Hosted at the Duke Street Church Richmond by Caroline Brock (Chair, Kew Society)
and Ian Bruce (Chair, Richmond Society)
Andree Frieze (Green)
Zac Goldsmith (Conservative)
Robin Meltzer (Liberal Democrat)
Sam Naz (UKIP)
Sachin Patel (Labour)
Candidates were given three minutes each to make their statements then faced questions from the audience. The questions were pre-screened by both societies and three selected to start the proceedings. These questions, chosen for their broad interest, covered the NHS, the economy and Heathrow.
The pre-selected questions were followed by ones chosen at random that had been tabled by the audience in advance. These questions from the floor asked the candidates to tackle issues including plans to reduce the national debt, the integration of health services, further Heathrow issues, Europe, fossil fuels and Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
Andree Frieze (Green)
Andree has lived and worked in North Kingston for 14 years. In that time she has been involved with local community issues including founding the Latchmere House Action Group and being a governor at Latchmere School. She has also campaigned against mobile phone masts in North Kingston and the location of Old Deer School next to a dual carriageway.
At a national level, Andree set out the key Green Party policies of a free NHS, social rented homes and measures to tackle irresponsible private landlords. They would allow Councils to choose where schools are located rather than allowing free-reign to free schools. A cornerstone of their economic policy is opposition to continual growth, which cannot be sustained, while they are also against the expansion of flight capacity including Heathrow and Boris Island.
The Green Party would promote opportunities for small and medium seize enterprises and take control of public services with a view to stopping tax payer funds profiting shareholders. They will impose a wealth tax and a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions. The Green Party acknowledge that these changes will take time and they are planning for the long term future of the planet. They want, Andree summarised, an inclusive society and have a unique vision that distinguishes them from the same old party lines.
Zac Goldsmith (Conservative)
Zac has grown up in the Richmond constituency and expressed his honour at being able to represent the area as its MP. He expressed his disappointment at the tone of the national election debate so far, which he regretted had been dominated by negativity. In this respect, Zac believed all the political parties should take a share of the blame for the tone of the rhetoric and the scaremongering.
Zac particularly laments this narrative because he believes it masks the good record the Conservatives have in office. Nationally, this includes 760,000 more businesses and 800,000 fewer people on benefits. While acknowledging there is still much to do, Zac was eager to emphasise this good record. Furthermore, he told the audience, he stands as a candidate on his own record as an MP that is not afraid to hold his own party to account.
Locally, Zac has led campaigns on Heathrow and believes he has been the most active MP on the issue. He has pressured Government to revisit the cuts imposed on Kew Gardens and is engaged with other environmental activity. His priorities include ensuring adequate local school places, maintaining the character of local shops and the problems of cycling safety.
Robin Meltzer (Liberal Democrats)
Robin started by explaining his background. His father was a doctor and his mother a teacher and this meant he was brought up to respect community service. After attending a comprehensive secondary school and attending the University of Cambridge, Robin went on to work in television and landed a role at the BBC initially writing quiz questions. Eventually he became a Senior Producer for shows including Strictly Come Dancing. Yet despite the excitement of working in television, Robin has no regrets about stepping in to politics.
As an MP, Robin stated, he would champion the public service as his family had done. He fully supports the national Liberal Democrats policies to increase the NHS budget and protect school funding. He highlighted the Liberal Democrats announcement of the day of the Richmond hustings to bring an end public sector pay restraint. This would be, he argued, in recognition of the burden borne by public sector workers during the period of austerity and in the context of an improving economic climate.
Locally he pledged to continue spending time with small groups. Inspired by Susan Kramer who similarly devoted time to local issues regardless of whether there are votes to be won in doing so, Robin feels it is the right thing to do. He ended by saying that it would be an honour to serve as MP and deliver these principles.
Sam Naz (UK Independence Party)
Sam described herself as proud to be chosen as the UKIP candidate. She is a first generation immigrant of parents that came to the country in 1965 and invested in British way of life. Sam revealed that she had never voted in an election before but looked up to her father who was engaged in politics. Therefore, in 2013 she decided to become politically active and found that UKIP was the only party that shared her values.
As a Muslim, Sam believes she comes from a community that looks for leadership against fanatics. In 2001 her brother was murdered and his death made her family realise that parties need to wake up to tougher sentences. Furthermore, the family decided keep to keep his memory alive with the foundation of a youth trust.
Her experience of speaking to voters on the doorstep tells her that people are tired of the same old political elites. UKIP, she argues, will give people a voice and the right to vote on independence. They want the UK to control its borders and make its own rules and regulations. UKIP’s goals are to put Britain first, renew British values and ensure British people are not ashamed of their country’s past.
