Education, Housing, Brexit and Leadership
Main topics in a lively and well-attended Brentford hustings
Thursday night saw Brentford's election hustings with all three candidates facing a grilling from an animated and vocal audience. Peter Hughes, former President of Brentford Chamber of Commerce chaired the debate at Brentford Free Church which was sponsored by BrentfordTW8.com
All three candidates acquitted themselves well, Ruth Cadbury (Labour), Joe Bourke (Liberal Democrats) and Mary Macleod (Conservative) answered questions on education, housing, health, Brexit, disability benefits. Briefly mentioned were Heathrow, national security, PFI, national debt, tuition fees and student loans. Diane Scott, Green Party candidate who stood down was also in attendance.
The loudest voice came from Christopher, who was angry, distressed and confused. He was going six weeks between funds while being transferred from EMA to Universal Credit and had poor mental health. His anger got the better of him and he spent most of the meeting outside the church with his voice rumbling through. David O'Connor asked who would help Christopher on his behalf to finish off the evening quoting his mother "We should look after the least, the last, and the lost in our community" (Post hustings he has met with Katherine Dunne who will help Christopher).
Mary acknowledged that some disabilities go wrong but that everyone who needs support should get it. Joe said that a week should be the maximum someone goes without and that disability benefits should be maintained in line with inflation. Ruth reminded her audience that she voted to protect tax credits and against benefit cuts. The DWP does not share information with councils or housing agencies which makes it harder to help those struggling.
Education was a hot topic, with several first time voters in attendance. Mary went to a comprehensive school and said that no school will have its budget cut and in fact Hounslow schools would get an increase. Free breakfast for all and means tested free lunches. Ruth advised people to check the School Cuts website and said that one local school was looking at closing on Friday afternoons to save money. Testing children has changed, and not for the better.
Adele (not that one) brought up her school, the BRIT school, strong in vocational training in the creative arts and now at risk of closure due to cuts. Adele (that one), Amy Winehouse and Jessie J are all products of the BRIT school and a massive financial export. Where's the economic sense in this?
Evan asked what a no deal for Brexit would look like. Mary emphasised that getting the right deal was critical for the future of the country, that we need strong and stable leadership to get that deal and that Theresa May will achieve that. Mary has worked with Theresa and has total confidence in her abilities as prime minister, something she echoed throughout the evening. Ruth has been talking to local businesses, like the Discovery Channel, concerned about the immediate and direct impact no deal will have. It will hurt jobs and the economy. Joe reminded us that before the referendum leading economists, universities and the CBI said that leaving the EU without a free market would be a disaster. This is why the Lib Dems want a second referendum.
Ruth acknowledged that she supported a vote of no confidence in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn but he has grown on her. He has shown himself to be consistent and principled and increasingly popular. In response to a question on IRA Ruth pointed out that this was part of the process that lead to a peace agreement and Thatcher talked to terrorists too. Mary pointed out that Corbyn did not feature on Ruth's leaflets.
Several parents raised the issue that their children could not afford to buy in Brentford, that young people are moving out of London as a result and that the dementia tax prevented money (or houses) being inherited. Developers land banking to maximise profits and the financial secrecy that permeates planning agreements also hindered genuinely affordable housing. Mary said every development needed affordable housing and that housing needed to be tackled at every level. The social care funding proposals shows commitment towards long term solutions. Joe and Ruth both said that local authorities needed to be able to borrow funds in order to build housing. Lib Dems would establish and national housing corporation to build. Joe quoted a London County Council meeting complaining about land banking in 1895 and said a penalty should be introduced for land that is not built on within 3 years of gaining permission.
There was some argument between public and candidates whether Charing Cross hospital is to be sold off which depends on your definition of "hospital" and "sold off" and a clear cry that we don't want American style health care.
On Heathrow, Mary will listen to residents. She has consistently campaigned against expansion and thinks we need a better not bigger Heathrow. She will keep fighting for the right conditions. She did not, as the questioner asked, promise to resign any future governmental position if Third Runway was to proceed. Joe said he didn't support the expansion under any circumstances. Ruth said Labour would only support if 4 criteria were met and 3 of them were impossible.
The full debate can be reviewed by visiting twitter and scrolling through. The debate was recorded by Brentford TV (who provided the clips here), Japan's NHK and an independent group.
June 2, 2017