All areas covered as hopefuls vying to be Romford MP grilled at church hustings

Parliamentary candidates for Romford

Parliamentary candidates for Romford - Credit: Archant

Many things can influence a decision made at the ballot box and the chairman of a church hustings wanted to make sure all bases were covered – dog or cat person? Rugby or football fan? Inny or outy?

On the panel at All Saints Church, Hornchurch, were the candidates vying to be Romford’s next MP – Andrew Rosindell (Con), Sam Gould (Lab), Ian Sanderson (LibDem), Lorna Tooley (Green) and Gerard Batten (Ukip).

For the record there were no big surprises. Mr Rosindell – often seen with pooch Buster – is a dog man who declined to reveal the leanings of his belly button to a church full of voters. While Mr Sanderson, Ms Tooley and Mr Gould are all cat people. Mr Batten chose not to divulge to chairman Phil Grundy his animal preferences.

Luckily for those gathered these were the only abstentions of the night and the candidates went on to be grilled on immigration, supporting communities, assisted suicide, local services, marriage and welfare.

When asked about welfare Mr Rosindell said: “If you pay people not to work, people will often decide not to work. You need to encourage people to want to work.

“Benefits are out of control and have been for many years.”

Ms Tooley disagreed, telling those gathered she had not seen evidence of people choosing to be reliant on benefits and wished to see easier access to childcare.

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Mr Gould questioned the policy that has seen those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance work unpaid, saying it was removing permanent jobs from the market.

Meanwhile Mr Batten told those gathered more jobs needed to be created and Mr Sanderson said he was uncomfortable with the “demonisation” of those on benefits.

The debate turned to local services and Mr Gould told constituents his party would provide more funding for Queen’s Hospital by raising taxes for those in the highest bracket.

Ms Tooley said the Green Party would bring academies and free schools back under local authority control and scrap Trident to fund affordable homes.

Both Mr Batten and Mr Rosindell said immigration needed to be brought under control to ease pressure on services. While Mr Sanderson said the Liberal Democrats had plans to build 300,000 homes and increase NHS funding.

Many of the questions put to the panel concerned religion, including how the candidates would help churches support communities.

Mr Rosindell said: “Churches are the bedrock of our community.” He added: “The state seems to have taken over from the church and voluntary sector.”

Ms Tooley said her party “believes in helping local businesses and people to help each other irrespective of what background they come from or what beliefs they have”.

Mr Batten said he would give his support, but believed legislative opportunities would be minimal.

Mr Sanderson said: “I’m greatly in favour of you [church groups] continuing to help and sustain communities.” While Mr Gould pledged to continue his personal support, including helping at foodbanks.