|Storm clouds gather over Aldridge Comm|
Five of the six candidates standing for election attended, the only one not there was The Monster Raving Loony Party candidate, which was a pity because his manifesto although perhaps written with tongue firmly in cheek does contain elements of local problems that do need addressing.
It was successful, however my evening was spoiled by the malevolence of a couple of people seated behind me. Fortunately the majority did not have to hear the nastiness and hatred that was being spouted towards those who are not the most blessed or fortunate in society. During a discussion about carers and the elderly words were uttered about how caring should be done for free and no allowance be paid. That's lovely if you can afford to do it for free but the majority of carers in this country cannot afford to do it freely no matter how much they love the person they are caring for. One candidate on the platform mentioned that some carers do not claim Carers Allowance because they do it out of love and respect for the person cared for. Love and respect do not put food on the table or pay the rent. Many carers now have young families in addition to an elderly or disabled relative that they care for. They give up jobs and careers in order to care for a friend or relative for the paltry sum of £62.10 per week and to receive that, you need to care for someone for 35 hours per week! That's a maximum of £1.77 per hour, far less if you care around the clock. Carers save the government millions of pounds that would otherwise have to be spent on social services and the NHS and yet they are treated with contempt. Furthermore I am concerned that if the Tories do form the next government that Carer's Allowance will be further restricted as there are indications that it will be included on the list of benefits that are to be reformed. It is already a taxable benefit. How thoughtless and uncaring can people and political parties be?
Another piece of bile from behind me came when food banks were discussed. One candidate pointed out that it is not a case of if you build it (food bank) they will come. This time the voices were a little louder, "oh yes they will" came the response, "can't resist free food whilst they're standing outside the food bank smoking their cigarettes". I doubt these people even know where the food banks in Aldridge Brownhills are, let alone stood outside one of them and seen the people that are forced through dire circumstances to seek assistance. Nor were they believing of the evidence that was quoted at the meeting about the food bank schemes being run on a voucher basis and that people are restricted to a maximum of three visits. No, they were firmly ensconced inside their own little world where those who need help are scroungers and should be looked down upon. They left a very nasty taste in my mouth which is why I'll not detail all of the other ill informed comments that they made.
I got to ask a question. Unfortunately I was asked to rewrite my question and make it briefer so I was unable to impart within the question that I do know that the provision of youth services and the sale of council owned buildings are a local government issue. Does it matter though? The question was aimed at seeking out which of the candidates were prepared to help the local community. It became clear that most of the candidates knew little about local issues and one did have the courage to admit this. The question I asked (with apologies made to the people of Brownhills, Pelsall etc for it being an Aldridge centric issue) was;
"In 2011 Walsall Council decided to sell The Manor House in Aldridge. Unfortunately the resident youth club couldn't be found a new home and will now close at the end of the year due to the cuts made to youth service provision in Walsall. What support would the candidates and their parties give to the local community in saving this important and historical community asset and its youth club?"
None of the candidates addressed the historical importance of The Manor House to the people of Aldridge. One candidate pointed out the reason why the Manor House was identified for sale; it will realise a good capital sum. Another candidate talked about other buildings being found for the youth club, clearly not knowing that Walsall Council searched in vain for a year in an attempt to find another suitable building in Aldridge and discovered that there was no such building and also mentioned other youth provision in the area. Where? Yes there are a couple of church groups but that's it. Not every young person wants to attend a club that has a religious bent, some find the thought of doing so abhorrent. Ignorance of important local issues is not good enough if you're standing to be an MP and are not familiar with the locality. If you want the job, if you really do care as opposed to saying that you care, then you need cramming sessions on the locality about the issues that matter to ordinary people as opposed to the issues that matter to your local and national party and the political dogma you carry.
My question did provoke a very heated debate between two of the candidates, when remarks about the cuts that have been made to local authority budgets (the cuts being responsible in effect for the decimation of youth services in Walsall) being neither equal throughout the country nor fair, made by one candidate led to red mist descending and the gloves coming off with another candidate. It wasn't pretty to watch the party political animal appear.
In brief, the majority answer to my question (with one exception) wasn't positive.
I have deliberately not named any of the candidates in this blog because I am not entirely sure that any of them are really fit for the purpose of representing the people of Aldridge Brownhills. I listened to a lot of statements that were effectively a regurgitation of their own party mantra. I didn't hear a lot about what they can do for the area they wish to represent. Another reason for not naming is that although I am very political, I am not by nature a party political person and yet the choice before me is about party politics and not about service to a local community.