27 November 2019
All six candidates for the Bournemouth East constituency attended a special meeting of Springbourne & Eastcliff residents on Tuesday 26th November, at Eastcliff United Reformed Church, for the first of two General Election hustings events in the constituency.
Left to right: Philip Dunn (Lib Dem), Alasdair Keddie (Green Party), Ben Aston (Ind), the chairperson, Emma Johnson (Ind), Corrie Drew (Lab), Tobias Ellwood MP (Con).
After an initial speech from each candidate, questions from the audience were drawn randomly, one at a time.
Alasdair's opening speech addressed his personal experience of the local challenges facing Springbourne and Eastcliff, the "torrid decade" of austerity, Brexit, but above all the Climate & Ecological Emergency, stating that allowing this election to be cast as the 'Brexit election' would be an error:
"I'm a local resident, I live very nearby to Springbourne, just over the footbridge. My neighbourhood experiences many of the same issues as Springbourne. My house is five doors away from what is affectionately known locally as 'Heroin Alley'. We have problems with open drug dealing, anti-social behaviour, rogue landlords. We really run the full gamut. So I want to get the opportunity to move on to that discussion in more depth as we progress.
"This election is happening in unpredecedented circumstances. We have our NHS which is underfunded, already being privatised by stealth, and struggling to find enough trained people to take essential decisions. We've had a torrid decade of Conservative-led austerity, and when Tobias [Ellwood] says he wants to support local services I do find that a little rich, given that austerity has gutted our local services. [APPLAUSE]
"In addition, we have a situation where the Brexit debate has paralysed our political system, it's starved it of oxygen. And where we have other urgent problems that need prioritisation, Brexit is just sweeping these away. And I have no doubt we will get into deeper conversations about Brexit.
"More than that, the tone of the political debate has become equally polarised, with progressive parties failing to work together when they could on key issues. [APPLAUSE] This is actually my third General Election in five years, which is as unexpected to me as anybody else. But I remember something I said at my first election hustings, and that is, there is more that unites us than separates us, especially with progressive parties on the left.
"Overarching all of this is the issue of human-induced climate change. We are in a desperate situation. The climate crisis is the single greatest threat that humanity has faced in its history. Our greatest and most respected scientists, from Hawking to Attenborough, have warned us. Our most respected international organisations, from NASA, the United Nations, even the IMF, are issuing stark warnings about the climate emergency that we face.
"David Attenborough said: 'If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.' That is a stark warning of where we stand. Stephen Hawking said climate change is one of the great dangers we face, it's one we can prevent, if we act now - and that is the key. We have to act now, otherwise this is going to impact our societies, our way of life, our country, our food security, our energy security. It will impact every aspect of our lives, in the UK. [APPLAUSE]
"This could be the last election where we get to make important policy decisions about the climate and ecological emergency. We are in the sixth mass extinction event at the moment. We have lost 60% of our species since I've been alive.
"Casting and framing this election as the Brexit election is an error. We need to make this the Climate & Ecological Election, absolutely urgently, and again I hope we get round to talking more on this. Thank you very much indeed." [APPLAUSE]
Alasdair responded to a question about the prevalence of crime in Eastcliff and Springbourne, after other candidates had already brought up the related issues of homelessness and substance misuse. Alasdair slammed the continuing "disgusting" use of the nearly 200-year-old Vagrancy Act to criminalise homelessness, which he argued is not a choice. He also called out the criminalisation of ill people - people who misuse substances - by the Misuse of Drugs Act, while other nearby countries find better approaches, declaring that the "war on drugs has failed".
Alasdair's answer also featured a challenge and exchange with Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood over 20,000 police having been cut during austerity:
ALASDAIR: "Having lived in Bournemouth East for 26 years, I have seen areas like Springbourne transition.
"What I see as a major contributor is substance abuse - however homelessness is not a choice. [APPLAUSE] And substance abuse is an illness that we tend to criminalise in this country. [MORE APPLAUSE] So the Misuse of Drugs Act actively criminalises people for substance addictions, when instead we should be looking at harm reduction, angled to tackling the problem.
"Our laws on homelessness in this country date back to 1825. We still use the Vagrancy Act to criminalise people who aren't able to put a roof above their heads. I find that absolutely disgusting, that's nearly two centuries old legislation. [APPLAUSE]
"As always I'd like to pick up on a couple of things that Tobias [Ellwood] mentioned, specifically the provision of 20,000 new police officers. That will be to replace the 20,000 that were removed during austerity. [APPLAUSE AND CHEERS] So is he only proposing to take us back to where we were?"
TOBIAS ELLWOOD (Con): "OK, you'd like me to pick that up! [AUDIENCE CHUCKLES] I'm not going to deny it, if we took money away. I'm not going to give you the lines to take... I'm going to be very honest and say, the numbers went down, the numbers went down. We've got to get them back up again, but we have to do it in an affordable way."
ALASDAIR: "OK, I will briefly sum up here. Einstein's definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. [LAUGHTER] This is what we are doing with the drug problem in the UK. We are criminalising people who are ill, but what has become perfectly clear, especially for the 25 years I've lived in Boscombe, Springbourne and Charminster, is the war on drugs has failed. We need to start looking at the approach to this.
