Monday, 10 November 2014


I am blogging as I watch the debate on television that I attended in person.  Maybe I could write a little less!  Other than checking out how chubby I look - should the camera ever pan my way, I'm quite fascinated to see what I recall versus the actual event (albeit edited).

I have already seen a snippet of Mark Reckless defending his calculation of the populations of Bulgaria and Romania on the basis that 2 million of them have already left.  I had forgotten that he said that.  I was way up at the back, so am not sure if it was a tongue in cheek comment or a barrel scraping one.  Telly will tell. 

The programme is starting.  I remember the man who said local issues take a back seat - they do, and programmes like this play a part in that (so why did I attend?).
That is our clapping - only a few seconds, they made us practice so much for those few seconds.  There is a lot to be said for canned clapping.

Polly starts by stating it is only right that constituents get the chance to ask their questions - so why didn't we Polly?   The candidates are introduced, Kelly smiling awkwardly, Clive Gregory not smiling at all - is that a green policy?  Naushabah looking very polished, Mark looking a little uneasy and lastly Geoff.  

The first question comes from an 18 year old - and the question is asking Mark if his defection was a political stunt.  Well done young man, the question the BBC wanted you to ask.  I remembered Mark's response as being quite reasonable, however he could of course have resigned much earlier, or waited until one month before the election.  Polly raises Shapps and Mackness's comments and the issues of trust.  Mark again points out he stood down, he didn't stay on.  Polly then raises the issue of Lodge Hill  - a housing project originally supported by Mark Reckless.  Mark says his support was on behalf of the council, and now he thinks we shouldn't have these housing targets.  Implausible but very reasonably put.  

Polly moves on to Kelly.  Kelly says 'you know' a lot.  Kelly reminds Mark of some of his pre-defection statements - comments which are going to haunt him either for two weeks, or for six months should he win.  Kelly reminds us how much the election is costing, and asks if it is about the people of Rochester and Strood or Mark just wanting to stay as an MP.  Mark points out he has resigned.  Far more importantly, we still haven't seen me.  Polly says maybe the door is open for UKIP because they are disaffected with the other parties.  Clive and Kelly have a little spat about whether debt is growing or the economy is growing.  Kelly then drags Labour into it, blaming them for debt.  Polly moves to Naushabah, asking if she thinks 13 years of Labour and Labour spin led to disillusion.  Naushabah raises the points that schools and health were better and that it comes down to trust, pointing out that both Kelly and Mark have changed their view on Lodge Hill.  We applaud.  Naushabah states that Mark could have stood against the privatisation of the NHS many times, but chose not to. 

The debate goes over to Clive.  Clive says he respects Mark for standing down, but thinks it is a stunt designed for maximum publicity for UKIP, to much applause.  Clive says UKIP are the same old, with the Greens being the opposition and all other parties are just a faction of the Conservatives.  Polly then turns to Geoff Juby stating that LibDems used to be the none of the above party, but now they don't seem interested, none of them have been here.  Geoff Juby says that VIPs pander to media needs with nobody getting the message across and he is sure someone will visit soon - I do remember feeling really sorry for him at that point, as you would for the child in your class whose parents never take an interest.  Geoff points out that UKIP didn't stand against Mark in 2010 and it is cynical ploy now, furthermore it will result in only 2-3 months work.  

Polly takes a question from the audience.  The audience member, quite agitated, asks how we can trust UKIP and says Mark has stepped down into the gutter.  Polly asks him if he is a local conservative, which he confirms  Polly goes to Mark who denies that UKIP are racist.  Mark states he doesn't align with Britain First, Clive points out his team did.  Mark says he wasn't aware of what a loathsome outfit Britain First were, which I find hard to believe, the rest of us knew.    

Polly takes another question - do we let immigration go on without hindrance.  Rather than ask the panel for an answer, Polly asks for more comments.  One claims that Kelly lied saying she wouldn't be the candidate.  Kelly asks to be allowed to point out she had just come out of hospital and was called by UKIP, trying to find out what the Conservative party were up to.  A constituent, Samantha, gets to ask her question, she points out that immigration is low in the area, so wants to know why is it a topic. Well put Samantha  Polly says given that this is 90% indigenous population, why is it at the top of Kelly's agenda.  Why is it at the top of Polly's?  Kelly says it is about fairness and it is right we have control.  The debate moves on to Naushabah, with Polly quoting Miliband saying Labour got it wrong, asking if it is Labour's fault.  Naushabah disagrees saying Labour wants a clear and deliverable policy and that they want to take control of our borders and have fingerprints, and gather numbers of those coming in and out.  Kelly asks why Labour didn't do this when they were in power and states that the Conservatives have got it down by 25%.  Naushabah says this isn't true.  It isn't an attractive discussion between the two, but at least Naushabah remains far calmer than Kelly.  Naushabah stands up for immigrants and what they have contributed, to applause.   Ohhh - I can see me!   Naushabah is on a roll, showing a leaflet, which is frowned upon by Polly.  Naushabah  makes the very valid point that the population of Bulgaria and Romania is 2 million less than Mark claimed would emigrate.  M seriously states that this is because 2 million have already emigrated.  Clive says it is a two way street.  

