Peterborough voters give their by-election verdicts at city hustings as party leader escorted out

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If too many cooks spoil a broth, then how many election candidates ruin a hustings?

The answer, it appears, is nine, judging by Tuesday night’s by-election debate at St John’s church in Cathedral Square, where the leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance Sid Cordle implored organisers to allow his party’s candidate Tom Rogers to join the eight-strong panel.

Sid Cordle, leader of the Christians Peoples Alliance.  Picture by Terry Harris

Sid Cordle, leader of the Christians Peoples Alliance. Picture by Terry Harris

Unfortunately his protestations carried on too long and too vociferously and he was eventually escorted away, but not before he made clear his disdain for the “undemocratic” process.

The Christian party candidate denied their say in the house of God may seem bizarre, but these are not normal times, with 15 candidates competing furiously to replace the disgraced former MP Fiona Onasanya who was successfully recalled by her constituents after falling foul of the law for lying over a speeding offence.

Ms Onasanya was expelled by Labour the day after her conviction and booted out through a Recall Petition after being jailed for three months.

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Hustings host Canon Ian Black made clear he had sought guidance from the Electoral Commission before whittling down the invites from the 15 candidates standing at next week’s by-election to eight, and a wide range of views were covered during the two hour meeting which covered everything from education, the environment and funding for public services.

Of course there was also one other matter which came up, one which has dominated the political agenda in recent weeks, months and years.

This has been pitted by some as the Brexit by-election, even though the winning candidate will be expected to be active on a range of different areas, not to mention fighting for their constituents.

So how much of a sway will the candidates’ views on Brexit have on how people vote on Thursday? The Peterborough Telegraph approached some of the audience members before the debate began to find out what really mattered to them when they choose their next MP.

The first person we spoke to wished to remain anonymous, but there was no doubting where his focus was at.

“We voted Brexit in the referendum and Theresa May said ‘Brexit means Brexit’. But we’ve still not had it - as simple as that,” he said.

“This election is just about Brexit. I don’t care about climate change or anything else at the moment, let’s get out.”

The man also made clear he wanted Leave supporting candidates other than the Brexit Party’s Mike Greene to stand down so as not to split the vote.

The next person we spoke to, a woman who also did not wish to give her name, was less worried about splitting the vote, but again she had one issue on her mind.

“I voted Leave so I want to see which candidates will represent Leave the best at the moment,” she said.

“It normally would have been other issues, but Brexit has dragged on too long - we’re a complete embarrassment to the world. If they had sorted it out I would have looked at other issues.

“Fiona was a disgrace - I voted Labour in the past but will never vote for them again. I’ve also voted Conservative.”

Layton Mills, who has mainly voted Conservative and UKIP at previous elections, said his biggest concern was “what the policies are and how they will impact Peterborough. Education in the city is one and housing is another”.

He continued: “I would like to hear them say they are going to tackle the crisis in housing and also address the issues in the education system.”

Robert Wortley, another who has for voted different parties in the past, said he wanted to hear about the candidates’ backgrounds and “what experience they have and policy ideas - what they can do for the city to improve the prospects for people”.

Members of the audience were invited to submit questions before the hustings began, and unsurprisingly Brexit was the issue which cropped up the most.

It also generated the lengthiest debate between the candidates.

Speaking after the two hours was up, Mr Mills said: “It was quite interesting, but they did not talk enough about local issues unfortunately.

“I was quite impressed by (SDP candidate) Patrick O’Flynn and Mike Greene. I’m going to go away and think about what was said.

“It made a nice change to see an open debate without any animosity.”

Mahebub Ladha, a Labour Party member, said: “I was a bit disappointed, I thought it was the same old rhetoric. I was particularly disappointed with the single issue parties.

“To all intents and purposes we know about Brexit but not anything else. Other issues were not properly addressed.

“In order to come to this meeting I had to wait 27 minutes for a bus, and now I have to wait another 45 minutes, plus the uncertainty about it.

“I was impressed by what (Labour’s) Lisa Forbes said and (Liberal Democrat) Beki Sellick.”

The other candidates taking part in the hustings were: Joseph Wells (Green Party), Paul Bristow (Conservative), Peter Ward (Renew) and John Whitby (UKIP).

The candidates not invited were: Tom Rogers (Christian Peoples Alliance), Dick Rodgers (Common Good), Stephen Goldspink (English Democrats), Alan “Howling Laud” Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party), Bobby Smith (independent), Andy Moore (Peterborough People’s Party) and Pierre Kirk (UK EU Party).