As you are probably aware by now, the Candidates Debate I had organised for Jan 30th at Riverside School is now off, but there will be one on Feb 2nd in Lightcliffe.
According to Matthew Baker, Steph Booth's campaign manager, the main reason for her not wanting to participate in any debate I organised was my bias, and that they "don't want a repeat of the Big Green Weekend farce". To quote: "Although you strongly object to my view that you are politically biased you have said nothing to convince me otherwise. Your close connections to a site that is actively campaigning against Steph in Heb Web, your Twitter comments about your own campaigning against people in the Labour Party and general feedback from a number of sources rightly sets alarm bells ringing."
The irony, of course, is that I had decided to chair this debate myself precisely because Steph had been given such a rough ride at the Big Green Debate and intended to run it firmly, (with no booing or hissing).
I had made it quite clear from the beginning that on this occasion there were to be no questions of a personal nature and only on policy, (although under normal circumstances, voters would be entitled to expect the right to examine the personalities on offer) precisely to protect Steph from any of the lingering bad feeling resulting from the deselection of Janet Oosthuysen.
Mr Baker also attempted to rope my daughter into this fiasco with comments about the photograph of her with John Prescott as proof of my anti-Labour bias.
Maybe my "well known political allegiances" that caused him to decry my impartiality as a moderator would be my visible and vocal support in the Hebweb forum of John Rhodes, the trade unionist Labour candidate at the Hebden Royd bye-election. Or would it be my support of Chris McCafferty when the expenses scandal was embroiling those in Westminster? Maybe it could be that I posted "Go Greens" on my twitter feed at the time of the European elections when they were in with the slight chance of scraping into a seat at the expense of the BNP? Could it be my support of the hard-working Liberal Mayor of Hebden Royd, John Beacroft-Mitchell, well documented here?
At this point I must confess to publicly "tweeting" my horror at the idea of Tony Blair becoming President of Europe.
Considering all of the above, and that I have never made a derrogatory remark about Steph Booth thusfar, the only person who should feel at all entitled to question my impartiality is the Conservative candidate, Craig Whittaker.
The reality of the situation is that Steph needs to engage with the people that she wants to represent and this, in Hebden Bridge, will mean coming out and speaking to them whether she likes it or not.
As the campaign unfolds, the Booth camp may yet realise that Matt Baker's successful efforts to scupper this debate constitute an error of judgement resulting in the possible alienation of a large chunk of the local electorate and the frittering away of Chris McCafferty's legacy.
I could be wrong of course...
The reason I didn't press on with the debate using a Hatterslyesque prop (and it should be noted that a vast number of people have suggested to me that this should have been my course of action) is that my reason for holding it in the first place was to create an open forum where residents could actually find out what the candidates stood for, and what the fundamental differences between the parties were.
Whatever Steph Booth's motives for not wishing to participate were, to have gone ahead without the Labour candidate would not have allowed those differences to have been aired in a public forum.
It has also been suggested that another Labour party representative (of her choice) could have been used as a stand-in, but, imagine this, if Craig Whittaker had said he couldn't make it due to recently discovered personal committments, and that he was sending another Yorkshire Conservative called Billy Hague, this end of the valley would have been up in arms crying foul.
The hard truth is that without all of the candidates a full, fair and equal debate was impossible to hold.
However, there is a debate, organised by Churches Together, between all of the candidates in Lightcliffe on Tuesday 2nd February 2010 at 7.30 p.m. at Lightcliffe C. of E. Primary School.
Adding a little spice into the mix will be the prescence of an independent, former Calderdale Mayor, Chris O'Connor.
So, on the positive side, I have spoken to the organisers, and they are very happy to welcome Upper Valley residents to the audience. As a result of these conversations, I have gone ahead and ordered a 55 seater coach to take people, at no charge, from outside Ken's Kabin, opposite Hebden Bridge Memorial Gardens, to and from the debate.
The bus will leave at 6.30pm and, if anyone would like a seat, they will need to email me on email@example.com with COACH as the subject line and the names and contact numbers of those people they want seats for.
I acknowledge that this is no substitute for a real debate here, after all, 55 seats isn't really very many compared to those who would have gone Riverside School, but I'm afraid it's the best I can come up with under the circumstances...
Thanks for bearing with me.