Sachin Patel (Labour)
Sachin described himself as proud to stand as the local Labour candidate for Richmond. He has an established background in labour issues having been a trade unionist since the age of just 15. Sachin has grown up and worked in the local area for 20 years and currently lives in Barnes.
He countered the assertion that all people living in Richmond are affluent. In his experience he sees vast amounts of difference between the economic backgrounds of voters. Sachin stated that 1,900 people have used food banks in Richmond a figure which he labelled a disgrace. This backed up his assertion that Richmond is not an all-affluent area.
Sachin has personally seen the impact of economic policies on small businesses. These challenges include high business rates and competition from large retail chains. In his own circles a close family friend was forced to close their shop and with this went not only a business but also a source of community interaction. This experience motivates him and his campaign; a campaign which he intends to fight while avoiding political mudslinging and personal attacks.
Pre-selected questions from the audience
Q. What is the present level of overall national debt and what are your party plans and timescales to bring it down?
Zac Goldsmith claimed that the debt stood at over a trillion pounds that costs 45 billion pounds per annum to service. The coalition has already made progress by halving the deficit and growing the economy. More can be done such as making better use of the government’s procurement budget and ensuring more of that budget reaches smaller businesses. The planning system needs to be rethought because one out of every five office spaces in Richmond has been lost. This threatens to turn local areas in to a set of dormitory locations where people only reside and leave the area for work.
Robin Meltzer stated that the debt stood at one and a quarter trillion pounds. While believing that there is nothing inherently wrong with debt, Robin explained that what happened in the UK was that the banks stopped lending in 2007 and the country was not running balanced budget. He feels that the Liberal Democrats could not have chosen a more challenging time to come in to government but the party has played an important role in balancing the books fairly. Recognising that there is nothing liberal about passing debt on to the next generation, the Liberal democrats plan to have a cyclically balanced budget and then allow borrowing for capital investment. Their policies will be funded in part through measure to tackle tax avoidance and evasion.
Sam Naz explained that UKIP believes in low tax, enterprise and fairness. The party plans to secure savings by leaving the European Union. Additionally, the party would cut overseas aid and scrap the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail line initiative. These polices, she argued, were fully costed and claims that UKIP are the only party to have fully costed their proposals.
Sachin Patel argued that the economic recovery had not reached most working families. The national deficit, he stated, still stood at seventy-five billion pounds. Labour would tackle this responsibility through measures that would include capping social security payments and removing the winter fuel allowance for the wealthiest pensioners. There would be no additional borrowing. Other policies include the abolition of non-dom rules the closure of tax loopholes and a lower 10p starting rate of tax. They will not raise VAT and would abolish zero hour contracts while promoting the living wage. In response to Sam, Sachin stated that the Labour plan was costed.
Andree Frieze stated that the economy has dominated the political debate in the last few years to extent that it could be seen as the only important issue. The deficit has been created by banks and government has used policies of austerity to pay this off. The Green Party believe this is the wrong way to balance the books. Instead government should invest in people and renewal energies, change taxation and help the most vulnerable in society. Capitalism is broken when wages or rents need to be topped up by Government. They would stop quantitative easing with Andree believing that a better approach would simply have been to pay every citizen a £1,000 rather than fund the banks. She ended by saying that trickle-down economics does not work otherwise child poverty would not have doubled. The number of people accessing food banks is going up because people are not being paid enough. Zero hour contracts do not allow families to build a stable life.
Q. What would the political parties do in government to ensure that the NHS is more joined up with social care?
Robin Meltzer said structures need to be in place within the NHS to cope with an ageing population. Under the Liberal Democrats this would include the integration of parts of the NHS and social care and this is comprehensively addressed in their manifesto. The disconnect between the two leads to beds being taken by patients with the wrong diagnosis. The party would encourage more local diagnosis and on social care local authorities would be encouraged to pool resources. Robin referenced a cross-party pilot scheme in Manchester of local pooled service, which if it succeeds could be rolled out elsewhere.
Sam Naz stated that UKIP is fully committed to a free NHS for UK citizens only. The party would not allow people from abroad to abuse the NHS. Currently UKIP believe that the country loses two billion pounds per annum to this health tourism. This position is fully covered in the UKIP manifesto.
Sachin Patel argued that Accident and Emergency departments are currently in crisis. In government they would merge health and social care funding. Labour would also guaranteed GP appointments on the day and the results of cancer tests in one week. They are also committed to enshrining mental health care within the NHS arguing that people should not be scared to talk about mental health issues.
