LGBT hustings, Queen’s Hotel, Brighton, Monday 13th April 2015

This hustings was open to all parliamentary candidates in the Brighton & hove area, and was organised by the Community Safety Forum. UKIP declined to send a candidate; of the other main parties, the attendees were:

Paul Chandler, Liberal Democrat (standing in Kemptown)

Peter Kyle, Labour (standing in Hove & Portslade)

Caroline Lucas, Green (standing in Brighton Pavilion; incumbent MP)

Simon Kirby, Conservative (standing in Kemptown; incumbent MP)

There were also two additional candidates:

Matt Taylor, independent (standing in Kemptown)

Howard Pilott, Socialist Party of Great Britain (standing in Brighton Pavillion)

Format

The hustings discussion was signed for the deaf & hard-of-hearing throughout, which I thought was a very nice touch. The six candidates were seated behind a long table at the front of the room, and there were chairs set out for the audience, with still and sparkling water available to everyone. It was run as a question & answer session rather than in debate format. The proposed running order was:

Two-minute opening statement from each candidate

Pre-submitted questions to be answered by each member of the panel

Q&A opened up to take questions from the floor

Short closing statement from each candidate

To help the hustings run on time, each candidate was given a 30-second warning bell once they had spoken for a minute and a half, followed by a ‘stop talking’ buzzer after two minutes. Speaking order was determined by drawing lots.

Caroline Lucas arrived about ten minutes late, having been delayed by issues with the trains running between Falmer and Brighton, and appeared just as Howard Pilott was halfway through his opening statement.

Opening statements

Howard Pilott: voices his opposition to capitalism, stating that all of the other parties just offer a ‘variation on the current system’ run in the ‘interests of the elite’. He points to a rise in use of anti-depressants, alcoholism and male suicide as evidence that the current system isn’t working, and concludes ‘vote Socialist to change things’.

Simon Kirby: says it is a privilege to serve as MP for Brighton Kemptown. He is proud of bringing in the same-sex marriage act under the coalition government and the first gay marriage in Brighton brought tears to his eyes, seeing the wording he helped work on in Committee Room 11 in Parliament translated into a real impact on people’s lives. He is a ‘strong advocate’ for LGBT rights.

Caroline Lucas: apologizes for being delayed and speaks of her pride in representing Brighton Pavilion as an MP. Says she was happy and relieved to be able to vote for same-sex marriage. She spoke last year at both Pride and Trans Pride, and wants to see more done, including an end to the ban on blood donation and equal pension rights for all in the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersex & Queer) community.

Peter Kyle: is proud of ‘legislative advances’ that were brought in by the Labour government, and the ‘normalisation’ of him being able to stand as a gay candidate with no backlash shows how far we’ve come. He says there are ‘still battles to be fought’, including tackling homophobic bullying in schools and improving trans rights. There is also a need to take acceptance across the EU and beyond.

Paul Chandler: gives his thanks for the invitation and says the Liberal Democrats are very proud of their long-term advocacy of LGBT rights. He reads from Section 28 and says it’s wonderful to have moved on from that to the legalization of same-sex marriage. He is keen to learn more about the issues that are still faced.

Matt Taylor: offers an alternative and would not be bound by a party whip system if elected. Has been shadow police crime commissioner since 2012 and sees current money-wasting and corruption within Sussex Police.

Q&A section

In this section I have summarised each question and the responses from the main party candidates.

Independent candidate Matt Taylor was keen to please, but clearly out of his depth, and his response to each question was that he would do all that he can to represent our interests in Parliament. Howard Pilott said that if elected he would refuse the oath of allegiance and his only agenda is the ’emancipation of the working class’.

As ever, apologies for any errors or unintentional omissions.

What would you do to promote LGBT rights if elected?

Caroline Lucas: reiterates her opening points about blood transfusions and pension rights; adds that ‘education is key’ to tackle bullying and says there should be statutory PSHE (personal, social and health education) in schools. She also sees it as essential to protect services by ending the austerity programme of the current government and would push for an increase in HIV testing.

