Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Mid Derbyshire Hustings 2015

Five years ago I produced this blog post about the election hustings for the new Mid-Derbyshire constituency organised by Churches Together in Duffield.

Churches Together has since renamed itself the Duffield Christian Council and last night I took myself along to the follow-up event at Ecclesbourne School in the village to see how this year's candidates measured up.

On the stage were Pauline Latham, defending the seat for the Conservatives after five years as its MP, and the four opponents hoping to wrest it from her.

They were Nicola Heaton for Labour, Hilary Jones for the Lib Dems, Martin Fitzpatrick for UKIP and Sue McFarlane for the Greens.

As was the case five years ago, the result is probably a foregone conclusion. Pauline is going to win and, having been a hard-working and reasonably effective constituency MP since 2010, there will be many who say it's no less than she deserves.

She has been particularly effective on local planning issues, helping to reduce the number of homes planned for green belt land in Belper and opposing similar plans in Allestree, and this came through in her response to the first question, which concerned farming and planning.

Nevertheless I think even Pauline would confess to having been outshone by the Green Party candidate, Sue McFarlane from Belper, who on this and other issues spoke with the genuine passion of someone who clearly cares deeply about her local area.

I scored each candidate from 1-5 on their answers to each of the eight question plus their closing statements, and Sue emerged as the overwhelming winner with 38 points out of a possible 45.

The other candidates each had their moments.  Nicola, the youngest of them by about 20 years, showed great maturity in dealing with a question about defence after Pauline had attempted to claim that the SNP would block Labour from renewing Trident.

Nicola, who is a councillor in Nottingham, neatly skewered that one by pointing out that, with both Labour and the Tories in favour of renewal, there was "no need to involve the SNP" in the decision at all.

UKIP's Martin Fitzpatrick came over as eminently sensible and thankfully did not try to blame everything on either the EU or foreign immigrants

The Sheffield businessman also got the biggest applause when the candidates were asked what Private Members' Bill they might introduce, arguing that spending on the NHS and Defence should be taken out of the annual spending round and instead determined by agreed, cross-party 20-year plans.

Hilary Jones, the former leader of Derby City Council, was the only candidate who openly described herself as a Christian and who spoke of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which will almost certainly have won her a few votes from an audience largely composed of churchgoers.

But in truth, with only one rather vague question devoted to "Christian values," there was little opportunity for the candidates to display their credentials on faith-related issues.

Disappointingly, there were no questions about any of the specific issues that have greatly vexed evangelical/charismatic Christians over the course of the last Parliament, and when members of the audience attempted to raise some of those issues from the floor, they were slapped down by the organisers.

I'm not sure why the Duffield Christian Council appeared to be so afraid of allowing a more interactive debate, given that the event was only advertised through local churches.  Were they expecting Rentamob to turn up, or something?

As the Christian Institute points out in its excellent election briefing this has been a perplexing election for many Christians, mainly as a result of the redefinition of marriage by the current coalition and the loss of trust in politicians that this engendered.

Says the Institute: "The redefinition of marriage is plainly contrary to the Bible. But it was also introduced in a deceitful way. The political leaders hid their true intentions at the last election: for example, none of the three main parties at Westminster included same-sex marriage in their manifesto in 2010.

"So there has been a huge breach of trust. In 2010 the political parties knowingly sold Christians a false prospectus. Christians are perplexed by all of this."

In an election in which many Christians have felt disenfranchised, it was odd that the Duffield Christian Council, of all organisations, seemed equally reluctant to allow them to have their say.