Susan Atkinson, CAFOD volunteer Deanery Co-ordinator for Hartlepool in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle reports on a local hustings event.
Hartlepool is a rock-solid Labour seat. Always has been, always will be…though maybe not this time! At the last election, UKIP ran them close and, with our sitting MP stepping down and a new and largely unknown Labour candidate, anything might happen!
So my local hustings, for candidates standing for election in Hartlepool, had the potential to be interesting.
Organised by Hartlepool for Global Peace and Justice, a long-running local organisation which campaigns for many of the same things as CAFOD, questions were always going to focus on global as well as local issues.
I’ve been Treasurer, Secretary and Vice Chair of this group at different times so I know how it works and more or less who would be there.
Of course, I’m also a long-term CAFOD supporter and ran a Fairtrade stall in my local church for ten years with the profits going to CAFOD. Now I’m the CAFOD Deanery Co-ordinator (one parish with six church communities).
Meeting the candidates
Back to the hustings… I wanted to attend to see the candidates in person as I didn’t know any of them.
All four local candidates were invited and turned up. Although the Liberal Democrat candidate was ten minutes late following treatment for a dog bite sustained whilst on the stump! The UKIP candidate also made a late entry claiming he had been told the wrong time.
Questions on poverty at home and abroad
The meeting was chaired by a well-known local man who has recently retired from running the town’s volunteer development organisation. He was an excellent chair.
We were asked to put our questions in writing, so that he could manage the meeting by grouping them into subjects.
I put in three questions, the first two from the CAFOD/CSAN briefing: one about global poverty and aid; one about Britain’s role in the world as an outward-looking, tolerant and welcoming nation; and one about local poverty and use of the foodbank (I am Vice Chair of Hartlepool Foodbank and am involved in raising the funds to run it).
All my questions were asked, but I was slightly disappointed that the answers were very general and mostly followed manifesto lines. The audience were respectful, though not above stating when they thought that lies were being told!
Hearing from voters
Attending the hustings has not changed my opinions or how I’m going to vote, but I now know who my local candidates are and have heard them defend their positions.
Most importantly, the candidates have all heard from us too. They have heard that issues of poverty and inequality will be in the minds of many people in their constituency as they head to the polling booth on 8 June.