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Pictures: Candidate dubs party leader ‘dull’ at packed pub hustings

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More than 130 people packed the Prince Albert pub in Rodborough on Monday evening for a General Election hustings event.

Six of the seven Parliamentary candidates joined the debate, hosted by Stroud Times’ Faye Hatcher. They were: Siobhan Baillie (Conservative); Jason Hughes (Volt UK); George James (Lib Dem); Pete Kennedy (Green Party); Christopher Lester (Reform UK) and Dr Simon Opher (Labour Party). Independent candidate Saskia Whitfield did not attend.

Questions from the audience ranged from how candidates would tackle the climate crisis, countryside rights of way, funding of children’s services, support for WASPI women and how to make Stroud a safer place for cyclists.

hustings 2 | Pictures: Candidate dubs party leader 'dull' at packed pub hustings
Siobhan Baillie, Conservative.

In her introduction Ms Baillie said: “I’m meeting Labour voters who say Kier Starmer is too Tory and they’re voting Green, I’m meeting Green voters who are saying we shouldn’t be doing tactical voting. I’m meeting long-standing Conservative voters who are not giving up on the party, even though it looks like we are facing relegation in the polls.

“I’ve always tried really hard to work seven days a week for you and I’m proud to stand on my local record here, whether that is doing things that people said couldn’t be done, like step-free access at the railway station, tackling Tricorn House, or getting national free childcare for everybody and tackling anonymous abuse and many, many more things.”

hustings 3 | Pictures: Candidate dubs party leader 'dull' at packed pub hustings
Jason Hughes, Volt UK.

Volt UK candidate Jason Hughes told the audience: “Why am I here? Because I’m absolutely sick and tired of the state of politics. Our country is broken. I sat at home thinking what am I going to do about it? Do I even bother to vote, is there going to be any change?

“Yes, we are going to flip to a Labour Government but nothing’s going to change, it’s all going to be the same. Nobody’s talking about the most important thing right now, about Brexit and the impact that’s had on our economy.

“I decided to stand up and join Volt because they are a pan pro-European party. We want to reverse Brexit and make sure our economy is repaired because of it.

hustings 6 | Pictures: Candidate dubs party leader 'dull' at packed pub hustings
George James, Liberal Democrats.

Lib Dem candidate George James told of his career as a teacher for the past 20 years and how education should be a key focus: “I’ve educated hundreds of kids and the thing that has started to get to me is the poor state of education. Funding needs to be reformed, especially in the FE sector.

“If we’re going to reverse any issues in the constituency the place to start is with education, all the way from early years through to University. The other thing I will be looking at is the cost-of-living crisis.”

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Pete Kennedy, Green Party.

Green candidate Pete Kennedy said: “for 14 years the Conservatives have failed us. They’ve overseen the worst squeeze on living standards in generations. The NHS is in crisis, and they have failed to address the climate emergency. Their economic mismanagement led to soaring inequality, stagnant wages and the cost-of-living crisis that’s hurting families across Stroud and the country.

“This was a deliberate project to undermine the public sector and sell off public assets and undermine workers’ rights, all based on the big lie that there is no money left. We need more Green MPs to push the new Labour Government to make real transformative change, and every single Green vote will send a message to Keir Starmer in Westminster demanding that change.”

hustings 8 | Pictures: Candidate dubs party leader 'dull' at packed pub hustings
Christopher Lester, Reform UK.

Christopher Lester, the Reform candidate, told the audience he had been a Conservative voter but became disillusioned and resigned from the party: “I want to put more money in your pocket by raising the tax threshold to £20,000 from the present level of £12,500. That’s been costed and it could be done.

“I want to stop a lot of the immigration – yes, I’m from an immigrant family – way back in the 1920s my family came over from Eastern Poland, so I do have a background of immigration, but it’s got too big, too large and I think we have to do something drastic about that.

“We need to look at the boats that come across the channel – there have been deaths in the channel, and I want to stop that.

“For every ten boats that come across, seven of them should go back to France because the nearest safe port is France, not Britain.”

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Dr Simon Opher, Labour.

In his introduction, Labour candidate Dr Simon Opher said: “No disrespect to Siobhan, but we need the Tories out, and we need them out straightaway because the damage they’ve done to this country is unimaginable.

“We haven’t got enough sustainable energy, education is in the doldrums, early years is in crisis, cost-of-living, NHS, policing and even drinking water isn’t safe anymore.  We need change and what I want to represent here is hope for a new future.”

However, the penultimate question, ‘What makes a good leader and how do you know your party has one?’ drew laughter from some of the audience when Dr Opher responded: “I know Keir isn’t that popular, so what I would say about him is that he is effective. He has changed the Labour Party into a position where we are likely to win a large majority. That is effective.

“Now I know you don’t like him, but I would say that he’s competent and slightly on the dull spectrum perhaps. Maybe that’s what we need after the last five years.”

hustings 1 | Pictures: Candidate dubs party leader 'dull' at packed pub hustings

After the event Dr Opher told Stroud Times: “The Labour Party has always been a broad church, strengthened by its ability to accommodate differing views from different groups. Keir has proven himself to be an extraordinarily effective leader – both as a public servant, leading the DPP, as a shadow cabinet member, and as leader of a changed Labour Party. He has built a highly competent and varied team who, in government, will be able to deliver the change this country so desperately needs. 

“But I recognise from doorstep conversations that he is not universally feted or indeed understood by everyone in Stroud. Some would like him to be more of a showman. My comment reflected that fact, and my personal view that after 14 years of abject failure with the Tories, a competent government with no surprises would be very welcome.”

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The Prince Albert in Rodborough played host to the hustings.

Lotte Lyster Connolly, licensee of the Prince Albert, and organiser of this and previous hustings said: “We were delighted to have six of the candidates and I felt it was really enlightening and I heard things from all the candidates that interests me.

“We don’t know it [the General Election] is a foregone conclusion yet, but the most important thing is that people vote and are informed, so that’s what we are doing tonight, making sure people get the information they need so they can decide who to vote for.

“The audience was very respectful and gave the candidates a chance to put forward their views. We had the whole political spectrum here tonight, and in the audience as well, so it wasn’t as one-dimensional as it has been in the past.”

The event was live streamed on Facebook, attracting 16,500 views and is still available to view at www.facebook.com/ThePrinceAlbertStroud

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