Polly quotes Mark to Mark again, reminding him that he said that only Tories could deliver an in-out referendum.  Mark says David Cameron was not serious and Angela Merkl said it is not up for negotiation.  Mark states the main issue is the number of people who can come and work - and we have had no wage increases because of that, a comment which is received with much heckling by the audience.  Kelly asks how UKIP will do this.  She also quotes Mark to Mark, this time on UKIP, and asks why has he defected.  Mark states that the Conservatives are not credible on Europe and UKIP will apply an Australian style scoring system.  

The debate moves to Geoff - with Polly asking how Geoff's claim to count everyone out and in, but Labour and Conservatives have failed to do that.  Geoff asks if the Spanish will send all British people back and if our MEP won't vote on European issues they are not representing us.  Geoff says he has met people who will vote UKIP but who don't like Mark.  Nobody is too sure what that point was leading to, so Polly moves on to Clive.  
Clive says parties have been whipped into taking up immigration by UKIP, citing that the reason for drop in wages was caused by the banks crashing the economy and the biggest issue is allowing the 'too big to fail' concept, causing the scam of austerity, the banks crashed the financial system.  Clive gets a lot of applause.  

Polly asks Samantha in the audience if her view has changed.  Samantha says that it hasn't and that immigration is not the main issue and that the issues that matter to Rochester & Strood are not being address, to much applause.  The young lady who was seated near me gets to asks her question: she points out the benefits of EU immigration to the UK and that the average age  of EU immigrants is 24 - which suggests that they are healthy, educated so why would Mark object to them.  Luckily for Mark, who may have struggled to put forward a reasonable answer to that, Polly isn't looking for answers, she is looking for negative comments.  The next person agrees with the young lady.  He says that we need well paid staff, motivated industries, affordable homes and people before profit, citing the benefits of immigration.  He says constituents should look at the smaller parties, i suspect he is a supporter of the people before profit party - whose policies seem quite reasonable to me.  

Another constituent agrees with the points system and immigration being tightened.  He asks why if he has paid in for 20 years, how do immigrants contribute.  He didn't quite say 'coming over here, taking all our NI', but you got the impression that he wanted to.  Polly thanks him for phrasing it as a question and asks for people with similar views to him.  The next person is the man in the striped shirt who had approached us before the debate, he says asylum seekers are not benefitting the economy and asylum needs to be tightened up. because people are taking advantage of the UK by traffiking.  Polly goes to Dr Spinks.  He mentions the Medway Maritime which is in special measures for the second time.   Polly lets Naushabah answer who says that when Labour were in power you could get an appointment with your GP and treatment within 3 months.  Naushabah sets out Labour's policies, Polly asks where the money will come from - tobacco and taxing the very wealthy.  Naushabah will vote to stop privatisation of the Maritime.  She points out that Mark voted for privatisation of the hospital 18 times.  But Mark has seen the light and says that he now agrees with Labour's bill.  Naushabah asks why he didn't do it before.  Polly saves Mark from having to address this inconsistency by asking him not to talk in jargon.  Kelly said that Nigel Farage said he would cut spending on the NHS.  Mark cites his parents careers in medicine, but Polly notes it went into special measures twice whilst Mark was an MP.  Mark wants everyone to support the Chair of the hospital and he wants to see GP practices improved.  The attention turns to Kelly and the restructuring of the NHS, a Conseravative policy which has been much criticised.  Kelly says that the NHS needs to be effective and efficient and that Conservatives have protected NHS funding.  Kelly mentions the hiring of 100 extra nurses at the Maritime.  She notes again that Medway hospital saved her life.  She states that she wants to work with neighbouring MPs, administrators, regulators and, lastly, the doctors.  

