Brighton’s great and good gathered last night at Kemptown’s St Mary’s Church, in what turned out to be Brighton’s largest political gathering in a very long time.
Mobilised by 38 Degrees, the audience was treated to a well presented debate on the Lobbying Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords.
Regrettably, neither Conservative Brighton MP’s Mike Weatherley & Simon Kirby were present, though Simon Kirby’s fall-guy, Hove Wealden’s councillor Graham Cox, stepped into Simon Kirby’s shoes to be the “Pantomime Villain’ of the night.
Chaired by Greg Hadfield, the editor of the ever popular Brighton & Hove Independent newspaper, the panel was made up of Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, Becky Jarvis, Campaign manager at 38 Degrees, Graham Cox as mentioned above and Ian Chisnall, street pastor and independent candidate in the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
The proceedings kicked of with Caroline Lucas paying tribute to the audience for coming out on a Thursday evening and to 38 Degrees for their “mobilizing capacity” in getting some many to come out.
Caroline got right down to business in explaining why the Gagging Bill should be voted out of Parliament in it’s entirety, she said, “The result if the Bill passes would be to effectively shut down legitimate public debate, to shut down voices that want to make legitimate comment about the NHS or about housing policy or about wild-life conversation.”
Speaking for six minutes she said amongst other things, “We are united against the threat to free speech that this Bill is. Ironically this does nothing to regulate the corporate lobbyist that we thought this Bill was about, it lets them off, more or less, scott free. What it does is silence us.”
Poking fun at Simon Kirby being unable to make the meeting, she said, “The reason Simon Kirby wasn’t coming tonight was that he was at the Railway debate that I was at as well in Parliament this evening. That Railway debate ended at five o’clock.” Rapturous applause interrupted her, as she smiled at Simon Kirby’s blatant attempt to gag public debate, and continued, “I wanted to tell him about the 17.06 train, the 17.32, the 18.06, the 18.36, it goes on.”
Pausing until the laughter subsided she continued, “His counterpart Mike Weatherley doesn’t even understand what the fuss is about and interestingly wrote to one of his constituents that apparently “It has been very difficult to gage the level of feeling on this matter.” Well I expect the people here tonight will leave him no doubt about their strength of feeling on this matter.”
Rounding her six minutes off by revealing an up-date, she said, “Yesterday the government did suggest that they will put forward amendments, but suffice to say that from my position at least, those amendments are welcome and a testament to the strength of your campaigning but they don’t go anyway near enough. The bottom line is we have to keep on campaigning, we are beginning to be successful, keep that pressure up and I’ll certainly be doing that in Parliament and I look forward to your support as well.”
Next up, Simon Kirby’s fall guy, Graham Cox, who unfairly and in my opinion, very cruelly, dismissed everything Caroline Lucas said by saying, “Thank you Caroline for your contribution but I couldn’t quite hear most of it because of the echo, but I’m sure it was very very good.”
Jeers from the crowd showed their dismay for his disingenuous remark. Number one, if there was an echo he would have hear what she said twice over, and secondly, everyone sat on the front row and could hear everything Caroline had said.
“I did hear you mention Simon Kirby, um, it it really is genuine, Simon has got two meetings tonight with Treasury officials.”
This piece of information immediately brought jeers from the crowd and Graham Cox had to raise his voice over the boos, “Um, you can laugh about it but we are trying to secure funding for the hospital and I hope we can all get behind that,” he said in reaction.
Speaking from a prepared speech, Graham went onto defend the Gagging Bill saying, “I do not recognise the danger highlighted by some and think this is the right way to proceed and I hope its in place by the 2015 election.”
Amid rapturous jeers, boos and calls of “Where’s Kirby, Where’s Kirby”, Graham Cox in his role as “Pantomime Villain” soldiered on in true grit style.
Some of this most amusing comments included, “I’ll do my best to defend the lobbying Bill,” to the “Vibrant and diverse political system,” to saying, “I’m glad to see open debate is alive and well in Brighton.”
Next up was Ian Chisnall, Street Pastor and as he reminded us from the out-set, “I know this has nothing to do with the Police and Crime Commissioner elections that took place over a year ago, many of you actually wrote to me as well as part of that process as members of 38 Degrees and as someone who’s never been involved with politics before, I find it really encouraging to respond to some of you.”
