Kettering's parliamentary candidates vie for your vote at local hustings
Kettering's five prospective parliamentary candidates attended a hustings event at St Peter and St Paul church in the town centre tonight (Friday) to tell voters why they should be the town's next MP.
The event was well attended by voters who filled pews from the front to the back of the church and put many challenging questions to the candidates on a range of issues including Brexit, the environment, homelessness, austerity, and racism in political parties.
All five candidates attended the hustings which were chaired by Reverend David Walsh.
The candidates were sat in alphabetical order by political party and were each given the opportunity to give an opening speech before the panel took questions.
The five candidates, in the order in which they spoke, are Philip Hollobone (Conservative), Jamie Wildman (Green), Jim Hakewill (Independent), Clare Pavitt (Labour), and Chris Nelson (Liberal Democrat).
Philip Hollobone, Conservative
Philip Hollobone is standing for re-election for the Conservative Party having been elected in 2017 with a majority of 10,562.
He said the Conservatives want to get Brexit done and said remainers needed to "accept and respect" the result.
He added: "we need to move on," and said this would allow for more investment in local schools, hospitals and the NHS, and infrastructure.
Mr Hollobone cited some of his work as an MP and said his campaigning had resulted in the £46m for a new urgent care hub at KGH, more police officers for the county, £10m to widen the A14 from two to three lanes, and improved rail services.
In the first questions from the audience, which were on Brexit, Mr Hollobone said Brexit had been frustrated by parliament but Labour's Clare Pavitt pointed out he himself voted against Theresa May's deal three times.
Mr Hollobone, in response, said the deal would have left the UK like a "colony" of the EU through the backstop.
Also on Brexit, Mr Hollobone responded to Chris Nelson's claim, using the example of the Vote Leave bus which said there would be £350m a week extra for the NHS, that the referendum campaign had been misleading.
In response, Mr Hollobone said: "The figure on the side of the bus was wrong, it will be more."
He claimed there would be £694m extra for the NHS, which met laughter from the audience. The audience also laughed when Mr Hollobone said: "Austerity is over."
Another challenging moment for Mr Hollobone came when the panel was questioned over racism in political parties.
He said: "Is there a problem with racism and antisemitism and Islamaphobia in political parties? Yes, there is. It needs to be tackled, absolutely, zero tolerance."
Mr Hollobone added that it was something he had never engaged with, but Independent candidate Mr Hakewill asked Mr Hollobone if he was still working with his election agent, Kettering councillor Paul Marks, who The Guardian reported as having engaged with and made Islamaphobic comments online.
Mr Hollobone said Mr Marks had been suspended from the party and was being investigated, which Mr Hollobone said was evidence of a party reacting appropriately to what he described as allegations.
Jamie Wildman, Green Party
Jamie Wildman, the Green Party candidate, spoke about his local involvement in litter picking with Keep Kettering Tidy and his work with the Green Party and the non-partisan Kettering Eco Group, with whom he attends Kettering Council meetings to ensure the council is acting appropriately after it declared a climate emergency earlier this year.
On Brexit, Mr Wildman said what people voted for is "not what is on the table now" but added that: "To us, this is a climate election, not a Brexit election."
On the environment, he said the Green Party want to aim for a carbon neutral economy by 2030 and that more impetus is needed from central government, through things like a carbon tax.
He said: "One way of decarbonising is reducing the attraction of fossil fuels, to switch to greener means of production."
Mr Wildman said these bigger changes would "re-energise our economy" and create seven million jobs.
He also pointed to the air quality benefits of going carbon neutral.
On homelessness, Mr Wildman spoke about his own volunteering and said another facility would hopefully be opened soon to accommodate the homeless.
He said the Green Party would introduce a universal basic income to help prevent people ever becoming so poor that they find themselves without a place to live.
Jim Hakewill, Independent
Independent candidate Jim Hakewill followed and said: "I'm looking forward to being Kettering's first independent MP."
Mr Hakewill discussed his local connections, having a long family history in the town, and his experience on local councils of all levels.
He is currently an independent councillor for Slade Ward on Kettering Council and for Rothwell and Mawsely on Northamptonshire County Council.
Mr Hakewill said he had felt unrepresented and bemoaned the infighting of party politics, which he said he would not be a part of as an independent.
He said voters would get what they voted for with him and said: "I can work with anyone, as long as it's doing the right thing for the people I represent."
On the environment, Mr Hakewill said he built an eco-home with triple insulation, he has planted trees to offset his carbon footprint and would support motions to tackle climate change, as he said he has done on a council level.
Mr Hakewill said if he was elected he would open a constituency office, would vote to lower the voting age to 16, and described himself as moderate in outlook.
Clare Pavitt, Labour
Labour's Clare Pavitt said: "I decided to stand as your MP because I am tired of watching the decline in the constituency as a result of austerity."
Ms Pavitt cited a rise in the use of food parcels and the fact that 25 per cent of children in the constituency are living in poverty as evidence of austerity's effect on Kettering.
She said: "It's time to say this must end.
"I believe I can make that change."
On homelessness and austerity, Clare Pavitt said: "Homelessness and austerity are most definitely related.
"What did austerity achieve? Far too many deaths and poverty in our country."
Ms Pavitt spoke about the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party and said: "one complaint is too many".
She said the party should have dealt with the issue quicker but defended Jeremy Corbyn personally and said: "Before we start listening to the media, people should look at his voting record.
"He's been the right side of history."
On the environment, Ms Pavitt also pledged to aim for carbon neutrality by 2030 and said change needed to come from above, talking about how difficult it is to go shopping and avoid plastics.
Chris Nelson, Liberal Democrat
Last up was the Liberal Democrat candidate Chris Nelson, he said he was proud to be standing in his hometown.
Mr Nelson spoke about Brexit first and said the party is standing to stop Brexit and said: "If a democracy cannot change its mind, then it is not a democracy at all."
He said the party's Brexit policy had been clear from the beginning.
He said the party wants to fund the NHS more and this would be achieved through the 1p in the pound tax policy, an increase that he said would better fund public services.
Mr Nelson described himself as a proud disabled person with a stammer and proud to be openly bisexual and said it means he stands for people to be treated equally no matter what.
On the environment, he said his knowledge as a chemistry teacher makes him appreciate the difficulties in going carbon neutral.
He said: "If we don't take action now, we are going to be in serious trouble."
However, he pointed out that one fifth of carbon dioxide emissions come from the production of concrete, but said there is currently no carbon-free construction material that can match concrete.
On homelessness and austerity, Mr Nelson said the Liberal Democrats in coalition had taken the "horrible but necessary decision to reduce spending" because of the unbalanced budget following the financial crash.
He said the Liberal Democrats should have pushed to increase spending again sooner.
Mr Nelson added that he felt legislation around homelessness should be updated to offer more support to many people currently considered voluntarily homeless.