Conservative candidates not in attendance at Stevenage hustings
PUBLISHED: 13:31 04 December 2019 | UPDATED: 14:58 04 December 2019
Parliamentary candidates for Stevenage and Hitchin went toe-to-toe at the latest General Election hustings on Sunday night - but there were a few notable absentees.
Conservative parliamentary candidates Stephen McPartland and Bim Afolami were unable to attend the event at the Great Ashby Community Centre, leaving Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates to debate local and national issues without the presence of their former MPs.
The conversation covered a wide range of policy, focusing on issues affecting the Great Ashby community, with questions put to prospective MPs on the planned development of GA1 and GA2 - land earmarked for development under the North Hertfordshire Local Plan - as well as local school provision.
Bim Afolami, Conservative candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, sent his apologies, saying: "I regret that I am unable to attend the hustings organised in Great Ashby on Sunday due to a clashing prior engagement elsewhere in the constituency.
"Great Ashby is a hugely important community within this constituency and I held a public meeting here earlier in the campaign. I will be visiting Great Ashby in the coming weeks, so do come and say hello!"
Conservative candidate for Stevenage, Stephen McPartland, said that "after the comments made by the Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury, I am surprised anyone would want to share a platform with candidates seeking to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister".
Stevenage Labour candidate Jill Borcherds said it was "hugely disappointing" that Mr McPartland couldn't attend the event, adding that "given his record of hustings attendance in 2015 and 2017 - this was hardly surprising".
In her opening statement, Ms Borcherds emphasised her life as a maths teacher in Stevenage for 25 years where she has "seen the reality of austerity".
"I have seen how structures have changed in education in last nine years - I have seen children start to be treated as data," she said.
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"In the Stevenage Labour Party we are determined to make this election campaign about conversations and policy, not soundbites and headlines."
Fellow Labour candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, Kay Tart, was also in attendance but is yet to respond for a request to comment.
Speaking to the Comet, Sam Collins, Liberal Democrat candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, said: "The issues discussed at the Great Ashby hustings were primarily local, and it was clear that people wanted a more sustainable plan for the area than the one offered by recent governments. They were not asking for much - better cycling routes, a better bus service, much better parking provision, adequate school places and a local GP. I want to help them get all of those things."
Stevenage Liberal Democrat candidate Lisa Nash highlighted her role as a "local campaigner and district councillor in Knebworth", and stressed her "awareness of the issues facing people in the villages as well as Stevenage".
"I have particular experience of working in the NHS, where my colleagues are on their knees and I know that all public-sector services are under resourced", she said. "An interesting question was my own personal contribution to prevent the climate emergency - I set my heating to only 16°C, for example."
Green Party candidate for Stevenage, Victoria Snelling, was unable to attend the evening - however Tim Lee, Green candidate for North East Herts, stepped in to represent the party.
"It was a real pleasure to represent the Green Party at the Great Ashby hustings," Mr Lee said. "I encourage all voters to consider carefully the policies of the party. Politicians come and go - policies are more important.
"Vote for the future you want. A sustainable future; a green future. Vote for the real thing, not a pale imitation. The future is Green."
Sid Cordle, parliamentary candidate for the Christian Peoples Alliance, was also in attendance, and stressed his "involvement in the community, living locally in Westmill, Hitchin, and as an active member of the local church".
On Friday, 'An Evening of Questions' will be held at St Andrew and St George Church in Stevenage - beginning at 6pm - featuring debate between Stevenage Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates Jill Borcherds and Lisa Nash. Conservative candidate Stephen McPartland and Green candidate Victoria Snelling have declined the invitation.