Thursday 29 April 2010

Enter stage Left

The doors were blue, the chairs were blue, the backdrop to the stage was blue – but people's views were red and and green. Welcome to the Hornsey and Wood Green hustings.

The signs of an intense drawn-out election battle were etched all over the five candidates as proceedings got underway. The incumbent Lynne Featherstone (Lib Dem), drooped into her chair as she stared into the distance, Richard Merrin (Cons) reaching for water as he made his first painfully croaky remarks, and Karen Jennings (Lab), exhausted but steely-eyed.

Peter McAskie and Stephane de Roche, The Green and Independent candidates, lifted the atmosphere by happily airing their views without the weight of expectation of becoming MPs.

The agenda was set entirely by the audience's questions. And these were provided on a range of matters by a left-leaning crowd from a constituency described by the Independent as “super-clever” (slight paraphrasing as I can't find the article).

On cue, an 18-year-old student stood up and described the cynicism of the Tories amongst his peer group. When Mr Merrin, who was given a rough ride throughout, possibly for his Cameronesque over-polished appearance and over-rehearsed public speaking style, said a vote for Labour was a vote for inequality, the young man hit back.

“Tell me why I should vote for you not why I shouldn't vote for others!”

“You're 18 right? Well, when I was 18...”

“Of course I'm 18, I wouldn't vote illegally.”

The cardboard African face masks on the walls, presumably made by local children, seemed to chuckle at this, and carried on chuckling when Ms Featherstone danced around the issue of a coalition government.

“We haven't ruled anything in - we haven't ruled anything out,” she said, before repeating Nick Clegg's bizarre claim that the party would work with “the man on the moon” if he backed their “agenda for change”.

This didn't quench the audience's thirst for an answer. “In one word would you support a coalition government led by David Cameron?” asked a feisty woman at the back. Ms Featherstone's answer started with “I can't answer that” and the rest of it was muffled by the groans and grumbles of discontent.

Most of the applause throughout the evening went to Ms Jennings, with Mr McAskie also drawing admiration for his in-depth knowledge of issues local and national.

“Karen's brought her fan club in tonight” a bitter Mr Merrin was heard saying to Ms Featherstone in the back of the room at the end of the event. Was this mini Tory-Lib Dem coalition a sign of things to come?

This audience will hope not.

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