OK, a slightly misleading title in that this wasn’t my first hustings as a candidate nor was it technically my first hustings as a spectator. In my defence, the last one I attended was for my student union presidency in about 2003, so it’s fair to say that it has been a while. It’s also fair to say that this did not disappoint.
You can see the whole proceedings here (as embedding has been disabled, you have to click on the link).
Elephant in the Room
This hustings events got off to an interesting start, when noted conspiracy theorist, Piers Corbyn, loudly asked why only four candidates were on stage of the seventeen in total. The (rather sensible) answer was that having all candidates on stage would be bedlam, while only having the parties with the four largest predicted vote shares made a sensible compromise between information and time commitment.
Sadly this was not the end of the saga, as Corbyn and his acolytes insisted on interrupting loudly and regularly, to the point where the moderator had to say that “this isn’t going to work” and he was threatened with removal if he didn’t let the candidates speak freely.
The culmination of this abysmal behaviour was a woman who stood up to screech all sorts of conspiracy theories about vaccines, Kier Starmer and his supposed paedophile ring, chem trails, 5G, etc. Frankly this was an unwelcome addition to an event with limited time, so I and others were very happy to see her ejected by security.
After this, Piers Corbyn tried to rabble-rouse further during the candidate Q&A, but everyone was by then completely fed up of his group’s antics and rightly ignored him.
Now on to my thoughts on the actual candidates (Piers Corbyn is listed as a candidate, but his behaviour really solidifies the view in my mind that he is a joke candidate, nothing more).
My impression of Steve Tuckwell was one of a defeated person trying to make the most of the situation he finds himself in. He was unable to answer the simple question of “Is Boris Johnson a Liar?” with a simple straight answer, and he seemed desperate to conflate this by-election with ULEZ, something over which the local MP has no direct power, only some influence (ULEZ is the purview of the Greater London Assembly and the Mayor of London, not local councils or MPs). More to the point, three of the four candidates on stage for this hustings were opposed to the current ULEZ plans, so I am at a loss as to who he thinks this would be a winning strategy against.
Overall, Steve seemed like a nice guy, but one who has been conned into thinking that the Conservatives are the answer. Unfortunately I think his party have put him into place purely to be a scapegoat, in that they know that the seat is lost to them due to Boris Johnson’s behaviour, and they know that whoever they put into the candidacy will bear the brunt of the ill-will that should rightly be directed at Johnson himself.
In short, Tuckwell did not come across as a credible candidate with any real ideas beyond “keeping going with Conservative plans” (loosely paraphrased based on his responses to various questions – he didn’t actually state that this was his position).
Sarah Green came across to me as very well informed and caring. She generally gave very considered answers to questions put to her by the moderators or audience, and I genuinely got the impression from her that she cared not only about the science but also the people.
My concern about Sarah Green is that her party is starting in a distant fourth place, securing only 2% of the vote in 2019. Given my counterpart, Blaise Baquiche, is starting from over 6%, he is the most likely progressive candidate to actually win.
Green spoke on the subject of HS2 a few times, including a very interesting figure that a mere 7 weeks of HS2’s budget in 2023 would be enough to close the funding gap for Hillingdon Hospital, sorely in need of renovation. She also mentioned something that I was not previously aware of, namely that Hillingdon is the only London Borough that does not regularly supply data on air quality and water cleanliness to the central data amalgamators, which seems to be a huge oversight by the Council (on which Steve Tuckwell currently sits, incidentally).
Of all the candidates, I thought Danny Beales had the most polished speaking skills and stage presence. He held some fairly popular views on Heathrow’s third runway (opposed), ULEZ (opposed in its current form), and fixing Hillingdon hospital (for), but there was little said here that made him stand out from the other candidates.
I did ask a question – I believe the final question of the hustings – on what democracy meant to the candidates and how their parties supported democracy in getting them to where they are. This was a bit of a low blow, because I happen to know that Beales does not support Proportional Representation – the only form of election that actually results in true representative democracy – and was placed there by his party after they overruled the democratically elected candidate in Uxbridge & South Ruislip. As such, Beales is only here because his party deliberately decided to ignore representative democracy, which in my view tarnishes any good he might otherwise want to do.
Cards on the table, I went to the hustings as a supporter of Blaise Baquiche. Indeed, I was sitting in the front row with his brother and Jonathan Banks, the leader of our local Liberal Democrats. Nevertheless, I was impressed by Blaise in terms of both public speaking skills and stage presence, and thought he did an excellent job of getting his points across.
Certainly he managed to get a round of applause from the audience for his tolerance of refugees, but even on top of that he stated a number of key differentiating factors between him and the other candidates, and generally did so in a respectful and factual manner.
Overall, I was very impressed, and I genuinely hope to work with Blaise in Parliament one day.