All seven parliamentary candidates for the Croydon North constituency gathered at Praise House for an election hustings on Wednesday night. But like the overall general election campaign this year, the event was characterised by a lack of spirit and anodyne responses from the candidates.
Before the closing remarks, a heckler shouted: “The candidates are only repeating what David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg say. We see that every day on TV. We want to hear what they want to do for Croydon North!” He could not have said it better. The hustings was a microcosm of the apolitical and uninspired battle for seats at Westminster.
While Ben Stevenson of the Communist Party and pithy former boxer Winston McKenzie of UKIP at least stood out by virtue of their qualities as entertainers, the rest of the panel appeared pallid. The former dropped the punchline of the night with a dig at Conservative candidate Vidhi Mohan: “The Conservatives have been going after tax evaders? I thought they had been funded by them.”
The Tory candidate had a hard time with the crowd. Labour hammered the Conservatives in the last two general elections in Croydon North, the predominantly working class and culturally-diverse population of which does not approve of government cuts. The audience accused Mohan’s party of not doing enough for the vulnerable by avoiding issues such as housing prices and poverty.
“There are currently 41,000 houses being built in London that will be sold for over £1 million. We need to build up to 500,000 social homes to release the pressure on housing,” said Shasha Khan of the Green Party.
Labour candidate and incumbent MP Steve Reed explained that Tory plans to privatise social housing must be stopped in order to bring rents down.
The issue of treatment for people suffering from autism was also discussed. Liberal Democrat candidate Joanna Corbin, who used to work in the charitable sector, promised to put more money into autism treatment and education, and said that projects like Remploy should get more funding.
There was at least one clear statement towards the end of the hustings. Responding to the question of whether indefinite detention without charge will be ended, Steve Reed, who is likely to be re-elected, clarified: “Yes, Labour will do that.”
Meanwhile, there was a little verbal sparring between McKenzie and Glen Hart, standing for TUSC. After Hart said he could not believe “a UKIP candidate [is] talking about asylum. I do not know what is wrong with me, maybe it is my sense of humour”, McKenzie found himself on the ropes, telling Hart to “stop pickin’ on me, man!”
The Q&A session ended with a resident asking about the planned incinerator to be built in Croydon. Shasha Khan, who was the only candidate to address the issue, said that his campaign against the building of the incinerator may have been rebuffed in court but will continue on the streets. Of course, he might need an MP’s salary for that.