Paul Chandler: the issues raised by Lucas are ‘all highly relevant’; schools are where it needs to start.

Simon Kirby: adds his agreement and says there is a need to promote LGBT tolerance around the world; more can also be done to tackle discrimination in sport.

Peter Kyle: says ‘being elected in itself would be a statement’ and show sexuality is not a boundary. He would make sure NHS services are extended so that older LGBT people feel included, tackle homophobic bullying in schools and push to extend LGBT rights to those living abroad.

Is it fair that in July 2012 the coalition government changed the rules for marrying a foreign national in the UK to be income-dependent or have human rights been disregarded?

Peter Kyle: ‘it is completely unfair and it should be overturned’. He says the policy is targeting the wrong people.

Caroline Lucas: agrees, saying it is an ‘awful, unequal and terrible’ law. She will continue to do all she can to change it and ascribes blame to the rightward drift caused by UKIP. In her view it entrenches discrimination and is ‘an abomination’.

Simon Kirby: has taken up this issue with the Home Office and helped some individual cases. Income requirement ‘needs to be reviewed’.

Paul Chandler: it ‘lacks compassion’ and agrees there is a UKIP rightward drift. There is ‘social pressure to control immigration’ but this is ‘an injustice’.

If elected, what would you do to combat in-work poverty?

Simon Kirby: says Kemptown is a diverse constituency in many ways, including deprivation, particularly in Whitehawk and Peacehaven. We need to increase the minimum wage, create jobs and reduce the deficit so that everyone can ‘share the benefit of economic recovery’.

Peter Kyle: says there are extraordinary numbers of in-work poor who budget down to the last £5 each month. The self-employed aren’t talked about often enough: on average, they’ll be earning less than minimum wage three times a year. We need to provide ‘world class public services’ in deprived areas and address the cost-of-living crisis. Youth unemployment has been falling but we need to be ambitious and end it.

Paul Chandler: believes that in-work benefits have ‘suffered disproportionately’ and economic recovery is top-down so will take years to feel.

Caroline Lucas: highlights that housing costs are causing economic pressure, with a 68% increase on those in work having to claim housing benefit to pay their rent. The Greens would introduce a £10/hr living wage and end the sell-off of social housing. Carers on zero-hours contracts are in a ‘precarious’ position; the Conservatives will cut a further £12bn from welfare and she shudders to think of making those already suffering bear more.

How important is the voluntary sector in supporting people with HIV/Aids?

Peter Kyle: it is ‘incredibly important’ because they provide services that the state struggles to deliver. In the 1980s, the Sussex Beacon provided HIV treatment when the state wouldn’t offer it. They still have extra reach because in some cases the service providers are themselves service users, so they understand specific needs. He is worried about an NHS pledge the Greens have signed as the Sussex Beacon is not a national provider and would lost funding.

Caroline Lucas: says she is ‘happy to correct Peter’ and the Greens would be happy for charities such as the Sussex Beacon to continue to provide services; it’s the profit-making private firms they want to drive out of healthcare. She is ‘hugely concerned’ about the lack of resources and continued funding can’t be taken for granted.

Simon Kirby: adds to the praise of the Sussex Beacon and (rather weakly) says ‘there are a number of ways of delivering great care and great services’.

Paul Chandler: says fears over privatization of NHS is ‘lazy talk’ from Lucas.

What steps would you take to ensure BEM (black and minority ethnic) communities are properly represented in services such as the police force and fire service?

Simon Kirby: says he understands it’s currently only 5% compared with 14% population and there should be better representation.

Paul Chandler: it’s a long-term, deep-seated problem.

Caroline Lucas: role-models can play an important part; we could also have targeted recruitment strategies. Need to stop early screening-out at CV stage and can use positive discrimination to change things more quickly, as has been done in the House of Commons through all-women shortlists.

Peter Kyle: feels strongly about this and makes an effort to talk to the people at the top of these services. Positive discrimination improves representation and he is proud Labour takes it seriously.

How would you improve community safety, particularly in the St. James’ Street area?

