Five of the six prospective candidates for Middlesbrough were in attendance for the event at St. Barnabas Church to discuss their future plans for the NHS, Brexit and the Planet.
Lively debate, plenty of heckling and a walk-off were all witnessed by an engaged audience at St. Barnabas Church as candidates looking to become Middlesbrough’s next Member of Parliament joined together in debate.
And at the centre of affairs, on a night of high drama, was The Brexit Party candidate, Faye Clements.
The 35-year-old’s eventful evening began with her making accusations towards fellow Independent candidate Antony High, as she read from a pre-prepared opening statement.
Stating that she would “immediately seek to implement an inquiry into the toxicity and bullying culture that exists within Middlesbrough Borough Council” if elected to office, Clements would go on to allege the council’s elected Deputy Mayor had put pressure on her to withdraw as a candidate.
Claiming that High had “made several phone calls to members of my party” Clements also said he had “threatened to drag me through the mud” if she did not stand down.
Shaking his head in disbelief as he listened to Clement’s statement, High would later on in proceedings refute the claims as “unfounded.”
“Look towards Europe”
Councillor High’s rejection of the accusations came shortly after The Brexit Party candidate had prematurely left the stage, as he pleaded with the public to “try and be respectful for the individuals up here.”
Clements’ made the decision not to continue in the debate, after she had drawn cries of derision and heckling during her response to the first question of the night on the NHS.
Voicing her opinion that the NHS should “look towards Europe” in terms of improvements, the irony of those words coming from the mouth of a Brexit Party candidate was not lost on those watching and a strong chorus of laughter quickly echoed around the nave.
A frustrated and upset Clements’ looked to clarify, “I’m talking about the health systems, Europe have better health outcomes”, before retaking her seat.
Not long after, Clements would make a swift exit, reportedly telling Chair for the evening, The Bishop of Whitby, The Rt Revd Paul Ferguson “I’m going to leave.”
To leave or remain
Clements’ defection from proceedings meant just the four male counterparts of the six looking to become elected would be present to answer the remaining questions put to them by the public.
Prior to the event starting, it was confirmed that the Conservative Party candidate Ruth Betson would not be attendance, due to the passing of a close friend, who’s funeral was taking place that week.
This ‘no-show’ from a candidate who’s quoted address on election papers is ‘South Cambridgeshire’ – more than 200 miles from Middlesbrough – drew ire from one member of the audience, rankled by similar occurrences by other Conservative candidates at hustings in the area, as a representative prepared to read a statement on the candidates behalf.
And it was clear the nights eventful beginnings were unlikely to settle down anytime soon as the subject of Brexit came on the agenda.
Asked whether the prospective candidates would “help implement the democratic decision of the British people in 2016” or failing that “if not, why not?” the first to respond was the Liberal Democrat candidate Thomas Crawford.
In tune with his parties policy to revoke article 50, without further consultation with the public, Crawford would go on to state, “the fact is, in 2016, on the ballot paper was an option that said leave the European Union, what leave looks like wasn’t defined.
Then commenting on the various deals that had been rejected, Crawford continued, “fact is, what Brexit looks like is massively unclear, what people voted for in 2016 was not Brexit at any cost. People did not vote to make themselves poorer.”
Independent candidate, High, was next to respond, as he positioned himself as the only candidate that could “effectively support Brexit within Parliament.”
“40,000 people voted that day, never before has so many individuals came out to vote in Middlesbrough.
“That vote must be respected. Democracy must prevail.
“A vote for me on the 12th December, will be a vote for Brexit.”
How many trees?
The former subject was clearly not a favourite of the Green Party candidate and local GP, Hugh Alberti, who declared himself, “bored, and sick, and tired, of all the discussions about Brexit.”
But Alberti would soon to find himself on more favourable ground, as the subject of planting trees was raised.
With The Green Party manifesto offering a commitment to plant ‘700 million trees‘, Alberti was confident his side was winning “the numbers competition” in this area.
But his personal belief was “it’s got to be bigger than that” as he riled against the “destroying of trees” through the extension of airports, roads and national projects such as HS2.
And impassioned Alberti would continue;
“This is going to effect our future generations. Green things, the environment, actually effects people’s health.
“The damage we’re doing from cutting down these trees, the carbon emissions are going to destroy our lives, our very beings.
