Wednesday, 7 June 2017
Thurrock Hustings – The Aftermath
Here’s the full text of a blog entry that I submitted to Your Thurrock but that wasn’t posted. Enjoy!
So, the candidates faced the public and, amazingly, Jackie Doyle-Price didn’t do a Theresa May and hide behind the curtains like a child watching Doctor Who. Despite my complete and utter abhorrence of her as a close-minded, poor excuse for a representative for Thurrock, I have to say that I admired her for attending. She may have tried to ignore my questions for the last four years but, last night, she had no option but to give some kind of answers (even if they were the typical non-answers you expect from her).
I submitted two questions prior to last night so I seemed to dominate the questioning which was never my intent as I assumed that I might get one of the two asked and I would have been fine with that. Actually, to be honest, I thought I wouldn’t get any asked because I had to give my name when I submitted the questions and I was sure someone would have objected to having those questions asked so it was a win for me if only one had been asked. I was, however, prepared with more questions for the open floor just in case there was a lull in the questions from the audience which is why I ended up asking three questions in total.
The first question that I posed was one on “difficult decisions” and “hard choices” and I have to say that, as you may have heard on the video coverage elsewhere here on Your Thurrock, I didn’t think that it was properly answered by most of the candidates. Jackie Doyle-Price went straight for the oft-trod Tory mantra that didn’t address the heart of the question which was – what was her personal definition of those terms. Kevin McNamara and Tim Aker similarly failed to give personal definitions and it was left to John Kent to provide at least a partial answer in terms of personal definition (although his answer did include electioneering content).
Whilst such electioneering content is expected in answers, it is, after all, an election, it concerns me that candidates couldn’t give a personal answer to something when that was what the question explicitly asked for. Knowing a candidate’s beliefs and values is key to deciding whether they would be a good representative for Thurrock as a whole. For me, John Kent was the only person to offer that insight into himself as a person.
My second question was about mental health. Although I didn’t specify I was after personal views on the subject, a misstep on my part, that’s what I was after along with the candidate’s party line on what they would do to improve the mental health services. All of the candidates seemed to agree on the importance of recognising mental health to be as important as physical health which should be recognised as a really good thing for those of us who have mental ill-health or may potentially have it in the future, however, not everyone was telling the truth when they answered.
The truth is that to be a good interviewer or interrogator, one must have a reasonable idea of the sort of answer you’re going to get or even know exactly what the interviewee will say and, when asking my question on mental health, I knew exactly what one of the candidates would say and a reasonably good idea of another candidate’s response.
Jackie Doyle-Price was bound to say that mental health is important (well, all of them did) but this does not reflect her past record when I approached her on the subject. She was dismissive of my concerns for the mental health service users which do include me but was of a wider concern for the mental health service user community. I have proof of this attitude in the form of letters, signed by her and on her letter-headed paper from Parliament. She may have changed her mind in the meantime but I’ve seen no evidence of this and therefore must conclude that she’s following the party line on mental health simply because she has to.
John Kent was the other candidate I had an idea of what response he would give. I knew Mr Kent when we were both served on the Board of Governors at Thurrock Adult Community College. Mr Kent was the Chair of the Board during our shared time of service and he was extremely supportive of me in my role despite the fact that I can be challenging to work with due to my mental health condition and showed great compassion for me and what I have to live with every day of my life. He was bound to show the same compassionate nature towards others with similar problems.
I had no idea of the responses I’d get from Tim Aker and Kevin McNamara but I was suitably impressed with their answers, however, as I have no insight to their personal views on the subject, I have to wonder if they were just telling me what I wanted to hear. If I had not made the misstep of not asking for their personal views on mental health, I could make a better judgement of their answers but I will allow both of them the benefit of the doubt and remain impressed with their answers.
My final question was about the Naylor Report. Many people would not know anything about the report and even more would not even countenance reading such a boring, dryly written tome but it is important for such reports to be within the scope of knowledge of prospective candidates. I asked the question because I wanted a wider audience to know about the report and who supports it although, personally, the answers given by the candidates was of little import to me.
I don’t know if John Kent knew of the report or not but I was offered, thanks to him, a chance to reveal the gist of the report which is basically the privatisation of chunks of the NHS by forcing cash-strapped NHS Trusts to sell off land and buildings (e.g. hospitals) to gain access to Treasury funding (i.e. public funding) for vital equipment purchases such as MRI scanners, up-to-date incubators for premature babies and so on. The recommendation is that public funds will only be given to the Trusts on a £2 for every £1 raised in the sale of assets basis which basically means that public money will be used to privatise the NHS.
Labour’s position on the NHS is clear so I knew the response I’d get from John Kent but I was more interested in the answers given by the other candidates.
Kevin McNamara and Tim Aker gave reasonable good answers on this with proposals that would fund extra investment or at least show the kind of emphasis on the NHS we need if it is to remain a world class public service. The NHS is a vital service that affects many lives and it is certainly in crisis although whether that crisis is a natural phenomenon or an orchestrated crisis is a matter of opinion.
I was most looking forward to Jackie Doyle-Price’s reaction to the question and the face she pulled as I gave the gist of the Naylor Report to the assembled audience was priceless and well worth the feelings of anxiety and physical sickness I felt even being around so many people. She said that she didn’t “recognise the narrative” which she obviously would given that part of my question was to say whether her party supported the recommendations in the report.
As with the question on mental health, I already knew Jackie Doyle-Price’s answer before she gave it. She tried to obfuscate by saying that she didn’t have a clue what I was on about regarding the £2 for every £1 raised through the sale of assets bribe and she didn’t say whether the Tories support the Naylor Report.
To be fair to Ms Doyle-Price, none of the other candidates explicitly answered that point either but their positive comments on funding the NHS and keeping it as a public service give an implied answer that their parties don’t support the Naylor Report. However, Ms Doyle-Price had reason not to answer that part of the question because Theresa May, in a recent BBC interview, stated that the Tories support the Naylor Report which is probably why the report has been almost universally ignored in press coverage.
Ms Doyle-Price stated that “NHS trusts should be free to sell that land if they want”. This is all well and good but that’s not what the Naylor Report suggests. It actually suggests that NHS Trusts should be forced to sell assets to get access to public funds for equipment purchases. That does not gel with Ms Doyle-Price’s statement that NHS Trusts can sell land “if they want”.
All in all, it was an interesting night but not one that has changed how I will vote in the election on Thursday but I will say again, despite my dislike of Jackie Doyle-Price, I have to admire her for attending. If only she had treated me and my concerns a little better, actually engaged with me as a constituent, perhaps I wouldn’t view her with such distaste.
I’ll leave you with the three unasked questions I had left to ask and ones I think should be answered by all the candidates before polling day:
1) If you win, you will be Thurrock’s representative in Parliament. Do you: only represent the views of those who agree with your party’s line OR attempt to represent all views even those you disagree with?
2) This hustings is the first time most of us will have actually seen the candidates. Why should anyone vote for someone who doesn’t work for our vote?
3) Will you be: Thurrock’s representative in Westminster OR your party’s representative in Thurrock?
Quite frankly, I don’t care who you vote for (although I have my own preferred candidate) but do go out and vote on Thursday!