The four people looking to become Eastbourne and Willingdon’s next MP have gone head-to-head in a public hustings.
In a sometimes lively debate, issues including Trident, business rates, refugees and tourism tax were brought to the floor. A few passing blows were exchanged between candidates, with the audience demanding questions be answered instead of evaded.
The event at the Birley Centre last night (1 June), saw the debate open with the candidates speaking in alphabetical order.
First up Caroline Ansell, representing the Conservatives, spoke of how she hopes over the past two years, she has shown the town what she can do, highlighting millions of pounds secured for the Devonshire Park Development, money for improvements to the A27 between Polegate and Lewes and stressed her love for her home town. Caroline told the crowd she wants the best for everyone and believes she has unfinished business, including within the environment and for the disabled.
Next, it was Alex Hough from the Green Party. Alex said she joined the Greens to save the planet for the children. She highlighted her contempt for the Naylor Review and said we are losing consultant-led services at the DGH because there aren’t enough consultants in the country. Alex is also fearful of the UK’s ability to attract NHS workers to the country from the EU after Brexit.
Jake Lambert, the Labour candidate said as a new father, he wants to create an equal town for his son to grow up in, with good NHS provision and a rail service that works. He also said how he despairs at the need for foodbanks in towns like Eastbourne and is shocked at the number of children arriving at school hungry where their family cannot afford enough food. Jake believes the Labour Party offers a real alternative and said his party believes in investing in the country.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat, Stephen Lloyd said that Theresa May is losing the election, but will still be the Prime Minister, while Jeremy Corbyn is having a good campaign, but will fail to make it into Number 10. He told the audience he loves Eastbourne and that it was a privilege to serve as MP in the past. He promised that should he be re-elected, he would “roll up his sleeves for this town”. Stephen asked the room, “Do you want a ferocious campaigner for this town, or another Tory backbencher, that tows the party line?”
The first issue to be raised, was the A27, with Caroline Ansell being asked if the £3million survey announced last month for a survey into a new road was the bribe it had been labelled as by the Liberal Democrats?
The Conservative retorted that the £75million announced for improvements to the current A27 at the last election had also be labelled as such, but stressed the money will make a real difference to the road. However, she went on to say improvements aren’t enough and that a new road is needed, although she did admit this would be years away yet.
Stephen Lloyd snubbed the Conservative’s claim, saying he wished the Tories would deliver the money he said they only bribe voters with. His stance, is that we need a dual carriageway between Polegate and Lewes, which he says the Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for, for years. He also agreed with Mrs Ansell, saying we need a new road, but also reiterated an opinion he has previously made to Eastbourne Buzz, saying the Treasury should have allocated the money from the Chichester A27 improvements to East Sussex, after their plans fell through.
Alex Hough was asked by the Chair, if the Green Party would accept a new road, if it were build further away from the South Downs National Park. She said she would, but stated the £3million for a survey was a ‘waste of money’ saying that former Lewes MP and Transport Minister, Norman Baker, had already carried out a review. The Green blamed overdevelopment in Hailsham as the main cause of congestion on the A27. However, for her, she believes we have a disjointed travel system, which needs sorting out and said she has a lack of faith in the costing of new roads, after the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road went vastly over budget.
Labour’s Jake Lambert agreed with Stephen Lloyd in that the money promised for the A27 is just a ‘drop in the ocean’ and that the survey pledge was nothing more than a bribe on the part of the Conservatives. But he did admit that a survey is needed to ensure that any new road is the right plan for the area. Jake was also in agreement with Alex Hough, in as much as believing that transport is a bigger picture than just roads, saying the railway needs sorting out.
Few would have been surprised to see the situation on Southern addressed at the Chamber of Commerce event.
Stephen Lloyd branded the rail company a ‘shambles’, pledging to address the issue at the first opportunity in Parliament – if he was re-elected – calling for all parties to meet, without any pre-obligations. If that failed, he promised to take the case back to the media to cause a fuss.
This was scoffed at as ‘wishy-washy words’ by Jake Lambert, who said that all four candidates have independently spoken to the press – including Eastbourne Buzz – and yet still there were problems with Southern. He said if Jeremy Corbyn were to win the election, he would take decisive action to end the dispute. Jake said that season tickets between Eastbourne and London have risen £967 since 2010, which he feels is a disgrace and that he wants to see improvements to provide a rail service which is safe and works for everyone. In his view, this means an end to privatisation.
