Hastings hustings farce.

Nikki Turner Co-founder and director of SME Alliance, former Trustee of Whistle Blowers UK and a prominent victim of the HBOS fraud, who has fought courageously to bring the bankers to justice, has written:

I have known Nick for several years first via Whistlebowers UK and more recently he has been very supportive of SME Alliance, which like Nick, is supporting small businesses and lobbying for change in the financial sector.

I know that as a whistle blower Nick has campaigned tirelessly and successfully to expose corruption in a major UK Bank and he is a very good example of why whistle blowers are so important to society and why better protection should be in place for them. I’m delighted that after a long hard battle, Nick is now using his experience and knowledge to support businesses in his local community.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, at not having been invited to a hustings organised by Hastings Chamber of Commerce.

In the days before the internet and indeed television, one of the most important parts of any election campaign were hustings meetings. These were often very large public meetings where all the candidates standing at an election had the chance to address the audience and answer questions from them.

Although these days we have programmes like Question Time, televised leaders debates (where they manage to show up) and the endless 24 hour news cycle, at a local level hustings meetings are still the main opportunity local voters have to see and quiz their prospective MP’s in one place at one time.

After I became an officially nominated candidate for this general election I was told that there were likely to be only two or three hustings meetings held in Hastings & Rye constituency during the campaign. I have now been invited to two events both being organized by local Churches Together groups, one in Hastings and the other in Rye and both in the last week of the campaign.

The third hustings event I heard was happening was being organized by the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce this Friday. As I had not been contacted by anyone regarding this event, my agent got onto the Chamber to ask about arrangements. He was told that, after the events in Manchester this week the event was 99% likely to be called off but, in any event, they had decided to make this a ‘selective invite hustings’ with invites only extended to parties that currently had MP’s in Parliament.

As a private membership organization they are entitled to invite who they like to speak at their meetings. However, the front page of their website leads with the lines:

“Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business for Hastings, St Leonards and the surrounding area, representing its members to all levels of government and to community leaders across the statutory, community, voluntary and charitable sectors.”

How then does not inviting myself or the UKIP candidate standing at the election fit in with that? I would say it doesn’t. Surely my 13 years of campaigning against financial corruption – especially regarding my consumer fraud case against HSBC – means that I have some interesting things to say to our local business community that they should be able to hear?

For instance, I have been talking with various local independent businesses who are having their credit facilities cut and in some cases their bank accounts closed without explanation by some of our major high street banks – including HSBC. The types of financial corruption I have been highlighting include things that have directly resulted in the costs of business loans and overdrafts being higher than they would otherwise have needed to be.

In the end, looking at the Chamber of Commerce Twitter account today, their hustings meeting went ahead with just two candidates – from Labour and the Liberal Democrats – attending. Amber Rudd, who appeared on Question Time last night, seems not to have been able to make it. Frankly, this looks more farcical than the whole event just being called off.

After my experience last weekend at the “Progressive Alliance” workshop in Hastings that was little more than a cheerleading event for the Labour Party candidate, I am left seriously wondering how open and democratic politics in our town really is.