“We need to change the whole way that we live, and the whole way, especially, we do politics.”
A vision for British Steel
Next to come was a subject matter much closer to home, as the candidates were asked to share their “vision for British Steel” on Teesside.
The question in part focused on the news that the Chinese company, The Jingye Group, are poised to purchase British Steel out of liquidation, with Teesside Live reporting in November that a bid of £70 million – potentially securing the futures of the Lackenby and Skinningrove plants and around 20,000 jobs across the region in the process – had been lodged.
And incumbent MP and Labour’s Shadow Minister of State for Transport, Andy McDonald felt despite some people’s concerns of “the international aspects” of the deal, involvement from the Chinese steel manufacturing giant “could be good for us”.
Also pointing to Labour’s regional manifesto commitment to build a steel recycling plant in the region, McDonald would add;
“Steel is not a sunset industry, it is a legacy industry that can give us a fantastic future.
“It’s got a terrific future, and if we embrace it, it can play a huge part for us, good jobs, well paid jobs, for the long term, here on Teesside.”
But in his response, Cllr High would attack the role Labour politicians had played in supporting the industry locally.
“I know, from family, friends and people who were active on those sites, that Labour did not do enough to fight and prevent the damage that happened with the steel industry in this town.
“I’ve spoken to union representatives, spoken to people who have been paid up members of the Labour who were working on the site, who openly said they were consistently failed, and there wasn’t the appropriate input from the MP or the Labour Party nationally, to assist, and stop, and prevent the steel industry from collapsing in the town.
“Such a precious gift that we have got”
As the evening’s debate came to a close, each candidate was afforded the chance to make a final pitch to the assembled voters.
High went first, who looked to reaffirm his credentials as Middlesbrough’s ‘anti-establishment’ choice in this election.
“We’ve been forgotten for far too long. It’s time for us to win, it’s time for take a political stance against an establishment that’s continued to fail this town for decades.
“Long gone are the day’s where we just go out and we just vote Labour.
“We need a new Middlesbrough, a true Middlesbrough.
With heckles growing from certain sections from the audience at this point, High would retort in a final flourish to cheers from his supporters, “it is time to vote independent and it is time to vote Antony High.”
Following him, McDonald – who holds a strong majority going into this election – would look towards the Labour parties national programme and asked voters to reflect “on what sort of nation we want to be” before pointing to the need of bringing the country together.
“Has ever a country needed hope and heeling, it is this one now and that’s what I determined to deliver.
“Prosperity for all, social justice and end to the ravages of rampant poverty and inequality.”
In contrast to the other candidates, Alberti took a more conciliatory tone in his closing remarks.
“You may well say to me, ‘Hugh, why should I vote for you, you’re not going to become our next MP, are you?’ “And I’d be lying if I disagreed with you. I think it’s very unlikely Thursday next week I will be your MP.
“Put it this way, I haven’t given up my day job” Alberti added, to warm laughter and applause.
But Alberti would round of his closing pitch by pointing to how an increased level of votes his party would force those in power to take note of green issues.
“The planet can’t vote, our children can’t vote, so will you vote for the future and vote Green with me.”
As the final candidate of the four to speak, Crawford began his closing remarks by thanking the work of all those involved in putting on the evening’s debate and his fellow candidates.
Then after pointing to Middlesbrough deserving “much better” Crawford put forward his own call for change.
“This election is a chance for change, I talked at the start about choices, and I genuinely believe the Liberal Democrats is the best choice for Britain.
“I’ve been upfront. I’ve been honest with my principles and what I stand for.
“All I ask for is you’re honest when you get to the polling both on December 12th.”
But it was The Bishop of Whitby, The Rt Revd Paul Ferguson, who in bringing proceedings to close, was to make what felt to be the most important comments of the night in stressing the virtue of our democracy in being able to vote freely.
“It’s such a privilege to be able to vote.
“No democracy is perfect, there are things we would probably want to change about ours.
“But it is such a precious gift that we have got.”
List of candidates for the Middlesbrough constituency
Hugh Alberti – The Green Party
Ruth Ellen Betson – The Conservative Party
Faye Clements – The Brexit Party
Thomas Crawford – The Liberal Democrats
Antony High – Independent
Andy McDonald – The Labour Party