Low turnout for Itchen general election hustings

all candidatesLack of audience seating was never going to be the problem, as the six men seeking approval to be the next Southampton Itchen MP took their places on stage at Oasis Academy Mayfield on Wednesday evening (June 19).


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Milkshakings’ had always seemed unlikely, but just the same security guards had even been enlisted to check audience members’ bags before entry to the school’s theatre.

all candidates
From left:Declan Clune (TUSC), Alex Culley (Reform), James Batho (Lib Dem), Paul Woodman (Chair), Darren Paffey (Lab), Neil Kelly (Green), Sidney Yankson (Con)

And while there was plenty of room in the auditorium – with perhaps fewer than 50 people showing up, and a number of those thought to be activists from various parties – the candidates took their somewhat cramped places on stage, mainly suited, booted, and some suitably rosetted.

In fact, apart from the sometimes thunderous PA, it was all fairly subdued and respectful, chaired with a light touch by Paul Woodman.

Candidates generally seemed to avoid eye contact with each other, checking details on papers or staring into the middle distance as their rivals spoke.

Several were honest enough to own up to the fact that they didn’t have detailed answers on some fairly detailed points, including about farming and biodiversity, or have a specific percentage available for immediate recall – although some impressively mustered figures or detailed responses.

YanksonBarrister, London councillor and former army reservist Sidney Yankson, Conservative, (pictured left) said he first came to Southampton in 1991, so he was “a new boy” with only a “33-year track record here”.

But he said he’d been listening over the past five months to about 4,000 people about what they want him to do if elected. He said the Labour council and the Labour candidate with a long track record in the council, had “failed the people of Southampton”.

“All I can do is meet people, try and listen to you, and then do all I can, which is to fight for you in Westminster. And get stuff done,” he said.

Paffey and Kelly Green candidate Neil Kelly, (pictured far right next to Darren Paffey (Lab)) warned of the urgent need to address climate change and societal collapse, drawing parallels with Ukraine and Gaza, and citing a strained NHS, cost of living crisis, and educational challenges.

He emphasised the need for equitable distribution after 14 years of growth benefiting only the top 1%:

“The Greens say, ‘give us our share’,” he declared.

“Quite simply … the country needs change,” said Labour candidate Darren Paffey, who said he too had spoken to thousands of people. The overwhelming majority said "things simply cannot go on in the country as they are", he reported.

“This is where years of Conservative chaos, division, crises and corruption have got us to today”.

Paffey provided an overview of his background, mentioning that he lives in Bitterne Park and is “deeply rooted in this community.” And he’d gone from kid in foster care to state school student, university lecturer, city councillor, and was now asking to be elected as MP.

Batho 300pxWinchester city councillor and Lib Dem candidate James Batho, (left) said his particular interest was housing and youth provision, and listed what he said was currently broken in the country, from the NHS to the housing market, crumbling schools and river pollution: “all are in crisis after so many years of Conservative neglect,” he said. But he said challenges have been overcome in the past, and outlined manifesto themes, from a ‘fair deal’ on the economy to public services, the environment, being a force for good on the world stage, and being a truly fair democracy.

“Just before we came into this theatre a new poll was announced, and that poll showed that the Conservatives were going to [return their] lowest number of seats ever, potentially, in a parliamentary election,” said Reform UK candidate Alex Culley.

“Rishi Sunak is forecast to lose his seat,” he added, presumably referring to some analysis by Savanta and Electoral Calculus for The Telegraph, reported here.

“Is that because people are turning enthusiastically to Labour, or is it because there’s a new movement on the rise? That movement is Reform UK,” said Culley. “Reform UK is the reaper that is now going to put the Conservative Party in its grave”.

He talked about tackling the nation’s huge debt as a priority, helping businesses “get on” and create the jobs of the future, and about population growth in relation to “strained infrastructure”.

Clune and CulleyTrade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate Declan Clune (pictured left next to Alex Culley, Reform), explained his party’s origins, referencing “the need for working class representation in parliament”.

“What we’ve seen during the last 14 years of austerity has utterly failed communities,” he said, referring to the “current perfect storm” of crises, including the cost of living, health, housing: “everywhere you look there are crises, and I would disagree with my fellow candidate from Reform; all of these issues are political choices”.

Clune, who said he’d grown up in a council house, zoomed in on housing as an example, saying, “We do not have genuinely affordable homes in the city like we did when I was growing up.”

“I too agree that there should be change, but … the change really has to be fundamental. Unfortunately Labour look like they will be the next parliament, but what are they actually proposing? What they’re proposing is, same fiscal rules; very little difference.”

A full list of parliamentary candidates standing in the Southampton Itchen constituency in the July 4 general election is published in our previous piece, which also lists forms of ID that can be used when voting.

The constituency encompasses the Southampton wards of Bargate, Bitterne Park, Harefield, Peartree, Sholing, Thornhill, and Woolston, as well as two polling districts from the Banister & Polygon ward.

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