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Respectful dialogue at Bradford Cathedral hustings

17 April 2015

Gavin Drake goes to a surprisingly polite hustings in Bradford


Speaking out: George Galloway at a National Demonstration for Gaza, in Hyde Park, London, in August 2014. He is defending a 10,000 majority 

Speaking out: George Galloway at a National Demonstration for Gaza, in Hyde Park, London, in August 2014. He is defending a 10,000 majori...

IN AN episode of Blackadder, Rowan Atkinson's character ex­­plains that his candidate, Baldrick, will fight the Dunny-on-the-Wold by-election on policies, not personalities - because his candi­date has no personality.

The line was recalled by the Con­servative candidate George Grant, as he explained that the same could not be said of the candidates in the Bradford West constituency, where George Galloway is seeking re-election to the seat that he won in a 2012 by-election for his Respect Party.

Seven of the eight candidates for the seat attended a People Inspired hustings (see story below) at Brad­ford Cathedral on Sunday night, in front of 200 members of the public.

If the audience were hoping for a repeat of the previous constituency hustings, where Mr Galloway ac­­cused his Labour opponent, Naz Shah, of making up a story about being forced into marriage at the age of 15 in Pakistan, and told the chair that "no one will stop me from speaking" when she attempted to call him to order, they would have been disappointed.

The event, chaired by the Dean of Bradford, the Very Revd Jerry Lepine, was, instead, an evening of mainly respectful dialogue - though Harry Boota, of UKIP, said: "Politicians are like babies' nappies: they should be changed often, for the same reason." At this point he sniffed Mr Galloway, and said: "It's time for change."

The independent candidate, James Kirkcaldy, said that the entire political system was corrupt and in need of change.

The traditional party candidates appeared to follow TV-drama stereotypes: Mr Grant was dressed in a suit, polished shoes, and double-cuffed shirt; Mr Shah wore a suit with a red jacket; and the Liberal Democrat candidate, Alun Griffiths, wore an open-necked shirt over a pair of jeans.

Subjects covered at the event were education, the seeming battle for resources between London and the regions, employment, and the Bishops' pastoral letter.

On education, the Green Party candidate, Celia Hickson, wanted smaller class sizes, and formal schooling to start at the age of seven. Mr Kirkcaldy spoke of the problem of drugs in schools. Mr Shah wanted class sizes capped; Mr Griffiths wanted an increase in funding; and Mr Boota wanted a return to academically selective grammar schools.

Mr Grant said that it was time to change the "tyranny of low expectation", and Mr Galloway called on the "failing" leaders of Bradford's education authority to be sacked and replaced with people that had achieved success elsewhere.

He also warned that going to war against "Muslim country after Muslim country" would lead to a "war against the Muslims at home. . . If you pump the airwaves and the media full of Islamophobic argument to support your war, the people at home are not going to differentiate between Mohammed who runs the corner shop, and the tyrant you say we have to go halfway around the world to overthrow."

Mr Grant said that greater respect would come from greater understanding. "There is so much that we have in common."

FIVE cathedrals are staging a programme of activities to encourage Christians to engage with General Election candidates.

Under the banner People InSpired, the cathedrals at Bradford, Derby, Lichfield, Manchester, and Portsmouth have staged preliminary discussions between politicians and members of the public to identify issues of concern. These are being fed into a series of constituency hustings in the cathedrals.

A "Community White Paper" will then be produced to summarise "the key points and outcomes from the forums"; and will be shared with local and national politicians.

"People InSpired is all about putting people back into politics and decision-making," the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, said. "It is important that national and local representatives hear everyone's voice."

Speaking after the Bradford West hustings on Sunday night, the Dean of Bradford, the Very Revd Jerry Lepine, said that the event was "an immensely respectful evening".

"A cathedral is a safe space to have difficult conversations, but it is also a space that imposes itself on people, and makes them think twice before they say things that are inappropriate."

The preliminary meeting in the People InSpired programme had meant that the cathedral was "very well prepared" for the hustings event, he said.

The idea for People InSpired came from the Cathedral Innovation Centre, and the Association for English Cathedrals, who say: "England is missing spaces for people to come together and discuss the topics covered by People InSpired."

Cathedrals, churches, and faith groups are hosting other constituency hustings and political events leading up to the General Election.

The Quakers have organised a series of issue-based hustings events, where representatives of different political parties have been invited to discuss particular themes.

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