Last Wednesday I made a decision to spend my evening (or a good part of it) at the Selly Oak Parliamentary Election Hustings. As someone who sometimes has a rather ambivalent view of the parliamentary system, this might have seemed a strange decision, and it probably was. I was hoping there might some interesting questions, and even some interesting answers, from our election candidates, and also wanted to find out their views on certain environmental issues.
Cotteridge Church’s main hall was packed full with around 150-200 people. The were questions on a wide variety of issues, and reflected the progressive emphasis of the audience. They ranged from poverty in the UK to the crisis in Syria, and Trident renewal. There were two questions I took a particular interest in, a question on TTIP and one on climate change.
On TTIP candidates were asked what their views were, and whether they would vote against it in the next Parliament. Clare Thomas the Green Candidate said she and the Greens were completely opposed. The NHS is already being partially privatised and there is no need to make this international.
The Conservative Candidate Alex Boulter said she needed more information on it personally before coming to a conclusion, but acknowledged people’s concerns
Colin Green for the Liberal Democrats said he needed more information but then claimed the NHS had been taken out of the agreement, which I don’t think anybody can claim is certain!
Steve McCabe gave the most interesting response by seemingly taking a stronger line against TTIP than the Labour Party. He criticised its secrecy and said that if it had all the provisions in it we thought he wanted nothing to do with it.
Steven Brookes for UKIP said the NHS should be taken out, and used the question as an opportunity to state how this was a problem with being part of the EU, and their “bureaucrats” negotiating on our behalf.
I was disappointed but not surprised that the Lib Dem and Tory candidates effectively dodged the question, with Colin Green falsely claiming that NHS was already off the table, and that UKIP weaved it into their anti-EU rhetoric, as opposed to opposing it on sovereignty grounds. I felt the Green and surprisingly Labour candidates were stronger on this. However in Steve McCabe’s case, if re-elected, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, or in his voting on the issue.
On Climate Change Clare Thomas said we needed a big push on renewables, but needed to do more to reduce energy use, using the example of electrifying the railway network. She also strongly stated the Green Party’s opposition to fracking.
Colin Green for the Liberal Democrats stated with a straight face that this was greenest government ever, and that the Lib Dems would continue to push more renewables and greater electrification of the railways.
Conservative Alex Boulter said she was less keen on windfarms. In keeping with what was now a recurring theme, she also said that not only was she in favour of more electrification, but the Conservatives had electrified lines in the West Midlands in this Parliament, which is certainly news to me and any transport campaigners.
Steven Brookes for UKIP said that they would repeal the Climate Change Act and would have a “balanced energy mix”. He was in favour of fracking, saying it was totally safe in the United States, and also stated that environmentalists wouldn’t allow us any form of energy.
Steve McCabe said that Labour would introduce a decarbonisation target, and give the Green Investment Bank powers to borrow. He added that we needed more renewables, greater energy efficiency, but also needed to work much more internationally.
The person who asked the question said she was glad that no-one had mentioned Carbon Capture and Storage as a solution as she thought it was a non-starter, and criticised the Tory candidate’s stance against windfarms, saying we needed them.
From my own perspective I felt a little underwhelmed by candidates responses on both detail and scale. Getting hung-up on electric trains was a bit of a cul-de-sac, as while they’re more efficient, there’s little carbon saving if your energy supply is still fossil fuel based. I also feel it was very easy for candidates to say they were in favour of action on climate change, but not really following this through with their views on the details. The most obvious example of this being Alex Boulter’s stance on windfarms, although I’m glad to see she was challenged on this.
Overall while there were some interesting bits, I think the candidates’ answers served as an example of how our political discussion is still not on the same page as the action we need to take on climate change. Let’s hope after the election we can really make some progress!