Thursday 15 April 2010

Power 2010 in Oxford East

Last evening saw Power 2010 arrive in Oxford East for an election hustings featuring all - well, most - of the constituency's candidates. East Oxford Community Centre - a spiritual home of Oxford radicalism - was filled to bursting with voters eager to grill the candidates.

Andrew Smith was there from Labour, along with Sushila Dhall from the Greens, Steve Goddard from the Lib Dems, and candidates from UKIP, the Equal Parenting Party and the Socialist Equality Party (who were keen to let us know that they are the British section of the world Trotskyist movement). (I suspect they are actually the British section of just one of the entities currently claiming to be the world Trotskyist movement.)

Notice something? Yes, the Conservative candidate was not there.

Let's just pause to take that fact in. There is David Cameron claiming that the Conservatives want to reconstruct the political system and give power to the people. Yet, when Power 2010 came to Oxford to hold a meeting for election candidates on democratic reform the Tory candidate could not be bothered to show up.

What does that tell us about the underlying attitudes and priorities of the Conservative party under David Cameron?

The Oxford East constituency is a Labour marginal with the Lib Dems running very close in second place in 2005. There is a strong Green presence on Oxford city council.

Facing a tough opening question on the Digital Economy bill, Andrew Smith, the Labour candidate, pointed out that he had made representations to get the bill changed; had complained to the government about the haste with which the bill was rushed through Parliament in the wash-up; and had finally refused to vote for the bill in the form it took. (Though he did not vote against it.)

Andrew also argued strongly in favour of Tony Wright's proposed reforms to increase the power of backbenchers. He also argued that electoral reform was crucial and pointed out that he was one of just three Labour MPs who recently voted in Parliament in support of a referendum on Proportional Representation.

In this age of televisual and electronic interaction, it was enormously refreshing to sit in a hall and participate with a 150 or so fellow citizens in a genuinely argumentative, but generally good-natured rough-and-tumble of a meeting - very effectively chaired by Power 2010's Pam Giddy.

The tough questions, with no deference or quarter to those wishing to be our elected representative - but without any offputting Paxmanesque egotism; the unpredictability; the moderate heckling (which I am afraid a certain reporter for Next Left may have engaged in at one point); the presence of non-mainstream viewpoints (e.g., Socialist Equality Party, UKIP, Greens) which help to push the discussion outside the usual, well-worn tracks of the national, overly media-driven debate; it was great.

It was, of course, democracy. If only there was more of it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks Stuart - great write up. What a terrible indictment of the Tory party and their candidate that they couldn't even be bothered to turn up and engage with local voters on political reform.