Caroline Lucas: we should be more rigorous in looking at the impact of the number of licensed premises in certain areas, and people need to have confidence that reported crimes will be taken seriously.

Paul Chandler: agrees with Lucas; says she’s talking a lot of sense.

Simon Kirby: St James’ St is a ‘fascinating place’ and he invited the Home Secretary to meet its local police. They have a dedicated LGBT unit. He is in favour of pedestrianizing the street.

Peter Kyle: says ‘the first thing we’ve got to do is fight the cuts on frontline policing’; Sussex police are facing a further 25% budget cut. We need to retain the LGBT unit, and he fears reduced numbers of police officers could lead to a return of gun crimes and gangs.

Will the candidates uphold the trans manifesto?

(Trans manifesto is outlined here: http://www.lgbtconsortium.org.uk/transmanifesto)

Paul Chandler: says ‘Yes, I agree with the manifesto’; he has tweeted his support.

Caroline Lucas: is delighted to have signed the manifesto, and has spoken out against local news coverage of how deaths of trans people have been reported. Believes we need to educate journalists further.

Peter Kyle: has signed the manifesto and recognizes ‘legislative needs’ for trans equality. He is proud that Labour have selected a transgender parliamentary candidate (Emily Brothers, standing in Sutton and Cheam) but disappointed by some of the media’s reactions to it. (There was a Sun columnist in particular who managed to insult Emily’s gender change and blindness in the same sentence, but she gave an excellent response: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/emily-brothers-hits-back-at-rod-liddle-column-asking-how-blind-transgender-labour-candidate-knew-she-was-the-wrong-sex-9920433.html)

Simon Kirby: has also signed the trans manifesto and says ‘we’re still on the journey; much more to do’.

Brighton can lead the way for the UK in how to treat LGBT issues. How would you support and improve statutory and voluntary services?

Peter Kyle: we need to reach out to older LGBT people and promote cross-generational work. ‘Loneliness is becoming chronic in our society.’

Paul Chandler: we’ve all talked about our pride in progress; this has been achieved by the older LGBT community who suffered persecution and then brought about massive change (homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967). We owe them all our support.

Simon Kirby: agrees isolation of the elderly is a big problem and praises work of GEMS (Gay Elderly Men’s Society); still more to be done.

Caroline Lucas: agrees with what has been said so far. Local GPs think loneliness is a factor behind a whole range of problems; we need community to be there and provide a sense of wider purpose.

What would you do to protect and improve the provisions of the Equalities Act 2010?

Paul Chandler: praises the act, which was ‘a Labour initiative and a very good one’. (Chandler is a Lib Dem, so it was good to see a bit of cross-party praise!) He would seek to ensure full implementation.

Caroline Lucas: says we’ve ‘got a fight on our hands’ just to protect what we’ve got, given Tory opposition to the Human Rights Act. Cuts to legal aid are also very worrying as free legal aid is needed to challenge discrimination.

Peter Kyle: we need to extend protection to trans communities. Echos Lucas’ sentiments and adds that legislation can be reversed by future governments, e.g. UKIP would seek to roll back gay marriage. LGBTQI communities should interact with church communities and congregations; they are often more welcoming than the clergy and will help broaden their views.

Simon Kirby: would ensure it remains on the statute book, implemented and extended where necessary.

If elected, what would you do to eliminate anti-trans bias in the court system, including reported crimes not being taken seriously and trans parents being denied access to their children?

Caroline Lucas: says ‘education and training’ of judges and legal teams is needed to reduce misunderstanding and discrimination. She would like to hear more detail about trans parents being denied access to their kids; not something she’s been made aware of before but ‘sounds horrific’.

Simon Kirby: everyone should receive a fair hearing and police need to work to show trans hate crimes will be taken seriously. Agrees the need for education.

Paul Chandler: progress in rolling back bias in the police ‘has been painfully slow’.

Peter Kyle: the Criminal Justice System can be ‘callous, cold and scary’ for victims of crime. Labour set up the post of Victims’ Commissioner to shine a light on this. That role was cut to save costs; we need it back.

