Election debate comment: Green behind the ears Loyd has a lot to learn

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 15 May 2017

PROSPECTIVE parliamentary candidates in North East Lincolnshire came together for a debate focused on business. Here business editor in Grimsby and Scunthorpe, David Laister, gives his take on proceedings...

WHAT a difference two years makes. 

In 2015 the Green Party candidate for Great Grimsby induced a gaffe that went viral when UKIP’s Victoria Ayling struggled to come to terms with renewables subsidies.

A very public lesson in geography played out, with help from Prof Brian Cox and attention from the national media, as a key word was missed when she infamously asked “what happens when the renewables run out?” 

More of a concern was her subsequent comment about offshore wind being “a fad”, yet while it would be slightly patronising to suggest youngest candidate Loyd Emmerson (Cleethorpes - Green) may wish he had stayed at home with his fidget spinner, it wasn’t such a good night out for the Greens this time round.   

UKIP, with help from Conservative and Labour, brought lessons in history, economics and European politics to the Business Questions event at Parkway Cinema.

Most notably, history, and his take on Grimsby’s fishing decline, and that over-fishing brought on the Cod Wars that eventually did for our fleet. While an appetite for fishing grounds opened up by steam trawlers certainly brought the confrontation to the fore, over-fishing led to the EU stock protection measures, Icelandic fisheries management and wider North Atlantic agreements now often lauded. Iceland’s “strong government” taking advantage around the Nato negotiating table brought on the rapid post Cod War demise, while ensuring generous fishing limits for the North Atlantic nation.

Both Mike Hookem (UKIP - Grimsby) and Martin Vickers (Conservative - Cleethorpes) spelled it out clearly, with the former enthusing about Brexit's opportunity for a return of 10m to 15m vessels - having been on both Humber and Thames campaign flotillas as regional MEP - while being realistic enough to point out there will be no deep sea rush under the Dock Tower, no immediate halcyon day return. 

Next up biology, and a ‘should’ve done better’ from Great Grimsby candidate Melanie Onn. Having dismissed learnings on stem cells of plant leaves while he was at school - he was in favour of early introductions to trades - Mr Emmerson was rebuked for the possibilities it offered to enter the area’s strong pharmaceutical industry. Later it emerged it may well have helped him capitalise on the much derided legalising of drugs answer he brought forward to ease homelessness.

Claiming Freshney Place has “killed off Freeman Street and killed off smaller villages,” was an interesting take on economics as he addressed business rate levels in a roundabout way too, while Mr Hookem was on hand again when it came to pointing out money doesn’t just come from Europe, it is purely redistributed by the “factory of legislation,” from taxpayers in other nations.

Poor Mr Emmerson was even corrected from the floor on E-Factor’s funding to provide business support, and then heckled when it came to a playground game of scoring themselves on performance. 

Going for an optimistic 5 1/2, “is that with a minus in front?” came a shout from the audience. Ouch.

There were other signs too it wasn’t a great outing: Mr Hookem had started one counter accusation with a “not wanting to gang up on you but...” as his answers were analysed and picked apart by the rest of the panel. 

Even on the attack, Mr Emmerson struggled to break through against four well established politicians. Ms Onn, bizarrely his attempt at a big catch when fishing for favour by underlining her “dislike” for her leader Jeremy Corbyn, backfired miserably as he asked if she’d be making the tea if it came to Labour-led Brexit negotiations.

She claimed credit for the makings of the joke in a previous interview, describing 'JC' as a personable person, though not shedding any light on her disappearance from the shadow cabinet, having earlier been making big in-roads in crucial fields such as energy and fishing in her first few months in Westminster.

What made the outburst all the odder was that he had given Mr Corbyn as his answer to a question over who could handle Brexit better, Labour's leader or Theresa May, with Steve Beasant (Liberal Democrats - Grimsby) not backing either, Mr Hookem backing Mrs May and Mr Vickers and Ms Onn naturally following the party line.

What Mr Emmerson did achieve, admirably, were repeated plugs for Cleethorpes’ Tale of Two, which apparently now has a wedding licence. It may be useful for a Mr Hookem and Theresa May love-in as the former conceded the election on the night to the Conservatives. If I were Mr Emmerson, and - Tale of Two-owning Abbys Group is understood to be his employer - I’d be tapping up some overtime to ensure that deposit is covered.

Mr Vickers, Mr Beasant and Ms Onn all handled the evening well, with the former underlining the Government’s record on the economy and the latter emphasising workers’ rights with passion and conviction. So too the low carbon economy aspiration and the association with the Energy Estuary. Mr Beasant made valid arguments about ensuring Grimsby has a role in the Northern Powerhouse as well, and bemoaning the apparent lost early opportunity of a national wind farm college, but this wasn’t a Nick Clegg TV debate win by any means. There was a little too much ducking behind the as-yet officially unreleased manifestos, and most were guilty - to the point convivial host Mark Webb made a note of holding the (possible) 2022 edition after they are published.

My money is on Mr Hookem being happiest with his performance (11 out of 10 if Diane Abbott was scoring - his joke, not mine), while North East Lincolnshire’s last two MPs will be happy to have negotiated such an event without embroiling themselves in any controversy. Mr Hookem put fishing opportunity in perspective, and while talking big numbers for the UK - £6.3 billion, roughly the entire Humber chemical sector) - he qualified it on a local level. He spoke with knowledge of running a small business and, while holding his party's reservations on renewables, welcomed the jobs here, while guarding against an ‘eggs in one basket approach’. 

Where predecessor ailing Ayling forgot the word subsidies, he wants to see the industry stand alone without them - as it is starting to elsewhere - but as Ms Onn rightly pointed out, nuclear is subsidised too in the UK. He was courteous to the panel, forthright, and frank about his party’s future too. Whether his absolute belief in a Conservative win will do for him and his party’s relevance remains to be seen - Cleethorpes' own John Humphrys even joked about the need to ask him any more questions after he declared Mrs May would still have the keys to 10 Downing Street come June 9 – but the man who perhaps had the most to prove out of the five, did a solid job.

Updated: 09.30am 16/05/17

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