An Election Issue?

12/Apr/2010
Brian Scannell

So the election has been confirmed for 6th May and we all have to decide who we want to see making the decisions on our behalf.

The way the media cover the election, one could easily get the impression that we are actually going to be voting for Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg or one of the other party leaders directly.

But of course that isn’t the way our democracy works.

Instead, we each get to vote for someone to represent our local area in Parliament and this time around there are a staggering 650 constituencies – and therefore 650 MP salaries, offices, staff and (newly slimline) expenses to pay for.  I wonder when we’ll see “efficiency savings” having an impact in Parliament?

So if it is “my representative” I’m voting for, I want to know both their Party line and their personal views on the issues that matter to me directly.  I was fortunate to get the chance to see all three of the main local candidates in my area (see "Checking out the local talent below) and even if I didn’t get chance to ask all of my own questions, I did get the chance to hear their views on a wide range of issues.

I plan to follow this up with a series of questions I will e-mail to all of the candidates – and be armed with, should they come knocking on my door.  So far I’ve got:

  • What will you do to ensure that EPC are procured at the outset when a building is being marketed for sale or rental?  
  • For the Conservative and Lib Dem candidates, there is the specific issue that scrapping HIPs is likely to lead to job losses amongst both HIP providers and energy assessors as EPC non-compliance is almost certain to increase – so I want to know whether they will support or fight this proposal.
  • What will you do to improve energy efficiency standards in buildings in order to mitigate the risks of fuel poverty, energy shortages, increasing prices and the impact of carbon emissions?
  • Would you support mandatory energy efficiency standards for buildings – particularly homes – being sold or rented?
  • Home buyers currently suffer significant detriment because they don’t have access to expert guidance on the condition of the property they buy – so I want to know what they will do to address this and give buyers in England & Wales the benefits that those in Scotland have where the Single Survey is now mandatory.

I’d be interested to know whether you have any other questions you will be asking?

The need to know the individual candidate’s views as well as their Party view was brought home to me the other day when I read an article on the Financial Times website entitled “Tory hopefuls lack conviction” (link is http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7f6f8afa-4114-11df-94c2-00144feabdc0.html but not sure if it will work for non-subscribers).

The FT contacted 106 Tory candidates in “winnable seats”, but of these, only 31 agreed to answer questions.  According to the article:

“David Cameron is struggling to convince a group of his own party candidates of the merits of key Conservative policies…  Of those who answered, only a handful unequivocally supported the idea that humans were causing climate change, while just five echoed the tough talk of George Osborne, shadow chancellor, on bankers' bonuses.”

And the article goes on:

“Many prospective MPs appeared unconvinced by the argument that humans were responsible for climate change.  Few believed governments should legislate on the issue.” [my emphasis]

It really brought home to me that simply knowing the Party line on an issue isn’t enough.  I want to have some hope that my representative will be fighting my corner when it matters.

According to the Lottery, “you have to be in it to win it”.  When it comes to politics, we’re all “in it” whether we like it or not.  So it makes sense to try to find out what the individual candidates think before putting our trust in their number.

Checking Out the Local Talent

I recently attended a public event organised by NHBC (who have their HQ in Milton Keynes) at which the candidates for the three main parties each made a short presentation and then took questions.  The event was held before the date of the election was known, but all three knew they were under starting orders.

The Conservative candidate was emphasising the benefits of local democracy and harking back to the days of strong local mayors and the amazing things that were achieved in some cities in the late 19th century.  He was somewhat affronted when I pointed out that very few people actually had the right to vote in those days.

The Labour candidate (current MP) was trying to fight off her back foot.  She definitely suffered from the fact that she knew far too much about the realities of being in Government – it does tend to cramp one’s ability to make sweeping statements and offer glib solutions.

The Lib Dem candidate was by far the most entertaining – a genuinely bright and witty guy – and some of the policies he was advocating were thought provoking and seemed more imaginative than anything else I heard.  But he wasn’t a local and for some of the audience, that clearly meant that he wasn’t credible as their representative.

It was an interesting evening and it was useful for me to see the individuals, find out a bit about them (such as whether they have ever had a real job i.e. one outside the weird world of politics) and their views.

If you get the chance to attend a similar event in your area or even just single candidate events so that you can see, hear and question them, I would urge you to do so.  If you’re going to be paying their salary for the next few years, you might want to interview them first!

Brian Scannell is Managing Director of National Energy Services

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