Friday, November 23, 2007

Cambridge Hustings - Part One

Having been chastised for tapping away on my Blackberry at the Cambridge hustings, only now have I got time to write up those arduously prepared notes!

So, Chris kicked off and talked about Gordon and Dave having given up on big ideas and that his Manifesto was his statement of intent – that liberal political ideas should set the tone in the future of politics. He referred to the debacle of the HM Customs fiasco, a demonstration that we can't trust the government with the ID scheme. He acknowledged the good job Vince was doing over Northern Rock. His analysis was that with the housing market heading for a downturn we wouldn't have an election until 2010. He challenged us to leave our comfort zone and assured us that he was a better economists with better economic views!

He is not a professional politician and wanted to do things differently - no heir to. Blair - not lead a 3rd Conservative Party. He was motivated by a desire to cherish our natural systems, to talk about people. He emphasised his commitment to the EU. He was promoting a society that was free and fair and full of opportunity. He touched on the military and Trident (as before) emphasised that child poverty had to be dealt with, as did the erosion of our civil liberties. It was now not that we were asked to "lay down our lives to defend our liberties", but rather to "lay down our liberties to defend our lives". He cited the ludicrous proposals to extend detention without trial contrasting it with the US where you can only be held 2 days.

On climate change he insisted we were steeling our children's future, it was like gambling away the family home. He saw this as a central part of his campaign – to preserve a planet for the future. He reminded us that we lead the Tories on the environment.

He again pitched for us to be taking risks – be bold. We were on the move as a party – with a higher profile and radical proposals - more radical than for a generation. His vision was of changing the whole system of government.

Nick reminded us that the whole country is listening and watching to us at the moment (though I couldn't help thinking that at the time the whole country was listening and watching the football!). He urged us that we should do what we do at our best - reach out to those who share our values. He talked of the plastic anger of Tories and that we desperately need a different kind of politics. We were still a nation of inequality, despite a so called progressive government, one that vilifies young people.

Nick said he was angry about the unaccountability of the current system. He wanted a Britain that was more liberal to live in, where we cherished our civil liberties. Our party should have a progressive role. He emphasised the need to start where people are, which is not normal political practice.

Nick highlighted his 5 big challenges
An epidemic of powerlessness – people felt voiceless. He told the story of the a young woman who came to his surgery in tears, she had had 6 letters about her housing benefit all saying something different, and of a woman who had moved to the ground floor flat and all she wanted was to move the telephone for her disabled husband, yet she couldn't get anything down. He talked about the feeling of helplessness, we had rich consumers but powerless citizens.
Creating a fairer electoral system – He said people should feel powerful every day not just on polling day. That we needed to deal with issues like the Sheffield health inequality in Sheffield where your life expectancy in the poorest ward was 14 years less than in the richest ward. He touched on the pupil premium and the need to devote time and energy in the early years.
Tackling Fear – Nick touched on the power of fear – people being imprisoned in their homes and their minds and the fact that the most fearful are the poorest. He talked about the need for a civilised prison system, the fact that 1 in every 10 prisoners were psychotic, that we were imprisoning between 3000 and 4000 young men a month who were reoffending at a rate of 92%
Environment – We had great policies but we had to think about how to take people with us. We can't hector people - must inspire and motivate.
Globalisation – Nick's final challenge, as he put it, the "churning force of change" which offered both benefits and uncertainty. The danger of a what's the point response of apathy and cynicism which lead to the rise of the BNP and other right wing parties who hate the world. He stressed that we were rooted in internationalism and must reject that view.

Nick closed by bemoaning the tediousness of Labour and the Tories who have no answers to contemporary problems. He wanted us to make a breakthrough in two elections, he was proud of our future - third place was just not good enough.

Then it was on to the questions.

What one single signature policy would they have - equivalent to the 1p for Education?

Nick - The pledge to raise spending on education through the pupil premium.

Chris – Education was the key – he wanted to raise spending on all children to private school levels, not just the poorest. He touched on the unfair funding in FE.

There was a chance then for supplementaries, so yours truly took the opportunity to ask both candidates to consider that for children living in poverty there were other issues to consider, if you lived in substandard, crowded housing, education may not be the highest priority.

Chris emphasised that the party had a commitment to equality that we had a chance to take people out of poverty first.

Nick mentioned the
JRF research that highlighted families where they can't even afford a warm meal. What worries him though is that money pours in – in regeneration classic systems but doesn't always do any good. He talked animatedly about a project he had visited in Marsh Farm (where I once lived) where the community had taken the initiative, taken over a factory and were setting up their own economy. They had discovered that £59 million a year was going out of the estate and had taken matters into their own hands. These were the sort of schemes we as a party could champion from on high.

More on questions soon.............................

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