed by Churches Together in Hebden Royd & Todmorden, where we invited speakers to educate us on three issues chosen by members of the churches as key issues. These were "Care of People in Old Age", "World Poverty" and, still to come, "Euthanasia/Assisted Dying" (St Mary’s Todmorden, Wed March 25th 7.30pm).

Our meeting in April is to lobby parliamentary candidates on only these three subjects. We will be asking them what their parties will do, and what their own opinions are. As you would with any lobby, you choose whom you wish to lobby, and our criteria was those parties which presently have representation in Westminster.

Admittedly the meeting will almost certainly be in an election campaign, so electioneering cannot be avoided, but this is not the main intention of the meeting.

After representation was made to us we did reconsider our decision carefully and prayerfully, deciding in the end to stick with our original criteria. We needed a clear criteria for invitation, and we have one. The alternative was all parties, or excluding individual parties we don’t like. Neither of these alternatives would have been acceptable to all our constituent churches, so we decided to stick with our original criteria. The full text of the letter we sent to our constituent churches can be seen here and following the links to big issues.

We recognise that our choice of criteria is not acceptable to all our constituent churches, so the April 14th meeting will be in the name of the Upper Calder Methodist Churches.

Do we have a political agenda? No! Our desire is to focus on and promote the issues; all are welcome to the meeting, from any party or none.