SALFORD QUESTION TIME
Hazel Blears MP; Matthew Sephton, Conservative candidate for Salford; Cllr Norman Owen, Lib Dem candidate for Salford; Pamela Welsh, Salford Advertiser journalist; Alex Halligan, TUC.
Last night, at Salford Question Time the topic was Current National Affairs, the first question inevitably centred on the MPs expenses scandal and Hazel Blears was immediately on the defensive…
"I understood last year, and understand today, how angry people were…"
Audience heckler… "So why did you do it?"
"I will answer this fully, correctly, honestly and straight forwardly because that's the kind of politician I've been for the last 25 years…"
"The one thing I agree with is that the system was wrong, the rules needed to be changed…First of all, I have only ever lived in a small one bedroomed flat in London, secondly, I never ever flipped my home – there's an awful lot that's been reported in the papers that is simply not true and I understand how angry people were…"
Lib Dem panel member Norman Owen called for new powers to enable constituents to sack their MP… "MPs in all parties should be brought to book and the people who elected them should have the power to say `You've got to go, you're sacked'"…
Tory candidate Matthew Sephton said the expenses scandal was "shocking and disappointing", while Advertiser journalist, Pamela Welsh, called for more regular elections and added that she thought "a lot of people can be in politics a lot of the time for what they can get out of it – the pay isn't bad"
Alex Halligan, representing trade unions, added "MPs, paid for by us, were basically taking the piss out of the ordinary people who voted for them. Hazel was controversial with her expenses but she's apologised to the people of Salford – but we'd like our MPs to do what we mandated them to do, and I didn't mandate my MP to rob the taxpayer blind."
On a further audience question about people being alienated from politics Alex added that the Labour Party in Salford is now down to around 420 members… "The Labour Party used to be the party of the people" he said "We need to take it back."
Hazel Blears sited the Chartists demands when they met on Kersal Moor for annual parliament and suggested this as an answer.
Other questions led to fiery sessions on ASBOS, the abolition of the House of Lords, climate change and the war in Iraq, as panel members declared it illegal and Hazel Blears said that "hindsight is a wonderful thing – the decision was taken in light of the best evidence out there at that time – we have to live with it…"
A further question was asked about the censorship of the Salford Star by Salford City Council…
Alex Halligan: "We need the Salford Star and we need it back now…"
Pamela Welsh: "They are a rival but they do an incredible job – the council magazine is crap."
Norman Owen: "Politics should not interfere with freedom of speech and freedom of the press…"
Hazel Blears: "For once this is something I can't be held responsible for – as far as I'm concerned the Salford Star can say what it likes. We live in a democracy and I defend the right of people to say what they want to say even if I don't agree with it. There's one thing I'd say about the Salford Star and that's that occasionally it's a little miserable…"
We would reply – watch this space for loads of fun and games before the election…