Polly turns to Geoff, who says the flaw in the NHS is the lack of training carried out under Labour.  GPs are retiring without anyone to take over their practice, which goes back to Labour's GP contract.  Geoff points out that the catchment area is bigger than Medway.  He then moves on to point out it is an issue for Kent.  Polly is having none of it, we are sticking to her issues, she wasn't going to let the constituents raise any and she definitely isn't letting the candidates loose on the agenda.  

Clive then gets another say, he says the Green party will raise funds via wealth tax, Robin Hood tax, as well as alcohol and tobacco.  He says that the Maritime has been abandoned and needs additional funding and established management.  Clive stresses the source is privatisation of the NHS.  Mark jumps in noting administrators who have done nothing for 10 years, and we should have a board - a single elected authority, which can deal with these problems.  Another constituent said GPs struggle to get around the town due to traffic jams.  Polly says that we will get to that later.  We don't.  A young man at the back says that high death rates and immigration is a priority so how can Kelly prioritise immigration over people dying.  Kelly says health is one of her priorities too.  Another man mentions that the EU won't renegotiate, so we need to audit the EU, we will keep the money and spend it how we want.  This is the man who was a floating voter who says all he has heard is back-biting an negative campaigning and the green party are ahead in his estimation, we all applauded.  

A lady asks Kelly why she is backing Rochester Master Plan and not a new hospital building.  I can't remember if Kelly had to reply to this or not, but in the televised debate, it was ended there.   
Polly ends the debate there and names the other eight candidates.  The booing for Britain First is far shorter than I recall.  I am pretty sure that it has been recorded over.  As I suspected, the poor man who lost most of his pension in the Standard Life pension problem, was edited out.  

Having rewatched much of the debate, Naushabah comes across as very poised and prepared, but they don't seem to be her policies.  Mark was also calm and quite well prepared but will struggle to overcome the difference between what he says now and what he said for the last 4.5 years - undoubtedly he will still win, but I suspect his past will very much inhibit his future, he will find his previous comments being dragged up at every opportunity.  Geoff had some good points, but suffers from being a LibDem which is no longer popular.  Clive was very well received and would not jump on the immigration band-wagon, he won't win, but it will be interesting to see how much of the vote the Greens get.  Kelly I suspect is an unwilling candidate and isn't entirely at ease.  She has been well coached, but possibly too well coached and instructed not to digress too far from the path set her because her points are limited and therefore she comes across as repetitive.  I have heard good reports of Kelly locally, Mark has more popularity amongst the electorate than either Labour or Conservatives would like to admit and Naushabah is backed by a very supportive and well-respected local team, so in theory it could be anyone's victory, but I still think it will be a UKIP win,  It possibly won't be the landslide it might have been a month ago.  

If Clive picks up more votes than the Greens are expected to get, many of those votes may be on the back of his performance in this debate - and very well deserved.  It is time the BBC reviewed their policy of giving so little time to minority parties and independents.  If an election has 13 candidates, our public broadcaster has a duty to give each the same amount of coverage.      

Tower Poppies

I have been meaning to go and see the Tower Poppies for weeks.  I work a 30-minute walk away - or a few minutes on the tube.   I didn't try at the weekend, news reports of the crowds proving a significant deterrent. 

As tomorrow is the last full day they will be on display, I took the early train to work and walked across London Bridge and up to the Tower.  There were quite a few people there for the hour, just before 8 a.m., but nothing like the crowds that the last few weeks had seen.  

I spent 40 minutes walking round it, wishing I had taken the time to bring my camera and taking a few snaps on my mobile which fail to do justice to the display.   Much has been written about them, so I won't wax lyrical here.  I am glad I finally got to see them.  We read how many British and Colonial fatalities there were in the war, 888,246 and agree it is a large number.  Seeing that many poppies really brought it home.  Every single poppy represented the life of a young man, drafted into the army, living in hell in the trenches and then killed so the allied forces could gain a few feet.  

It was incredibly to see and very poignant.  Do we 'remember them'?  I don't think so.  If we did surely war pensioners, widows and the seriously injured wouldn't be relying on charities such as The British Legion and Help for Heroes.  If we did, our defence budget would be a fraction of its current level as we avoided sending our troops to die on foreign soil for battles which achieve little and solve less.  I was in the armed forces and am really glad I joined up.  If I had a child, however, and they told me they wanted to enlist, I would talk them out of it, because one day we will run out of towers for all the poppies we are creating.   I have a lot of sympathy with Sheila Hancock's suggestion that the poppies are mown down by a tank, "have the beautiful thing, and then destroy it" (article here).  If we really want to 'remember them' we must remember the destruction.