Brexit-lite hustings for Kettering constituency
Brexit was off the agenda at the first hustings for the Kettering parliamentary constituency last night (Nov 26).
The audience at the event at the R-Inn in Desborough did not ask a single question about the divisive issue that has been dominating national politics for the past three years, with Brexiter and former MP Philip Hollobone being jeered when he used the Conservative mantra of Get Brexit Done.
Instead it was questions about schools, libraries, county drug lines, local housing, pension payback for women born in the 1950s and the role of the monarchy that people wanted to hear answers on from the five candidates standing for election in the Kettering seat.
Conservative Philip Hollobone lined up with Labour’s Clare Pavitt, Green Party candidate Jamie Wildman, Liberal Democrat Chris Nelson and Independent Jim Hakewill to take questions from a 100-strong audience at the event organised by Desborough resident Kevin O’Brien.
One audience member asked what the candidates would do about the out-of-county drugs gangs operating across the borough and preying on vulnerable young people.
Clare Pavitt said: “Funding has been taken away from our youth services. What is a key issue is the root cause of the problem. There are young people being disenfranchised. Children are being excluded from school and not getting the help they need. One of my key pledges is to create positive futures. There are 14 drugs gangs operating in the borough. That is massive.”
Conservative Philip Hollobone praised Northants police for recently stopping a county lines gang operating from London into Kettering but said the solution was not just more police but tougher sentences.
He said: “One of the big problems is that people never serve their sentences in full. The Conservative government is still too soft. If they are in prison they are not out there committing crime.”
Green Party candidate Jamie Wildman, who has been out recently on patrol with local police, said the drug problem in the area was huge.
He said: “The issue of drugs is colossal and we have to go back to the root of why that is happening. There are six drug dealers on one street in central Kettering.”
He said police needed more resources and technology to tackle the problem.
Liberal Democrat Chris Nelson, who is a teacher, said he had come across a student who had become involved in gangs and was scared.
He said: “It is despicable what they [gang leaders] do to them. We need to look at the drugs policy as a whole. There is a reasonable case for regulating and controlling the drugs so that we take it out of the hands of gangs.”
Independent Jim Hakewill said the Kettering constituency had far more county lines than neighbouring Corby.
He said: “Every police officer I have come across locally has been individually brilliant. There is just not enough of them.”
He went on to criticise the cuts from the Conservative government to policing numbers.
Retired teacher Theresa Bullock asked the panel what they would do to tackle what she called a crisis in our schools. Jim Hakewill said he would let the schools run themselves and give them enough money to do it, while Chris Nelson said there needed to be a change of culture in education as around half of teachers now leave the profession after four years. Jamie Wildman said his party is pledging to cut class sizes to 20 and Philip Hollobone said the Conservatives would increase the starting salary to £30,000. Clare Pavitt said there needed to be a move away from the league table system where children were ‘being used as collateral.”
The candidates were also asked what they would do for Desborough if elected and for their views on fox hunting.
It was a rather tame and dull affair for the first hour -with one audience member likening it to ‘Question Time behind a glass wall – until the subject turned to the county council’s financial collapse and the cuts to library services.
Desborough town council has decided to help buy the town’s library from the county council. The popular facility will be run by a charitable organisation.
Philip Hollobone was taken to task by audience members and accused of lying when he spoke on the libraries. He said ‘we should never have got here in the first place’ and said all seven of the county’s Conservative MPs had told the Conservative-run county council the closure of the libraries was unacceptable and that he was glad the authority ‘reversed its decision’. He said the problem that caused the collapse of the county council was not due to money but due to management.
Mr Hollobone insisted he does not lie, and in response Liberal Democrat Chris Nelson said he was ‘being economical with the truth’.
The former MP, who has been representing Kettering since 2005, was also taken to task on his voting record in particular for voting against EU nationals living in the UK retaining their rights to live and work in the UK after Brexit.
He said the vote was to strengthen the country’s position in talks with the EU with Labour’s Clare Pavitt saying his justification made the matter ‘even worse’ as it used the people as ‘bargaining chips’.
This is the sixth time Mr Hollobone has stood for election in the Kettering constituency. At the 2017 election he had a 10,000 majority over the second-placed Labour candidate.