Well, where do I start in my summary of what has been a hectic week for the historic market town of Newark? We’ve had television crews galore, journalists roaming through our streets and in our shops and we’ve politicians sniffing around like we’re some sort of free steak. In fact, I don’t think we’ve seen this much action since the burning of the castle.
Newark being on the news makes a nice change from that house explosion story a few months back. This time, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag.
Firstly, we had the excitement of ITV’s newly-titled breakfast programme “Good Morning Britain” filming a wheel of fortune in the market square. I call it newly-titled as it may no longer be called “Daybreak” but it still packs that lacklustre pong.
That was last Wednesday and around the time that Patrick Mercer, Newark’s Conservative-elected MP, finally announced his resignation after a drawn-out investigation into the cash-for-questions scandal where he was filmed by undercover reporters taking payments in return for asking questions in parliament. His ironic statement provided the only laughs of the whole affair, “No point in shilly- shallying or trying to avoid it. What has happened has happened, I’m ashamed of it. Therefore, I’m going to do what I can to put it right . . . I’m going to resign my seat.” That’s right, Patrick – no shilly-shallying around!
The people of Newark, rightly, feel outraged by this and the length of time it took for him to resign. Triggering a by-election got me very excited as it has given me the chance to vote in two separate elections (European and by-election) before I turn 19. For most of you, that probably sounds like nothing but believe me it is like all my Christmas’ have come at once.
Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, toyed with the prospect of standing in the by-election but quickly announced he would not be standing. This was the right decision as his ties with the constituency were non-existant and he would not have served the consituents as well as they would have deserved. We also had whispers that THE Boris Johnson would be standing for the Conservatives. That was never on, surely? Anyhow, as of today it was announced that Roger Helmer would be standing for UKIP instead.
As a former-Conservative and MEP for fifteen or so years he is vastly experienced in the political arena yet his views over the years have given me cause for concern. His views on homophobia and women are pretty disturbing, although he has dismissed such views afterwards.
Helmer said about the by-election, “It would be a huge honour to be elected to serve as Newark’s MP and I will be giving my all over the next few weeks to achieve that outcome.”
On Saturday evening I had the chance to meet him in person at a European elections hustings event in Newark. It was my first experience of any political event and it was quite bizarre but fun at the same time to be honest. As a student journalist and first-time voter, I headed down there to see if my mind would be made clearer. UKIP members were a plenty and clear to see with their purple ribbons displayed on pin-striped suits. They were the most engaging group there as several came over to chat with me. One of these were Roger Helmer himself whom I shared five minutes or so of small talk.
The politicians in attendance were Roger Helmer (UKIP), Rupert Matthews (Conservative), Bill Newton Dunn (Liberal Democrat) and Linda Woodings (Labour). I don’t blame them for having their entourages with them but it seemed a shame that most of the people at the event seemed to be members of a party and hence wouldn’t be swayed by what was said in the debate.
After the opening statements had been given, it was down to me to deliver the first question. It read, “if elected, what policies will you campaign for and support in Europe that will benefit the local area in particular?” That was a pretty straight forward question, I thought. I knew that Europe dealt with big issues so what I was looking for in their responses was an ability to contextualise bigger issues into local relevance.
I had decent responses from Helmer who said what I already knew about the difficulties to campaign on local issues and that pulling out of the EU would benefit the local area. Linda Woodings also said she would fight for the UK to apply to the EU relief funds more often than has been the case.
Rupert Matthews came out with some utter tosh about increased tourism to Newark castle, which was almost as nonsensical as his UFO books. Whilst the Lib Dem candidate said he would fight to stay in Europe which would benefit everyone, locals included. He was quiet all evening apart from his bizarre rants against UKIP’s supporters where he called them “clowns” and “Putin supporters”.
I didn’t like that at all. It’s all well and good having a differing opinion but you don’t have to stoop that low. I thought a man with his experience would have more tact about him. Obviously not …
The two-hour debate was a joy to sit in on and I’ll be looking to attend more like it.
As for Newark, I’m sure there’ll be more attention thrown onto it in the run-up to the by-election on 5th June. But until then Newarkers, sit back and enjoy the sunshine! But keep your tops on; you don’t know where the cameras will turn up next.