Stephen Lloyd had also accused the Conservative Government of trying to ‘break the unions’ in their quest to end the Southern dispute. This was branded as ‘fanstastical’ by Caroline Ansell, who said she believes she has fought hard enough over the situation on behalf of Eastbourne, adding “Nothing is more important to me than for Eastbourne to have its voice heard.”
Caroline added that she believed Southern had handled the situation badly, but also pointed a finger at the unions, saying that no jobs were under threat for this franchise or the next. The Conservative, who said we have a Victorian rail infrastructure in Eastbourne, said she would like to see the unions come back together for talks with Southern.
For the Green Party’s Alex Hough, the whole Southern saga was the perfect advert for nationalisation. She added that the Greens would put two staff members on all trains, across the country.
When asked why the situation, with strike action continuing to hit Eastbourne, Caroline Ansell said it was a ‘unique situation’ and that the Conservatives wanted to bring in a minimum requirement for services during industrial action, as they currently have in France, but that it was voted down by Labour in Parliament.
Jake Lambert believes his Party was right to vote against such a move, saying it would have been wrong. The Labour candidate said he believes the Government’s objective over Southern was to save money, with reduced staff on the railways – both with conductors and in the ticket office, both of which have affected Eastbourne. Jake added, “There is no point in trains if they don’t work for ordinary people.”
He proceeded to point the finger at Caroline Ansell, saying she was accusing the unions of not caring if people live or die and that the RMT members are local people, standing up for the public and their safety.
Caroline branded this a “vile accusation” and that she doesn’t believe unions are unfeeling, but stressed that the strikes had been hitting people across the whole of the southeast.
Stephen Lloyd added that women have been contacting him saying that since the introduction of driver-only trains, they don’t feel safe travelling at night on their own. The LibDem said he would continue to fight for them and for disabled people, who can face being left at stations, should the appropriate staff member not be on hand to help them on and off the train.
The Green’s Alex Hough added that driver-only trains are “fine if passengers agree not to get drunk, have a fight or that there will be no fires.”
Tourism is a major part of Eastbourne’s economy, so it was put to the candidates – what would you do to help tourism in the town?
Caroline Ansell said she had been a member of a group for three years now, looking to cut tourism tax, saying it is doubly important for the visitor economy to thrive. She also acknowledged that whilst coach tours are important to the town, Eastbourne misses out on a lot of their spending, as they will go elsewhere for daytrips, meaning little money on top of the initial stay, comes into the town.
Liberal Democrat, Stephen Lloyd insists the number one issue to fix to get more people visiting Eastbourne, is to get Southern Rail sorted, but went on to admit that there is no magic wand to get people here. He believes we need to be smart and creative in our methods of attracting tourism, suggesting events such as jazz festivals and Shakespeare festivals. Stephen pledged that tourism would be his priority and would work closely with hotels, should he be elected.
For the Green Party, Alex Hough said her Party would scrap VAT for hotels completely and would look after students, so that they can continue to come to Eastbourne to study freely after Brexit has gone ahead. She added that they would also hold a ratification referendum once the Brexit deal is known, so that the people could have a final stay as to whether they wanted that deal, or instead, wished to stay in the EU. This was met with jeers from the crowd, who said they already knew what they were voting for and that they want out of Europe.
Labour’s Jake Lambert said to attract more tourists, a two-pronged attack was needed, with a mix of efforts within the town and more support from the Government. He said that Eastbourne needs an identification to make the town unique. The protection of the South Downs is also a key issue according to Mr Lambert, who also added that the town as a whole, needs to be attractive, saying it’s no good to just focus on pockets of the town – such as the Devonshire Corner and Arndale Centre – whilst leaving other areas to fend for themselves.
The debate, which was due to run for two hours, overran by half an hour, where the audience insisted on being able to ask more questions. All four candidates received warm applause on different topics, showing that each political Party is putting up a fight for the seat in Eastbourne and Willingdon.
A collection, organised by the Chamber of Commerce for the victims of the Manchester bombing also raised £150.