This week I attended one of the North Norfolk hustings meetings, as they are now called. All five Parliamentary candidates spoke and answered questions. The event, organised by the Church in Cromer, attracted over 200 people and was a most impressive occasion – marred only by the failure of the Chairman, a Church dignitary, to introduce himself or give the candidates an opportunity to sum up at the end. Each of the candidates responded to five pre-notified questions: the economy, housing, the European Union, social deprivation, and their priorities. The audience was attentive and respectful and the whole occasion reflected well on our democratic system.
Having said that I doubt if any votes would have changed as a result. Most of the audience were party activists and, as in my case, had come along to size up the opposing candidates. I don’t think we learned anything new. Denise Burke our Labour candidate, as we expected, performed well throughout and I thought her most effective answer to be the one on Europe. She alone specifically rejected the idea of an in/out referendum because of the uncertainty it would cause and the distraction that would result. I hope that this will feature prominently in our national campaign.
The most unambiguous stance was that taken by our UKip candidate. When a final question was put on ‘what matters to you more than party?’ his response was ‘my sovereign nation’. As a Welshman living in England with half-Irish grandchildren this sort of ultra-nationalism scares me a little. I am sure that I am not alone. By acting as a polarising influence UKip is forcing many people to realise how important the international community is to them personally.