Saturday, April 23, 2005

York Election Hustings

Further proof that the anti-war movement (despite the nightly prayers of the social democratic 'left') is far from 'dead' - 150-200 people turned up, on Thursday night, for a York Against the War hustings meeting, in order to give Hugh Bayley (Labour MP) a very hard time. Bayley, however, being something of a coward, didn't bother to turn up (despite indicating earlier that he would attend) and so the crowd had to make do with tormenting the Tory candidate instead - very enjoyable in itself of course, but I would rather have seen Bayley savaged.

In addition to the Tory (more about him in a bit), the Liberal Democrat and Green parliamentary candidates were in attendance. There was a spare seat and name card on the front table for the city's UKIP candidate, but he, like Bayley, didn't show - perhaps he was busy bashing Johnny-foreigner somewhere else in the constituency that night.

The crowd, as you might imagine, were, overwhelmingly, a progressive, liberal and left-wing bunch. Lots of young people, lots of Quakers, Methodists, socialists and trade unionists. The Imam from one of the local Mosques (who is active in the York Palestine Solidarity group and helped us distribute Respect leaflets last year) was also present. Most of the questions centred on the Iraq occupation, asylum and immigration, international poverty, Palestine and the environment. There was also an interesting discussion towards the end about teenage pregnancies, contraception and sex education during which the Tory and Lib Dem candidates both came across as particularly silly (The Lib Dem looked very solemn and announced that the 'morning after pill' was far too available, and the Tory put on his most hysterical voice, jabbed his finger and accused the Lib Dem of wanting to 'teach his 6 year old child about sex' - much to audience amusement) .

The Lib Dem was a fairly amiable chap, an OK speaker and he didn't do too badly during the debate - though his comments drew polite applause, rather than enthusiastic expressions of support from the audience. As you might expect, he adopted a faux left wing stance on Iraq and, asylum and international poverty - the usual Lib Dem posturing we've come to expect during this election campaign. You can imagine the kind of line he took - if you've heard one Lib Dem, you've heard them all. The Green candidate was easily the audience favourite and most of his comments met with vigorous clapping. He seemed to be the best informed of all the candidates and his responses to audience questions were often full of detail - facts and figures and so on. The trouble is, that he doesn't have a very impressive speaking manner and came across, perhaps, as rather shy and self-conscious in comparison to the more polished and confident delivery of the other two candidates. However, I'm certainly voting for him - and I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of those who attended the meeting wil vote for him too.

The Tory candidate was a very unusual creature. He started off his first address to the meeting, by announcing that he intended to make history - he wanted to be the first 'Conservative pacifist' elected to Parliament (you can imagine the loud snorts of incomprehension that followed this remark). He said that he's a Quaker and that he opposed the war in Iraq on moral and religious grounds. I think that the crowd, and his opponent candidates, must have been so backfooted by this remark - trying to work out how on earth you can be pacifist and a Tory - that no-one thought to ask him whether he ever loudly drew attention to his pacifism at meetings not packed full of anti-war activists. Does he ever call himself a pacifist in front of Conservative Party audiences, stuffed to the walls with blustering retired colonels and wing commanders? Somehow I doubt it. Anyway, after this disarming attempt to make a grab for some radical credentials, he soon settled back into the usual Tory mould. He defended Tory policy on immigration ('fantasy island' concentration camps), defended the continuing occupation of Iraq (via much unimpressive acrobatic contortions of logic - a pacifist against the war, but pro-occupation??!!) and generally made an absolute fool of himself. He was at his most idiotic when trying to explain what Tory policy was when it came to poverty at home and abroad. When pressed about what he would do about the very poor in Britain (by a wonderfully well informed bloke at the back of the room) he tried to fob the audience off by telling us that the Tories were going to be 'tough on crime' and would introduce an extra 5000 police officers. Now I imagine that arguing that the sensible response to increasing poverty is to lock more of the buggers up goes down rather well in a room full of blue-rinsed old Tory crones (perhaps he forgot where he was for a moment), but this ridiculous line of argument, of course, only drew loud hoots of derision from the room. After this idiocy, the initial politeness of the audience evaporated and it was open season on the 'pacifist'. Many of us there in the room were not pacifists, and so weren't too averse to the sight of Tory blood on the walls and ceiling. By the end of the meeting, I swear, the Tory looked like he was close to bursting into tears. This made me very, very happy. I know schadenfraude is usually considered to be an unpleasant human response to the suffering of others - but I think we can all agree that usual standards of human sympathy and consideration for another's feelings can legitimately be relaxed when it comes to Conservatives.

Anyway, all in all, the meeting was highly enjoyable. It would have been all the more enjoyable had Bayley turned up and been ripped to shreds. Still, you can't have everything.

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