Andree Frieze sees the NHS as a unifying issue as it is the one thing all the people in room, regardless of political persuasion, want to keep as it is. In America, under a private system, health costs 18% of GDP. In the UK that figure is 10% of GDP. She questioned therefore why the UK would wish to go further down the road of a market-based approach to health. Instead the NHS needs investment and the Greens would provide and initial massive uplift followed by sustained funding. This would be part funded by further taxation on cigarettes and alcohol. The party would also scrap HS2 and Trident and repeal the Health and Social Care Act. They would look at introducing free social care like that enjoyed in Scotland. On localism the Greens believe people want good healthcare near where they live and not necessarily choice. Underpinning her whole outlook was the assertion that the NHS is too important to allow it to be privatised.
Zac Goldsmith said the Coalition had placed a two billion pound downpayment on the NHS and the Conservatives have pledged a further eight billion pounds. In addition to funding the NHS needs reform to cope with the growth in people using its facilities. Funding streams need to be reconciled, for example aligning hospital and GP funding. At present, hospitals are paid per visit, which is a disincentive for hospitals to concern themselves about health care in community. Referring also to the Manchester pilot scheme, Zac agreed that it could revolutionise healthcare. Something similar is on the cusp of happening in Richmond and Kingston where a deal is being negotiated with the hospital for an annual payment as opposed to per visit fees. This and other measures would help redress the problem of 15-20% beds taken up by people who have been given a clean bill of health.
Q. Regarding Heathrow what position do the parties have on targets for reducing daytime noise? Where do you stand on banning night flights before 7am? Do you oppose or support a third runway? Is it feasible to modernise and disperse noise across more flight paths and thereby expose an additional half a million people to aircraft noise pollution?
Sam Naz stated that the UKIP position was against Heathrow. She explained that she lives in flat and the noise from aircraft annoys her greatly. Therefore she is totally against the expansion of Heathrow.
Sachin Patel was concerned with the need to take care of environment and night flights should not be coming over Richmond. On the third runway Labour do not currently have a stance because the party is waiting for the report of the Davies commission. But he also argued that other regional areas such as Manchester should be explored as options beyond extending London-based air travel provision. He also questioned when the promised quieter flights would actually become a reality.
Andree Frieze was disappointed that the country had to wait for a decision from the Davies commission. She argued that the self-proclaimed greenest government ever had been a failure. The Greens argue that there can be no airport expansion at all if the country is to help meet global environmental targets. She attacked the Coalition policies saying the green deal had been a green wash and had overseen the expansion of roads and a rise in rail fares. Focus should be taken away from air travel and efforts poured in to truly mass transport schemes. Road speeds should be lowered and more cycling encouraged. This instead of plans for continued mass expansion of airports.
Acknowledging that this may lose him votes, Zac Goldsmith said he had been thrilled with the recent flight path trials as it had meant even more people were now aware of the issue. He acknowledged that some initiatives could be taken to mitigate the impact, such as reducing aircraft noise and merging night flights in to the daytime schedule. However, he is concerned that by exploring such bargaining positions more leeway is given to Heathrow. He agrees with regards to criticism on the delay of the Davies report and had written to the Government to say so. Zac claimed it had been Vince Cable that had kicked the reporting time beyond the current Parliament. The third runway would mean clean air limits could not be adhered to and that it would simply lead in time to a fourth runway. The economic argument for expansion had also failed as it would be at the peril of the local economy. He believes all the arguments have been won and while he does not think Davies will recommend a third runway if it does he will fight against that decision.
Taking up Zac’s assertion Robin Meltzer insisted that Vince Cable was a big enough character to speak for himself. However, for the record Robin argued that George Osborne wanted Davies to report in this Parliament but that the Liberal Democrats said that as part of the coalition agreement they would not support expansion and will continue to oppose it. Now the Conservatives have placed no such confirmed opposition in their in manifesto and Robin claimed that Zac had specifically said he would not stand on the Conservative ticket if the party left open the opportunity for a third runway in their manifesto.
Questions from the floor selected at random
Q. Why did Zac sponsor the UKIP MP Douglas Carswell in Parliament and does he agree with leaving Europe?
Zac Goldsmith responded by saying Carswell was a close friend albeit recognising his friend was hopeless on environmental issues. If no one had walked down the aisle in the Commons with him that would have be undignified. On Europe, Zac claimed he is not a head-banger on the subject but does strongly believe in a referendum because without one the impact on democracy is vast. Zac set up the People’s Pledge campaign with Keith Vaz who is Europhile believing the issue is important because of its democratic significance. He said he could vote either way and is primarily a reformer therefore he suggested if people love the EU they should campaign for reform.