The disabled community is still a target of abuse and hate crime, low employment opportunities and other disadvantages. What would you do to improve the safety and lives of disabled people?

Caroline Lucas: says it’s a really good question and the disabled ‘need a voice’. She says SpeakOut organized a wonderful hustings for people with learning difficulties; there was also a very noisy and vocal protest outside Parliament against Atos and the removal of the Independent Living Fund. She will continue to support such campaigns.

Paul Chandler: agrees the hustings was great, and says we need to ensure the Equalities Act is fully implemented.

Peter Kyle: adds that it’s important to include mental health in the discussion; the mentally and physically disabled are suffering the most from the housing crisis. We need to replace the ‘vindictiveness of this government with support into work’. He says one of the greatest moments last year was seeing the MIND bus in Pride filled with people who were combating mental health issues but had turned out to celebrate their sexuality, cheered on by friends and family.

What steps would you take towards opening a local gender clinic?

Paul Chandler: says it’s ‘obviously a good idea’ and would have his full support.

Simon Kirby: adds that there are only 2 in the whole south-east. Brighton ‘would be an ideal location’ and he would also fully support it.

Peter Kyle: agrees wholeheartedly with Chandler and Kirby.

Caroline Lucas: says ‘this is an issue I’ve already been working on’. People currently have to travel to London Charing Cross, which has huge waiting lists and significant travel costs to get there. She is ‘absolutely committed’ to opening a gender clinic in Brighton and is currently looking at whether it is better to convert an existing location or set up something completely new.

Closing questions

With only 10 minutes remaining, the candidates agree to skip the closing statements to instead allow time for 2 questions from the floor.

I’m a paramedic and my girlfriend is a nurse. It’s increasingly hard to deliver our services because of the cuts. What would you do to improve the situation?

Simon Kirby: takes his hat off to the two NHS workers and says we need a strong economy to have a strong NHS.

Caroline Lucas: counters that great NHS workers are ‘in spite of government policy, not because of it’. We need to end marketisation of the health service.

Peter Kyle: says ‘we need the Time to Care fund’ and that cuts in community services have led to extra pressure on A&E and paramedics.

Paul Chandler: the NHS is a ‘bottomless pit’ in terms of cost, but all parties agree it is worth the money and will continue to fund it.

The aborted question

A Conservative candidate from Arundel attempts to ask the final question, but spends far too much time prefacing it with party political messages. The audience boo, the microphone is taken away from him and a different question is taken.

Should there be a full and comprehensive pardon for those still regarded as criminals ( referring to pre-1967 convictions for homosexuality)?

Paul Chandler: says the Alan Turing pardon was initially put forward by a Lib Dem in the House of Lords as a broader pardon, but had to be scaled back. He would support a full pardon.

Peter Kyle: says Labour will deliver a pardon and it is very important to remove the criminal classification ‘even if the person is long gone’.

Caroline Lucas: completely agrees, and says there are around 150,000 people still under the ‘weight and burden’ of a wrong criminal record.

Simon Kirby: fully agrees with the need for a pardon.

My thoughts on the event

Full marks to the Brighton & Hove LGBT Community Safety Forum who organized the event. It was a very efficient but informative format, felt accessible and welcoming, and it was made clear at the start that although booing was acceptable, taunts and heckling would not be tolerated. The candidates spent very little time trotting out tired party lines or points-scoring off each other, and a lot of time engaging with the questions and putting forward their opinions / preferred policies. Peter Kyle and Caroline Lucas were particularly engaging.

It was good to see Lucas attend a local event (which ran until 9pm) when she also had to prepare for the launch of the Green manifesto with Natalie Bennett in London the next morning. After 5 years fighting hard in Parliament, I was expecting her to show signs of tiring, but she was as enthusiastic as ever and I think she’s an excellent champion for both the Greens and Brighton.

The Community Safety Forum are also running a councillors’ hustings on Tuesday 21st April. Full information is available here: http://www.lgbt-safety-forum-brighton.com/ and I’ll be attending.

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