Conservative candidate Robert Syms could be making an appearance in the form of a life-size cut-out at Poole’s hustings, after turning down all five events.
Syms is one of six candidates standing for election in Poole and the only one who has declined all hustings events, organised by Churches Together in Poole. Instead, he will be spending the week before the election in neighbouring Mid Dorset and North Poole, a highly contested marginal seat, supporting Conservative candidate Michael Tomlinson’s campaign.
UKIP have prepared a wooden effigy with Syms’ face on it. Their Poole candidate David Young, who left the Conservatives in 2010 to join UKIP, said it was “appalling” that Syms won’t show up. “It’s utterly extraordinary. I think it’s a denial of people’s basic democratic right to cross-examine their candidate”, he said.
He added: “It’s hard to believe that he’s so busy he can’t make one of those appointments, especially as parliament has been dismissed.”
“It shows a lack of respect for the voters of Poole,” agreed Mark Howell of Poole People, an independent local party. However Howell also said he thought that hustings events so close to the election were unlikely to drastically change the outcome.
The Chairman of Dorset Conservative Party, Cllr Mike Green, told the Bournemouth Echo that the party chose to send Syms to Mid Dorset and North Poole to support Tomlinson’s campaign “to form a united anti-Navitus group of Dorset MPs at Westminster”. Syms alleges that Churches Together in Poole, who organised the events, failed to consult him about the dates of the hustings.
Poole has been a safe Tory seat throughout its history, with Syms the incumbent MP for the past 18 years. Liberal Democrat candidate Philip Eades believes that Syms’ lack of attendance shows the flaws of the UK’s electoral system.
“It’s disgraceful,” he said. “Mr Syms is showing everything wrong with our democracy. He’s basically hiding from his own electorate.”
He continued: “MPs in safe seats don’t have to listen to their electorate, they don’t have to attend these kinds of meetings and they don’t even have to live in the constituency.” Syms has a house in West London and a flat in Poole.
UKIP will be hoping to gain from dissatisfaction among Tory voters. “The joke is that in Poole people think ‘MP’ means ‘missing person’,” said Young, in reference to Syms’ unwillingness to engage with the public.
Originally, five hustings events were planned for Poole, but one had to be cancelled because Labour candidate Helen Rosser also pulled out. Hustings, which provide an opportunity for the public to question prospective parliamentary candidates in their constituency, are currently being held across the country.
Poole hustings – dates
Tuesday 28th April – St Marys Roman Catholic Church, 211A Wimborne Road, BH15 2EG
Wednesday 29th April – All Saints Church, 28 Western Road, Poole, BH13 7BP
Monday 4th May – St James Church, Thames Street, Poole, BH15 1JN
Wednesday 6th May – St Mary’s Longfleet, Longfleet Road, Poole, BH15 2JD