Report on Torridge and Tavistock Hustings,
11 June 2024 by Teresa Tinsley

Voters in Torridge and Tavistock got a chance to meet their parliamentary candidates yesterday at a hustings in Westward Ho! Well, some of them, anyway. Sir Geoffrey didn’t turn up and neither did the Green candidate Judy Maciejowska. Their places were ably filled by local Tory, Ken Hine and long-standing Torridge Green, Ruth Funnell. But it was the first opportunity for us to judge the respective merits of the Labour, Lib Dem, and Reform candidates - and the independent Alan Rayner, whose message is ‘don’t vote for me, vote for a reformed electoral system’.

So, how did they do?

Well, Torridge residents showed little love for the Tories. People aren’t listening to them anymore. Some will vote Tory because they are addicted to it, but poor Ken Hines, who put up a valiant show, was given a rather cool reception. There was even laughter at one point.

Andrew Jackson, standing for Reform UK, was given a sympathetic hearing and will doubtless take votes from Le Cox, amongst those who are that way inclined. He was not a good speaker but his appeal for higher wages for public sector workers, skills training, and clamping down on excessive salaries for supermarket and water company CEOs will no doubt go down well. He thinks that solar panels ‘leech poison’ into the soil and is dead against them.

I had been wanting to meet the young Labour candidate, Isabel Saxby for some time. She comes over quite feisty on social media and indeed started in that vein: ‘Put your hand up if you expect to wake up to a Lib Dem government on 5 July?’ However, when it came to the questions, she was seriously underwhelming and not prepared to say more than a couple of sentences about anything. While the others were debating the future of farming and discussing food security, environmental protection, government subsidies post Brexit, and why young people don’t go into farming, all she had to say about how to help local farmers was that she would ‘do trade deals to sell their produce across the world’. Similarly, there was a penetrating and well-informed discussion about social care which seemed to go over her head. She said she had a friend who worked as a carer who deserved a higher salary. I am sure Saxby the younger will go on to great things, but she is not yet MP material, in my opinion anyway.

The star of the show for me was Phil Hutty. Declaration of interest: I am a Lib Dem. He is great on the doorstep, but I hadn’t seen him speak in public before and hustings can be very challenging. However, he performed extremely well, polished and fluent but speaking from the heart. Everything hung together – his own experience as a social worker as a motivation for becoming a candidate and how the Lib Dems would work in the new Parliament to get a consensus on, for example, social care. He was the only candidate there who looked and spoke like a future MP.

Having said that, Ruth Funnell represented the Greens extremely well and really connected with the audience. She too has been a social worker, and it was interesting to see the convergence between her and Phil. In fact, she said on several occasions, ‘I agree with Phil’. I hope that an increased number of Green and Lib Dem MPs in the new Parliament will work together to push Labour further on climate and the environment.

Alan Rayner’s challenge to all the other candidates was to get a statement from them on their commitment to PR. Unfortunately, this was not picked up by any of them, but we already know that electoral reform is Lib Dem and Green policy, if not yet Labour’s.

My overall assessment? A good-natured evening, and evidence of a growing public consensus over the need to rebuild public services, skills and infrastructure in Britain after 14 years of austerity, unfairness, and mismanagement.

Finally, which artist or band would candidates listen to if they could only choose one?

·         Ruth Funnell – Tom Lehrer (she quoted very aptly from a song called Pollution).

·         Isabel Saxby – The Big Moon (she has seen them at Glastonbury)

·         Phil Hutty – Kate Bush (got a big applause, who knows why)

·         Andrew Jackson – ELO

·         Ken Hine – The Who (he especially liked the lyric ‘people try to put us down’)

·         Alan Rayner – couldn’t answer – he only likes classical music.

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