Together, these elections will act as a barometer of the nations’ politic leaning ahead of next year’s General Election.
What really struck me as I listened to the debate was how Mark Ferguson, Editor of Labour List and Gawain Towler, Head of Media for UKIP Group in the European Union both focused primarily on the importance of the local elections, at the expense of talking about Europe. On the contrary, Transport Minister Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon and Gerald Vernon Jackson, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Portsmouth Council, were keen to emphasise their respective Party’s strengths in both elections.
The event began with Labour’s Mark Ferguson. Why should you vote red in a couple of weeks’ time? Mark did warn the audience about the Labour buzz words to follow:
• Cost of living
• Intervening in broken markets
• Free school meals and other policies aimed at helping the stretched middle
• Supporting rather than slashing Local Government and its services
But it didn’t sound repetitive, and it felt that Labour had a finger on the pulse of most voter worries: the day-to-day cost of living – having little to spend on extras, or a bit less to have to spend on the essentials.
Next up was UKIP’s Gawain Towler, who used his time to concentrate on Local Elections and highlighted the Party’s no whip rule, which allows individuals to make the decisions that work best for the local community and not for the Party’s HQ. Gawain also took the opportunity to speak about UKIP’s willingness to make political recalls, a comment in relation to recent allegations of racist UKIP candidates, making the fair point that UKIP is a small party and does not have the resource to vet people thoroughly. Gawain stressed that when the media uncover an issue with one of their candidates, UKIP respond fast to resolve it. Finally reaching the topic of Europe, Mr Towler’s presented that UKIP mantra: the best people to rule the UK are those living in it.
Liberal Democrat Gerald Vernon Jackson followed, and spent time discussing the Lib Dem’s strengths at both local and EU level. At the local level, Mr Jackson was able to provide a number of examples of success in his council; highlighting the brilliant things they have achieved (including saving and running the local port). Mr Jackson enthusiastically highlighted the importance of local elections to make a difference to the things that really impact people’s everyday lives: mending potholes, clearing dog mess and ensuring regular bin collections. At the EU level, the message was clear: if you want to be in Europe, then vote Liberal Democrat.
Transport Minister Stephen Hammond MP who represented the Conservative Party started his speech by focusing on the EU and his party’s three ‘Rs’: Reforms, renegotiation and referendum. Mr Hammond provided examples of where the UK had led reform in the EU, highlighted the successful renegotiation of the UK’s involvement in the bailout and emphasised the Party’s commitment to a referendum in 2017. At the local level, key messages echoed those of the Party more generally: voting Conservative means voting for lower Council Tax, better value for money on local services and support of local trade.
After hearing each Party’s statement and the subsequent Q&A, what was the verdict? At the EU level, if you want ‘in’ vote Lib Dem, if you want ‘out’, vote UKIP, if you want to think about it and voice your opinion in a couple of years, vote Tory, and if you’re don’t think it’s the most pressing issue facing the country in the next 12 months, Labour is your ticket. At the local level, it is a little harder to differentiate between the parties – everyone seems to offer much the same; a local agenda adapted case-by-case to support the particular needs of the local community.
See more photos from the event in our PLMR Flickr Album here