Elections 2019: It's all about the hustings
It’s all about the hustings
What can you really learn by attending a local hustings? Each party packs the venue with their own supporters, leaving it to a handful of residents to try to ask genuine questions about local issues. It is always interesting to watch aspiring and incumbent politicians defend their party's national policies while at the same time fundamentally disagreeing with them personally or knowing that their constituents don't share these viewpoints. Brexit is the obvious example, especially in London.
Hustings do however provide a helpful snapshot into distinctly local concerns, pitching them against national issues and the personality of the candidate - which can make all the difference in a marginal seat. Our team has been to a number of constituencies in South West London to take the temperature locally.
Richmond Park - Con vs Lib Dem
Our conclusion here is that it's going to be difficult for the Conservative incumbent Zac Goldsmith to hold on to his seat with a majority of just 45.
We learnt that Zac is pinning his hopes on a strategy of reminding voters of his green credentials and anti-Heathrow stance. However, with 72% of the electorate having voted remain in 2016, this is likely to become a Lib Dem seat and their candidate, Sarah Olney, has already had a brief spell as the MP here meaning that, unlike a number of her Lib Dem colleagues she benefits from a degree of recognition.
Battersea - Lab vs Con
The seat where Labour launched their manifesto and where the incumbent Labour MP, Marsha de Cordova, hit the headlines for actively distancing herself from Corbyn, all but erasing him from her campaign literature. At the local hustings, affordable housing featured heavily with some pointed discussions on why certain schemes hadn’t been delivered on time. Labour will hold this seat, probably with a smaller majority. But a win is a win.
Streatham - Lab vs Lib Dem
We learnt at the hustings that despite Labour being the incumbent, there is genuine anger over their Brexit policy and the Party's leadership. Consequently national issues dominated most of proceedings here.
The Labour candidate, former Diane Abbot staffer Bell Ribeiro-Addy has inherited an enviable majority of over 26,000 in Streatham following Chuka Umunna’s defection to the Lib Dems. This high-profile defection led to a flurry of donations and the Lib Dems putting in place campaigning infrastructure that simply wasn’t there before. This has made it a two-horse race. Regardless, it's hard to see Labour not retaining a seat they've held since 1992.
Putney - Con vs Lab
Putney is Conservative held with a majority of around 1500 making it a target seat for Labour and interestingly for the Lib Dems too.
With pro-Remain Justine Greening stepping down, the Conservatives have turned to Wandsworth councillor and ultra-Conservative loyalist Will Sweet. Will's late selection meant he hasn't had the campaign run up he might have liked and as the current Cabinet Member for Education, he has faced tough questions on local schools, as well as housing regeneration projects. Meanwhile, Labour have also selected a Wandsworth councillor, Fleur Anderson, as their candidate. She has aligned herself with Justine Greening's stance on Brexit, acknowledging her popularity locally.
The big question here is over what impact the Lib Dems have on the vote and despite this being a two horse race - Conservatives vs Labour - tactical voting by Lib Dems could propel Labour over the top here and the latest polls have suggested Labour are closing the gap.
Tooting - Lab vs Con
Labour's Dr Rosena Allin-Khan will increase her majority here. At recent hustings the recurring themes of Brexit, education service and NHS funding all featured, as well as a more light-hearted question on whether Tooting needs a cinema. Housing and planning did not feature, however all the candidates pledged to preserve and enhance the constituency's open spaces, particularly Tooting Common.
We'll carry on attending hustings as the election draws to a close but on balance, in these seats at least, it's likely to be the status quo with perhaps the one exception of Richmond - it will be fascinating to see how this all plays out on 12 December.