In Thursday's Lincolnshire Echo Cllr. Reg Shore (Liberal Democrat) had his opportunity to respond to questions from the paper's readership as a candidate for the Lincoln Constituency at the next general election, on Friday Mr. Karl McCartney (Conservative) had his answers published. Today the glare of analysis focuses on the incumbent, Ms Gillian Merron MP (Labour), Minister of State for Public Health.
The first question, about raising student tuition fees, is answered, frankly, quite badly. Ms Merron begins by talking about an independent review and taking to students:
"There is an independent review... currently looking at this very issue which I've discussed with students and their student union representatives in Lincoln.Ms Merron concludes using a party soundbite:
"A rise in tuition fees is not a foregone conclusion and it would be wrong to pre-empt the finding of an independent review."
"I believe in the principle and the practice that the opportunity to go to university should be open to the many, not just the privileged few."Unfortunately for Ms Merron her voting record tells a different story and shows that she supported university top up fees 92.9% of the time.
The second question is about fox hunting, Ms Merron has a 100% record of voting in favour of the Hunting Bill which made the hunting of wild mammals with dogs prohibited. Ms Merron says:
"I am 100 per cent against this barbaric so-called 'sport' and voted to bring an end to it five years ago."A clear, simple and straight-forward answer. Good. She goes on to criticise 'the Tories' declaring the repealing of the act to be 'one of their top priorities, which is probably unnecessary, incumbents should try and rise above the herd of those who have aspirations to their jobs, secondly what her opponents may or may not do is unnecessary - you do not need to outline the other sides policy, thirdly if fox hunting is the main swing issue for a voter her clear policy position will be enough. In my experience most people who are against fox hunting care deeply about it, those who participate also care deeply and then those in the middle who would not rate it a priority.
The third question, regarding rail freight through the city, Ms Merron answers concisely, with empathy and show a genuine grasp of the problem and solutions. She also promises to 'have some news soon' - so I guess we will have to wait and see.
In the fourth question Penny Kemp asks whether Ms Merron would vote 'to get rid of the minimum wage?' Ms Merron responds:
"Absolutely not. I have long believed in, and have actively worked over many years for, the national minimum wage - which was introduced by Labour and opposed by the Conservatives.In the fifth question she echos Cllr. Shore's view and criticises the view of Mr. McCartney on parliamentarians having second jobs, she says:
"It has been one of the most important things we have done in government and I was proud to speak up for it in parliament, as one of the MPs who made sure it became legislation."
"I have never had a second job outside Parliament and I do not believe that MPs should do so.Responding to the following question about concessionary bus travel for the over-60s Ms Merron says she is 'proud' of the scheme the government introduced in 2008 and that all people over 60 (and some eligible disabled) can use buses across the country for free. Unfortunately Ms Merron conveniently forgets the problems this has caused for local authorities in Lincolnshire, when the scheme did not provide travel before 9:30am and ultimately has only been made 24-hour by councils chipping in. Bus companies too don't fully approve of the system which in some cases values a concessionary traveller at a third of any other adult.
"Being a Member of Parliament, along with the additional responsibilities that all MPs take on such as chairing select committees or being ministers, is a full time job - in the public interest.
"MPs seeking an extra private income by having an additional job in their own financial interest, not the public interest, cannot do justice to their constituents."
Asked what position in the Cabinet Ms Merron would like to hold she responds:
"Secretary of State for Health. The NHS is our country's best-loved public service and Labour's proudest achievement. I will always stand up for it."Andy Burnham MP, Secretary of State for Health should watch out!
Asked about the eastern bypass Ms Merron states that Lincoln has received significant government investment in the roads. Then the clanger:
"I brought together key local players to secure the future introduction of a direct, speedy, and regular Lincoln-to-London train service."Forgetting that under her time in the ministry of transport Lincoln lost it's direct service to London!
Finally Ms Merron addresses the issue of privatisation of the Civil Service and says that there are 'some circumstances' where there are benefits to using 'outside expertise to improve delivery of services'. Not the ringing endorsement that a union, such as the Commercial Service Union would be looking for.
Nevertheless, a polished performance by Lincoln's Gillian Merron MP, demonstrating a decent knowledge of the city, it's residents and the issues. A final score of 8/10 - beating Mr. McCartney's 7/10 and Cllr. Shore's 3/10.