Sincere pledges, political and personal side-swipes, and flashes of humour were all present as five candidates battled on stage for the honour of representing South Holland and The Deepings in the next Parliament.
This was the Lincolnshire Free Press and Spalding Guardian hustings at the South Holland Centre on Thursday night when John Hayes (Conservative), Matthew Mahabadi (Labour), David Parsons (UKIP), George Smid (Liberal Democrat) and Dan Wilshire (Green Party) answered questions from a 200-plus audience.
The Question Time-style debate was flawlessly chaired by one of our journalists, the unflappable and “politically neutral” Winston Brown, who kept order on stage and off as the occasional heckler intervened.
Government minister John Hayes, who has held the seat for 18 years, twice promised to resign if – as a member of a future Government – David Cameron didn’t carry out his pledge of an in-out referendum on the EU and if the Tories formed a ruling partnership with UKIP.
There were questions on topics as diverse as education, pride in South Holland, street drinking, immigration, hospital parking charges and energy.
An audience question – “Is there anything from your political career that we ought to know about?” – saw an elephant tip-toe into the room.
John Hayes wished he had voted for the minimum wage and “got that wrong”; Dan Wilshire, the youngest candidate at 19 years, hadn’t had time in his brief political life to have regrets; George Smid had no skeletons in his cupboard; Matthew Mahabadi pointed out he’s only 26 but wished he’d come higher than fourth in Spalding South Ward in 2013 and David Parsons replied: “I have too many regrets to recount to you now sir, but if you want to have a drink afterwards I will tell you about them.”
Then the elephant charged towards Mr Parsons, a former Conservative leader of Leicestershire County Council, when a member of the audience raised the issue of him being censured in 2012 by that council’s standards sub-committee, which accused him of disregarding four key principles of public life – honesty, integrity, accountability and leadership.
Mr Parsons replied: “I have been cleared of any wrongdoing.”
He said the speaker “quoted selectively” from a report and he’d made no secret of that episode in his life when selected to represent UKIP in this constituency.
“We actually issued a press release from UKIP so that people in South Holland and The Deepings knew what was going on,” said Mr Parsons. “I regard that episode as being finished.”
Asked if he was sorry about what had happened, Mr Parsons replied: “Yes, I am.”
At the outset – and at the conclusion – candidates had uninterrupted time to persuade the audience to vote for them.
Matthew Mahabadi is promising among other things to fight for the “Lincolnshire living wage”. He’s the son of an Iranian father and a British mum, who was a nurse.
Mr Mahabadi said: “My mum taught me the caring, colour blind values of her profession.”
George Smid told the audience that everyone is a liberal without suggesting it should have a capital ‘L’.
He said: “All of us don’t like to be told what to do but, at the same time, we don’t want to slip into anarchy and these are our Liberal values.”
John Hayes said the election was about the quality of representation in Parliament and the person chosen should be someone who is rooted in the community, using exactly the same services as their constituents, as he himself has done for 18 years.
Over that time, Mr Hayes estimated he had personally helped 25,000 constituents.
He said: “You deserve a first-class MP committed to this area.”
Dan Wilshire seized the moment as he was “made in South Holland”.
He said: “I have just celebrated my 19th birthday – that makes me out of all of these people (the candidates) present the person who has lived the longest in this constituency.”
David Parsons said: “Can I just say that UKIP stands for a new kind of politics.
“Politicians will promise you the earth and you have heard it all before and, no doubt, this lot here who are all the established parties – not Dan, I actually rather like you Dan – the established parties have not a lot to offer.”
Hospital parking charges was an issue that saw candidates virtually speaking as one.
George Smid said: “I can understand for people who are on a low income parking charges of £2, £3 or £4 are a lot of money, especially if you have to visit the hospital very often.”
David Parsons said UKIP would scrap parking charges, adding: “It’s a ludicrous way to run hospitals to charge for parking.”
Matthew Mahabadi told the audience: “I fully support scrapping hospital car parking charges especially in cases where you have long term illnesses.”
John Hayes said the issue had rarely been raised with him, but he fully understood that it was important for families, particularly in cases of chronic illness. He promised: “I will tomorrow contact the health authority in exactly that spirit.”
Dan Wilshire said NHS funding was the real problem.
He said: “If we resolve the funding problem, then parking charges won’t have to be as high.”