Sachin Patel claimed Labour is keen to stay in Europe but that there should be no more transfer of power without a referendum. The economic implications meant that simply the UK cannot afford to leave Europe. However, it is essential to ensure that future lock against the transfer of further powers without a referendum.
Andree Frieze said the Greens would like to see us stay in the EU. Europe has done a great deal for workers’ rights and environmental law. She understands the need for reform and would be in favour of holding a referendum but there would be many jobs lost if the UK were to leave.
Robin Meltzer agreed that the EU needs reform but argued that so did Westminster and no one threatens to leave Parliament. Instead the UK should be a leading player in the EU. It is possible both want reform and stay in Europe. He pointed out that in the early days the Coalition had already legislated for a referendum if treaty-like exchange of powers was proposed for transfer to the EU. He believes it would be irresponsible to leave because the world does not stop at the White Cliffs of Dover. The choice is should we turn inwards or should we be liberal, outward-facing and influencing the world.
Sam Naz and UKIP want out of Europe because it imposes so many rules. She claimed seventy-five percent of rules are made by the EU. Faced with this statistic, she questions therefore what the role of Parliament is. She also blamed the rise of terrorism on the EU and suggested it had been a driving force in the UK involvement in Libya. She saw no future in the EU and that the UK had lost its seat on World Trade Centre (sic). As for reform, she believes this will never happen.
Q. Fossil fuels, shouldn’t we leave them in the ground?
Andree Frieze argued that companies are becoming increasingly aware that they cannot keep extracting fossil fuels. The only way forward is to move away from these dependencies and the dependencies on other nations such as Russia it creates. The UK must instead invest in renewables. Even in the US, the land of cheap gas, there is evidence of a move toward green energy sources. Fossil fuels should, therefore, definitely stay in the ground.
Zac Goldsmith said the dependency on fossil fuels meant that western democracies are transferring vast amounts of money to non-democratic countries such as Saudi Arabia, which is corrupt and funds terrorism. He argued that the first response to Isis should be to stop relying on fossil fuels. He claimed the situation is better today due to government, which has overseen a three hundred percent increase in renewal electricity. This has led the International Monetary Fund to assert that the UK is the most attractive country in the world for investing in green technologies. The UK should look to the Commonwealth where many of the islands are now powered one hundred percent by renewable energy and as a result have seen their costs collapse. He ended by saying there should be a national obsession for the environment.
Robin Meltzer agreed that fossil fuels should be left in the ground. There had been some progress but in the face of right wing Conservatives that had tried to halt it. The Liberal Democrats manifesto calls for a new zero carbon act and aims for power supplies that rely on no fossil fuels by 2050 with actions to improve emission standards before that. They would also grant full borrowing powers to the Green Investment Bank (GIB). On fracking, the party had made a democratic decision by a small margin to support the process but he was personally not a supporter.
Sam Naz said UKIP supports fracking. The party would also end subsidies for renewable energies. At the same time, they would force power companies to lower bills.
Sachin Patel pointed out that the Labour and Liberal Democrats held similar positions on the issue. They would also give borrowing powers to the GIB. Furthermore, he believes the UK should be leading the way in this field.
Q. What are your views on the Trident renewal and the nuclear deterrent?
Zac Goldsmith said no one relishes the prospect of a world with nuclear bombs. However, these weapons will not be un-invented. He is not in favour of acting unilaterally but would support pressure for worldwide disarmament. If one accepts that nuclear weapons are necessary then the issue of cost does not come in to the equation.
Robin Meltzer’s position is that he does not support renewal as is currently proposed. The UK needs flexibility with its military forces and should look to take a step down the nuclear ladder on the path to greater disarmament. The Liberal Democrats position is therefore not to renew all the Trident submarines. Instead patrols should alternate between armed and non-armed, which would save around two-thirds of the proposed costs.
Sam Naz said the UKIP position is to invest more in defence. This includes keeping Trident alongside more investment elsewhere.
Sachin Patel stated that for him it is a hearts and head situation. His head concedes the UK cannot give up its deterrent. What is required is strong leadership to argue in the EU for a widespread disarmament.
Andree Frieze argued that the money can be better spent on other areas of defence and elsewhere. The UK should be using people to change situations through peace keeping and diplomacy. The Green policy is to keep a smaller standing army and invest more in diplomacy and foreign aid. She believes that going to Iraq or Libya had not helped and the nuclear deterrent does not work on terrorists. Because the UK was one of the first to get the bomb it should be one of first to disarm unilaterally then work towards an international agreement.