Saturday, October 20, 2012

An evening of Common Sense in Thetford

If I were to be entirely honest, the prospect of spending a Friday evening in Thetford wouldn't be an obviously attractive prospect. On a cold, dark, drizzly evening in October, being at home with a glass of wine and a cosy fire offers a much more tempting alternative. However, an invitation to take part in a debate, organised by the Common Sense Club, was sufficient to lure Ros and I out and across the county border.

The Club was inspired by Thomas Paine, who was educated at our venue, Thetford Grammar School, and they organise events with themes linked to his works. Last night's event was a panel debate with the theme, "These are the times that test men's souls".

It's about 45 minutes to Thetford, and stopping only for an excellent dinner at The Dog at Norton, Ros drove through the rain and murk to our destination, before meeting up with the rest of the panel - Liz Truss, the local Conservative MP, Peter Smith, Labour's Parliamentary spokesman, and Sandra Walmsley, from the local Greens.

It was a fairly good debate, with some lively questioning, and was over almost too soon. So, what were my impressions?

Liz Truss, that well-known former anti-monarchist and Liberal Democrat, turned up just before the debate started, and left immediately after it ended - an odd approach to take in your own constituency, I would suggest. And for someone tipped to achieve great success, I can only note that the stocks of talent on the Conservative benches are worryingly slight. Let's just say that I wasn't impressed...

Peter Smith is old school Labour, and I rather liked him. He believes in things, but is perhaps reflective of the truth that, when you won't win - and he won't in South West Norfolk - you have the luxury of being yourself. I can't imagine that the Labour hierarchy would encourage him to fight a winnable seat, which is a pity, because he stands for some old-fashioned and decent principles. It's a pity that modern politics doesn't seem to value them much.

Sandra Walmsley did what a minor party politician can do so easily - be populist and generous - although I fundamentally disagree with her view that poverty is less important that inequality. I would happily take her to places where poverty denies people the ability to seek other rights. Nonetheless, she performed well given the rather greater experience of her fellow panellists.

I won't comment on Ros's performance, although she did get in the best appreciated joke of the evening.

Afterwards, Ros spoke to members of the audience who had approached her, including a young woman with, I presume, her father, who wanted to know how she could get involved in politics. Between us, we came up with plenty of ideas, and it would be nice if she found something that interested her as a result.

But soon it was time to go, and as we drove across 'bow and arrow' country, we reflected that it had a rather pleasant evening...

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