On Thursday there was a hustings in St Paul's Church. Four of the candidates for the new parliamentary seat in Hammersmith answered audience questions on finance, small business, the NHS, electoral reform, immigration and housing.
Not the best timing - it was the same night as the second televised leader debate and we were deprived of the chance to hear more anecdotes of said leaders' life-changing meetings with Joe Public. But more importantly there was football to be missed. Sigh.
The audience was asked for written questions on the night and questions were also submitted via Twitter and email. Shirley Cupit's question about housing was selected:
"Not surprisingly, all the parties talk about community empowerment. Do you believe that residents on council estates should be entitled to vote about the future of their homes rather than having decisions imposed on them by local councils? And do you guarantee that you would work with residents in Hammersmith and Fulham to gain the right to that vote?"
Shaun Bailey (Conservative) did not answer the question but instead rather predictably accused Labour of scaremongering about the Council's intentions.Rollo Miles (Green) said that the Green Party supports the formation of housing co-ops. It was unclear what his response was about the vote but we inferred a 'yes'.
Andy Slaughter (Labour) gave an unequivocal yes to votes for residents.
Merlene Emerson (Liberal Democrats) disagreed with Shaun Bailey’s accusation of scaremongering and said that the threat from the Council was real. It was unclear what her position on the vote was but we inferred a 'yes'.
Shirley approached Shaun Bailey after the meeting to ask for an answer to her question. His answer was no, he does not support residents having a vote on the future of their homes. His reason? That the majority of people on the estates are not able to understand the issues and would be manipulated into wrong decisions.
This troubles us immeasurably.
Think about it - it's an attack on democracy. If you don't view people as capable of voting on issues that directly affect them, what next? How can you see them as desirable voters in local and general elections?
It's paternalistic in the extreme: "We know what's good for you. You don't." Shaun Bailey often talks about people needing to take responsibility for their lives, yet faced with an opportunity to back this up with clear policy he reneges on it.
If he doesn't think people are well informed or well educated enough to understand the issues and vote sensibly then what would be an empowering approach? Surely it would be to educate, to inform, to talk, to listen, to openly and honestly try to win hearts and minds? Not to simply disenfranchise.
Most of all it betrays a shameful lack of respect for people who live on our estates. Mr Bailey is very keen on talking about his background in social housing and seems to suggest that this means he can speak for and about all people from similar backgrounds. Yet he fails to demonstrate basic respect for those same people. His comments actively contribute to the negative stereotyping that we continually experience at the hands of his party. It's pretty unbearable from Stephen Greenhalgh and Co but from someone who claims to come from amongst us it's truly intolerable.
Let's try and nail this once and for all. We are not a bunch of illiterate, thicko morons being helplessly manipulated by the Labour Party for political gain. We are a diverse community of homeowners and tenants with genuine, well-founded concerns for our homes. Just take the trouble to read this blog from the beginning for evidence of that. And those of you who simply accept the Council version at face value, just be prepared to ask yourselves this - could it possibly be you that is being hoodwinked?
But let's end on a more positive note. After forcefully disagreeing about the vote Shaun Bailey did say that people should not be forced to move against their will. When pressed he gave a guarantee that he will fight with residents to prevent this, even if it means going against his own party. We were delighted to hear this, particularly as it shows he is in disagreement with David Cameron on such an important question.
Surprising? Absolutely, given the close relationship Mr Bailey has with the Council. And we hope that he will be as good as his word, irrespective of the election result. We'd hate to think he was simply speaking for the cameras.