Thursday, February 11, 2010

the empty seat

Sitting on the sidelines is a favourite occupation of mine, and I avail myself of the luxury whenever it occurs.

So when I read on Richard Normington's blog that there was going to be a debate featuring the Conservative, Green, Labour and Lib Dem candidates, I headed to Cambridge's B-Bar, and was gratified to see that beside the seats there were half-a-dozen stools.

Sitting on one of them, I was party to a conversation between a young lady and a gentleman who had occupied the seemingly unoccupied seat next to her. He asked if it were fair that a seat that didn't even have a bag on it was deemed to be occupied and she replied that it had been agreed beforehand that her friend would sit there. He vacated the seat - eventually - and met a very nice lady with whom he had a loud conversation about whether a seat with nothing on it could be considered to be "booked".

The four candidates in the debate were Nick Hillman for ther Conservative Party, Tony Juniper (Green), Nick Huppert (Liberal Democrat) and Daniel Zeichner (Labour).

My money for the election is on Nick Hillman. Not because I'm a conservative (which I am), but because one of the first things he spoke about is relevant to my immediate family. The debate was sponsored by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership; all the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates mentioned Cambridge University's potential to provide leaders, and rightly so: but Nick was the only person to mention Cambridge Regional College in the context of learning to be a builder. My daughter Minora has no desire to be an academic, but she wants get a job so that she can earn money and buy nice things.

Nick later mentioned that Cambridge is good at producing eminent professors, but not perhaps so good at producing, say, competent engineers. Personally, I used to enjoy a conversation about the ablative absolute with Professor Calculus of blessed memory, but we both agreed that when your boiler's gone south, you need somebody who's been trained to fix boilers (who, the job having been done, might very well have wanted to talk about the ablative absolute).

I didn't forsee emerging with a respect for the position for another party, but the Green's Tony Juniper eschewed the language of the debate being over, and left me with a longing for a time when those of us on both sides of the climate change debate can cool our heels and concentrate on what needs to be done.

I felt sorry for the Labour candidate, David Zeichner, who said in his opening speech that the Conservatives might win. But I must admit to being a bit confused as to when he said that if the Conservatives won there would be no going back, because we'd go back to Mrs Thatcher's time: answers on a postcard please...

Zeichner appeared to be angry about everything he spoke about. At one point he referred to the number of young people "coring through apprenticeships", and he had every right to be proud of this, but it didn't seem to occur to him to deal with why apprenticeships had died: trade union stewards were put under pressure to oppose apprenticeships because apprentices were perceived to be doing work on the cheap (Zeichner is a national political officer for the trade union Unison).

What confused me most was Mr Zeichner's statement that, in 90 days, "our financial decisions may be taken by George Osborne and we will be part of an experiment that has only been tried once before, in Ireland, and we've all seen how that's going". He then appeared to excoriate Nick Clegg because he might support the party with the most votes - but that's not my reading of Clegg's interview with the Telegraph.

I think the most human part of the night was when a distressed lady asked people not to vote for "the witch", by which she meant "Magus Lynus Shadee", who claimed to have performed a ritual that would make somebody commit suicide. She made a special request that a photocopy of the Cambridge News article be given to "the Conservative". Nick had the eejit nailed - he wanted to open a shop, and was seeking attention.

It's significant that Nick Hillman is a historian, because history is about what worked, what lasted, what doesn't need fixing. It seemed to me that the Labour candidate, God bless him, had made his mind up beforehand what Nick was going to say and this informed his reaction, because very little of what Zeichner said was relevant to Nick's presentation.

It seemed to me that Mr Zeichner not only had his seat booked, but had reserved the empty chair next to him in order to occupy it with a conservative bogeyman that exists only in the Labour collective consciousness. I hope things work out well for him. Personally, I'll be voting for Nick Hillman, because I want to vote for somebody who cares, and who is part of a government that not only cares but does it in the real world.


  1. What an interesting article, wish I'd been there, and yes, let's hope Nick turns Cambridge blue!

  2. Too right, Ellee, let's hope - and I think he's in with a really good chance!

  3. Just to let you know, I'm in the race now too


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