The candidates for Harrow East clashed over race relations and the expenses scandal at The HA1’s pre-election debate last night.
Outgoing Labour MP Tony McNulty, Conservative candidate Bob Blackman, Liberal Democrat candidate Nahid Boethe and UKIP candidate Abhijit Pandya were at The University of Westminster to discuss questions raised by voters and students.
The first question asked referred to the quality of race relations in local communities, with Black and Minority Ethnic groups now making up 55 per cent of Harrow’s population. UKIP member Mr Pandya, who is of Indian origin, caused controversy and was laughed at by the audience when he talked of creating “one Britishness” by encouraging the various ethnic communities to attend gatherings promoting British culture.
The other three candidates disagreed and were united in claiming that Harrow East’s ethnic communities were functioning well living side by side and bringing their own different cultures to the community.
Mr McNulty directly attacked Mr Pandya saying: “You haven’t got a clue what you are talking about.
“You are a BNP man in a suit.”
Conservative candidate Mr Blackman said: “There is great tolerance here of different races and religions. Mrs Boethe added: “We are all the same, we are all living together”. The debate soon moved on to the expenses scandal.
Last year, Mr McNulty was shamed by The Daily Telegraph who reported that he had claimed second home allowances on a house that his parents live in. One Stanmore resident in the audience, Graham Hall, told the panel: “I’m afraid MPs in Parliament just do not get it, at how annoyed the public are over the expenses scandal.”
Addressing Mr McNulty directly, he added: ”You were a minister at the Home Office. You really should know what it is to be upright and honest in your dealings over your expenses.”
Mr McNulty said that he had taken advice from the fees office on his expenses 10 years ago and that the advice turned out to be wrong. He has since apologised both to his constituents and to Parliament and paid back the amount.
Mr Blackman said: “All politicians should be apologising rather than saying ‘I’ve done nothing wrong’. What I hear when I go door to door is that the current Labour MP has let everyone down and I don’t know how he has got the cheek to stand. ”
Mr Pandya said he would push for criminal sanctions for MPs who abuse the system whilst Mrs Boethe promised transparency from the Liberal Democrats.
Other issues discussed included problems caused by the closure of the Jubilee and Metropolitan lines at weekends and the failure to get proper disabled access at Stanmore and Harrow on the Hill stations. Mr McNulty blamed London Mayor Boris Johnson and Mr Blackman blamed former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.
Mrs Boethe said both parties were guilty of failing to get things done. The Labour and Conservative candidates clashed again over the future of Northwick Park Hospital.
Mr McNulty told Mr Blackman to “stop lying” over fears the Accident and Emergency department there could be closed. “There is no threat to the A&E department at Northwick Park Hospital,” he said.
“We want to grow and develop and get to a stage where Northwick Park Hospital is one of the finest hospitals in London.”
Mr Blackman disagreed, saying: “The position is that NHS London are consulting at the moment… and that says 5 out of 8 of the A&E services in north-west London will close. “It’s not fair to say that there‘s no threat to Northwick Park Hospital, because there is.”
The discussion finished on particularly sensitive issues when a member of the audience asked the candidates what they intended to do about the proposed job cuts at the University of Westminster.
All candidates offered to speak to the Vice Chancellor. Bob Blackman closed the discussion saying: “If constituents are being faced with job cuts, I would ask why this is being done. You need the expertise of teachers to be passed on to the students. You cut these people at your peril.”
Madeleine Atkins is also standing for election in Harrow East as a representative of the Green Party, but did not take up the opportunity to attend last night’s debate.
The report of yesterday’s debate was written by Victoria Maw. See photos from the event and more over at The HA1