Ian Chisnall co-ordinator at the charity ‘Churches Together’, which helps enrich lives of others, is more than aware of the implications of the bill.
“I think one of the sadnesses of this bill is that it seeks to a year before every election, it seeks to make it more difficult, more complicated, more uncertain as to how we should engage.
Then attacking politicians of all persuasions he said, “Sadly people like Simon Kirby, Mike Weatherley, David Cameron, many within the Labour party, many within all of the parties (this is not a party political issue) who rather we engage on their terms, using their language, using their concepts because it is a lot easier if we do it their way.”
To read more about Ian Chisnall’s take on the evening, please check out his blog post ‘Politics with both feet on the ground.’
Saving the best till last, and a last minute replacement for someone who lost his voice, 38 Degree’s campaign manager, Becky Jarvis filled the fourth seat and continued where Caroline Lucas left off, by firstly congratulating both Caroline Lucas and Ian Chisnall on doing a fantastic job talking about the gagging bill and the impact it’ll have on freedom of speech and democracy.
She said, “I thought I’d take this opportunity first to update you on what’s happened in the last 24 hours, but also to challenge some of Graham’s point, but first I would like to thank Graham,” (to which the packed church burst into a round of applause in respect), “because both Simon and Mike refused to take the opportunity to speak today and I think its absolutely fantastic you are here today. Thank you.”
Before continuing, “If this is about taking the big money out of politics, now I’m sorry, but if this piece of legislation is about taking the big money out of politics, then it will do something to stop Lord Ashcroft, (round of applause) or Lord Sainsbury (round of applause,) Look at them (flinging her arm towards the audience,) this is the cutting edge of politics. This is about ordinary people coming together and having their say,” to more enthusiastic applause.
“Charities and campaign groups, big and small, are united against the huge concerns they have about this legislation.”
To learn more about 38 Degrees campaign and the amendments to the legislation, please check out their Facebook page for more information.
Open to the floor, expect one.
The floor was then open for questions and the Brightonian audience responded with passion and enthusiasm.
Under the direction of Greg Hadfield a number of speakers were invited to speak, all of which responded negatively to the Gagging Bill. Never once is a member of the audience promote or condone the bill as a measure of good.
Its worthy of note that Greg Hadfield invited both 2015 candidates Nancy Platts from the Labour party and Davy Jones from the Green party to speak, but declined my persistent request to speak.
“Let’s all ignore Matt Taylor and pretend he’s not there,” said a labour supporter in response to the article, ‘Who is Nancy Platts?’
If I was allowed to speak, I would have said words to the effect, “Hello my name is Matt Taylor and I’m the independent candidate for Brighton Kemptown in 2015, alongside Nancy Platts and Davy Jones. Standing on an anti-corruption platform, in which we publish information on corruption local government officials and corrupt police officers, any legislation which implies ‘Gagging’ is of interest to me.”
It seems that having asked me at the start of the proceeds, “What do you want from his meeting?”, to which I replied “Votes,” Greg Hadfield took it on himself to censor me on his own accord.
Debate is alive and well in Brighton.
Without boring you for any longer: it was the best display of Brightonian democracy I have ever had the pleasure to be present at. Handing out my ‘www.sosparty.co.uk’ card outside the Church, everyone agreed that it was the best political meeting they had ever been to.
All praise to the 38 Degrees team, thank you and we hope you come again.
Even Ian Chisnall agreed by stating in his blog, “Around 300 people were present, more than at any meeting to discuss politics that I can remember for a long time.”
And leaving the last word to Graham Cox, of which I do agree with, he said, “I happily predict that the sort of predictions you are making will not occur and I also confidently predict, that if there is a Labour government they will not reverse any of it!”
Graham Cox has taken the time to blog about his experience and can be read here.
In his blog Graham Cox makes the comment, “What I had hoped may be a series of questions and answers afterwards, simply consisted of mini-speeches by local candidates – the honourable exception being Peter Kyle who did ask a sensible question at the end by which time the opportunity to engage in fruitful debate had long been lost.”
Here is Peter Kyle’s “sensible question” in full, of which Graham Cox has yet to answer.