"Now it's interesting when you look to Portugal and the Netherlands, and some of the projects they've taken on there. They've taken radical steps. There is a town in Portugal whose social issues mirrored Springbourne. They took the radical step of decriminalising all drugs, making heroin available on prescription, and creating safe zones off the streets, where heroin addicts wouldn't be using in front of children and the community. This had a radical effect on the drug use, anti-social behaviour and crime in that town. It reduced it by over 80% after a five-year period. And similar results have happened in the Netherlands.
"So maybe we need to stop taking this insane approach, and look to other places where they're taking radical action that has worked." [APPLAUSE]
Responding to a question about the state of the NHS with a focus on nursing bursaries, Alasdair drew laughter and applause for his summation that "There are two things that are absolutely toxic for the NHS, that we can deal with in this election: one of them is the Conservative Party, and the other is Brexit."
"Yes, I'm pleased to say that within the Green Party manifesto we have a commitment to restoring the bursary for nursing students.
"It's part of our Green Quality of Life Guarantee. Within that we have a Private Member's Bill ready to be submitted when Parliament is reconvened, that we are calling the NHS Reinstatement Bill. So the idea is that we would earmark an extra £7 billion in annual funding to cover the staff shortages.
"The staff shortages in health and social care at the moment run into over 200,000 vacancies in the UK. So the bursaries are going to help, but we're also going to need access to skilled staff from other countries. At the moment we get that through visa-free movement of skills and people through the EU. [APPLAUSE]
"There are two things that are absolutely toxic for the NHS, that we can deal with in this election: one of them is the Conservative Party [LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE], and the other is Brexit." [MORE APPLAUSE]
While Alasdair's answer drew warm applause, there was mocking laughter from the audience during Tobias Ellwood's answer when he repeated Boris Johnson's discredited claim of "40 new hospitals":
Alasdair brought a strongly personal touch to his answer demanding solutions to the funding and staffing crisis in the "really overlooked" social care sector. He told how he was full-time carer to his mother until she passed away a couple of years ago: "It is hard and it is demanding, and over that time her access to services was progressively cut."
"So my understanding is that social care has even more vacancies than nursing in the NHS, as it stands at the moment.
"This is a really overlooked public service that is definitely not getting enough support or investment, and that definitely needs to change fundamentally. But the workers that are in that position are already feeling undervalued and stretched. Social care in this country has fallen unfortunately a very long way. It's nothing to do with the staff working in that sector, it's another offshoot of austerity and underfunding.
"Social care - my mum, I can appreciate what [Lib Dem candidate] Phil [Dunn] said earlier, passed away a couple of years ago, and prior to that, I was her full-time carer for her. It is hard and it is demanding, and over that time her access to services was progressively cut. She needed mental health support, she needed accessibility support, she needed help at home... occupational therapy support. And I could see my mother being offered less and less service.
"So yes, we need to invest, and yes we need people, and yes we need to ensure that the current social care staff are being valued. Thank you." [APPLAUSE]
Asked about our divided society and politics, Alasdair declared "I have never seen our society more polarised in this country in my life", and attributed much of the responsibility to runaway inequality and Brexit.
"So I have never seen our society more polarised in this country in my life. And there are a number of axes of division. I think the main two would be an increasing gulf between wealthy people and those who live in poverty. [APPLAUSE] It's the most huge it's ever been in my life.
"And the other very obvious issue is the stark polarity that Brexit has created. It has divided families, communities, friends, and there's not an easy resolution yet.
"My feeling on the Brexit divide we're facing at the moment is this. The Conservative Party have been divided on Brexit since the 1970s, and they've had an internal tribal war about this issue for the best part of 40 years. When David Cameron decided to call that referendum, they transmitted that division to the rest of our society." [APPLAUSE]
Asked finally about likely outcomes of this General Election and their implications, Alasdair confirmed that a modest increase in the number of Green MPs is anticipated in this election, and questioned what a vote for the Lib Dems 'kingmakers' in this election could end up getting you.
"Probably the most likely outcome of this election is going to be a hung Parliament. That there is little doubt of, which will pretty much put us right back to where we were at the beginning of this process. After a costly General Election, we'll end up with another minority government.
"However, the potential kingmakers in that situation are the SNP and the Lib Dems. And as much as I'd like to believe Phil [Dunn, Lib Dem candidate], yeah, your Deputy Leader said over the weekend something about the possibility of securing a People's Vote and another ConDem coalition. That terrifies me. [APPLAUSE] And that would be my concern.
"As the Green Party we are expecting to return more MPs this time round.  We are not going to be be forming a government, I think that's fair to say, but it's important, more important now than ever that we have more Green voices in Parliament, to scrutinise the way forward." [APPLAUSE]
You can listen to the full audio of the event (1h46m) with all six candidates here. It's a raw unaltered smartphone recording from the audience, and unfortunately not all candidates are quite as clearly audible as Alasdair.