The eight candidates vying to become the next MP for Cardiff South and Penarth went head to head at a heated hustings meeting tonight, covering issues ranging from the Splott incinerator, to benefit reform and support for trade unions.
The debate at Splott’s STAR Centre was organised by Cardiff Trades Council and the PCS Trade Union ahead of Thursday’s by-election, which was triggered after Labour’s Alun Michael resigned the Westminster seat he has held for 25 years to contend the South Wales police and crime commissioner vote.
Candidates from Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green Party, Communist Party, Socialist Labour Party and UKIP were all present or represented at the hustings, which drew in an audience of around 60 people.
Opening proceedings, Cardiff South and Penarth assembly member Vaughan Gething spoke on behalf of Labour candidate Stephen Doughty, who was unable to attend due to a prior commitment.
Mr Gething said Mr Doughty would campaign for the whole constituency as an advocate for social justice, would support the living wage, oppose regional pay, and aim to engage in a “grown up debate” about the reform of the health service.
But Mr Gething said he did not know Mr Doughty’s views on Trident and nuclear weapons, and then had to leave to debate early himself to attend another appointment, to jeers from the audience.
Conservative candidate Craig Williams was also represented by an assembly member, South Wales Central AM David Melding, because of a family emergency. Mr Melding said Mr Williams would represent the Conservative’s centre-right vision, which supported workers’ right to strike, but only with proper endorsement, and the ideal of unilateral nuclear disarmament. On the issue of the controversial energy-from-waste incinerator planned for Splott, Mr Melding said incinerator technology could be appropriate on the right sites, but only with the mandate and approval of the local people.
Liberal Democrat candidate Bablin Molik spoke of her community work in the constituency, and understanding of its diverse communities as the only female and member of an ethnic minority among the candidates. She also said she was against the Trident nuclear programme, but came under fire when she voiced her opposition to the Splott incinerator, which was granted planning permission during the administration of the last Lib Dem/Plaid Cymru Cardiff Council.
But she held firm, telling a riled audience: “I am not a party puppet.”
The Community Party’s Robert Griffiths, a founding member of the Cardiff Against The Incinerator Campaign, said that despite support from individual party members, the constituency had been let down by Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems on the issue, but that he would continue to fight whether he was elected or not. He also fully backed trade unions, and said the issue of publicly trained healthcare staff being lost to the private sector needed to be tackled.
Luke Nicholas, standing for Plaid Cymru, said he would support the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the scrapping of Trident, a health care system focussed on healthier lifestyles, the capping of private sector rents, and the opposition campaign to the Splott incinerator.
Green Party candidate, Anthony Slaughter, said he often came across an attitude that “you green people are nice, but we have grown up things to talk about”. But he argued that the economic crisis and the environmental crisis were “one and the same”, and that his party had policies to deal with both. He spoke in support of repealing “Thatcherite” trade union laws, against Trident and “firmly against” the incinerator.
The Socialist Labour Party candidate Andrew Jordan was represented by John Tyrrell, who said Mr Jordan would stand up for the constituency’s people first – including the fight against the incinerator – but would also be against Trident and the NHS being “siphoned off to the private sector”.
UKIP’s Simon Zeigler surprised some by saying that although his party does not have a policy on trade unions, he considered them a “vital part of this society”. He went on to describe the prospect of an incinerator in Splott as “absolutely horrendous”, and said he would support the restructure of the NHS so that care was more locally managed.