Through the Looking Glass
The General Election May 7th Cambridge Guildhall
5. Media Controversy
John Vale, Political Correspondent, CEN, on why Hustings events are so important and how old and new media can work together amicably.
The NHS Hustings at Wesley Methodist church on April 13th had been controversial and gave rise to negative national media coverage for the Conservative PPC, Chamali Fernando, the only woman standing for the seat.
The story about what Chamali was "supposed" to have said as a member of the Health panel about the mentally ill wearing coloured wristbands when answering a question from a member of the audience at the Hustings event, was tweeted by a local blogger. The saga became known as the so called "wristband gate" affair and escalated to a dispute with one of her opponents the LD Julian Huppert.
We asked local Cambridge Evening News political correspondent, John Vale, to give us his take on the story just after he had Chaired a Housing Hustings (April 23rd) with all the candidates.
If you go to our Candidates section you can also here Chamali's comments about the saga, and how she became the subject of "death threats" and abusive Tweets. She had months earlier removed herself from Twitter due to what people term "Trolling", unwanted threatening attention from individuals.
John told us: "I have been to a dozen hustings, and there are very few hustings where the candidates have put a foot wrong. They are, under very intense scrutiny. The controversy is an offshoot of how many events there are in Cambridge and the coverage. We have very prominent citizen's journalists and they go to a lot of events, and while there are certain issues about what they say and their interpretation the dedication and coverage they provide is invaluable."
"Scrutiny is so important in politics, you get it at the Hustings, and at the grassroots level bloggers give a lot of scrutiny, whereas I have to prioritise more. I don't go to everything, perhaps I should, but they go to more events and provide that scrutiny so I can't fault them. I am a big fan of new media and a broad range of coverage."
"I pick the highlights of a story, the most credible points, but the bloggers will have their video and I can link to that and that gives people the option of reading my article quickly or if they have more time, they can see the event, I think that is brilliant. When I am at a Hustings I will normally send out 20 or 30 Tweets of live coverage, but tonight I was chairing the event."
"Hustings, certainly matter in Cambridge, the level of debate and knowledge is staggering. To be a political reporter here is wonderful. If I write something wrong I am told about it. If I called up one of the candidates they might give me a slanted answer, whereas here it is raw, you get the whole picture rather than relying on second hand information or spin."
Listen to the interview:-
or download the MP3 file (file size: 6.99MB)
Dedication: This Eight part documentary is dedicated to my friends Simon Sedgwick-Jell (Green Party), and Ann Stockford (Labour Party). Both were well known political campaigners in Cambridge. They may support different parties but each supported and participated in democracy and befriended me. My respect goes to the candidates of all the political parties and their teams of supporters.