We're in the middle of a snap election with a whirlwind schedule but the people of Bath always love a good hustings. In just over two weeks Labour candidate Joe Rayment has attended eleven. Tory Ben Howlett does not have such a good attendance record: he was a no-show for Promoting Human Security in an Uncertain World and – most mysteriously – for the hustings on a subject he claims is dear to his heart, the NHS. The organisers, Protect Our NHS (Banes), who put out an empty chair for Ben, commented: 'He gave a flimsy excuse and we feel this says a lot about the priority he gives the NHS.'
Joe Rayment has presented a strong case for a Labour government in all the hustings and has consistently held the incumbent, Ben Howlett, to account. Here are a few of the highlights:
St Andrews Primary School
In a mock election, pupils from three local primary schools voted Joe in on a landslide victory of 95 votes, against 47 for the Green candidate, 10 for the Lib Dem and 11 for the Tory. Read more about it here, and enjoy those whoops and cheers from the children when the result is announced. Joe commented: 'This shows that today, children's priorities are clearly on the issues of poverty and the environment, and that's really important to consider as we go into this election.'
Widcombe Residents' Association
Ben Howlett: 'The Labour Party wants to take Britain back to the 1970s.'
Joe Rayment: 'How on EARTH can someone standing on a manifesto to bring back fox hunting and grammar schools accuse another party of wanting to go back to the 1970s?'
Promoting Human Security in an Uncertain World
An audience member raised the question of tactical voting and a 'progressive alliance'. 'How many people in this room actually want to vote for the Lib Dems?' Joe challenged. Just one person raised their hand.
Bath City FC hustings
'It's weird that Ben Howlett suddenly wants to pay attention to petitions,' said Joe, to laughter from the audience, after Ben cited a petition on the A36–A46 link road in support of his arguments for it. But the hottest topic of the evening was the proposed library closure. Ben Howlett tried to avoid responding to a question on it by insisting that the audience answer his question instead. Where Ben pointed to the need for cuts as the reason for moving the library, Joe argued fiercely that 'It's not the money that's lacking, it's the political will.' After the hustings, a former Conservative councillor candidate told Joe that he would now be voting Labour.
Attending a hustings is an excellent way to weigh up the merits of the candidates and to raise issues that are important to you. There is a final hustings on 6th June, organised by Bath Chronicle. Details and registration here.