6th June 2017
By Kate Clark
On Saturday, I went to the only hustings Sheryll Murray had agreed to attend, in Callington.
I knew she had already refused to attend two such meetings in Downderry and Liskeard. The latter had been organised by the collective churches of Liskeard, chaired by a well-known local officer of the Salvation Army and hosted by the Reverend Mark Pengelly in the Liskeard Methodist Church. This meant that Saturday was going to be the only chance to hear what Mrs. Murray had to say.
I have been following the politics of the General Election because as a disabled woman I know how badly I and my peers have been treated by the policies of austerity on the Welfare/Benefits system and the NHS. I have been through the horrendous experience of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and re-assessed for DLA’s successor, Personal Independence Payment (PIP). I was asked about my suicide plans, with no regard to how I was going to cope after the assessment. I have been placed in the Support Group for ESA yet did not get awarded any points for PIP, despite having been awarded DLA previously and nothing having changed in my medical conditions. This meant I lost my DLA payments and my husband/carer his Carer’s Allowance, placing us under severe financial strain. When this occurred, around Christmas 2015, I asked Mrs. Murray for help and support; her only response was to tell me to call the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. When I told her I had been unable to contact them despite many attempts, she was unable to offer any further advice. I was eventually able to get the help I needed through the Huntingdon’s Disease Association; however, I have friends who have not been so fortunate despite repeated appeals and suffering from the effects of a brain tumour and mental health problems. Another friend took his own life last year because he was unable to cope with the Benefits system and lack of mental health support. So these are matters of great personal importance.
I chose to sit in the front row at the hustings, as I find it easier to hear what is being said, and it is easier to get a seat as many people avoid sitting right at the front. The audience were all seated by 2.30pm, the advertised time for the meeting to start. The Green Party candidate, Martin Coney, was there, as were Gareth Derrick for the Labour Party and Phil Hutty representing the Liberal Democrats. Sheryll Murray did not arrive until 3.00. The Chair of the meeting made the excuse that the time had changed but he hadn’t been able to tell everyone. It appeared that, this being the case, he had been unable to tell anyone EXCEPT Sheryll Murray.
The first question asked made reference to the increased use of food banks in the constituency, and what the candidates would do to decrease this.
When it came to Sheryll Murray’s turn to answer, she began by describing at length what food banks were, how they were used and under what circumstances. She appeared to be prevaricating and avoiding answering the actual question, much as if she were filibustering a Bill in the House of Commons, a practice for which she is well known. I have seen her doing exactly that to defeat a Private Members Bill on Disabled Rights, and I was not prepared to put up with the same behaviour here. So I challenged her to stop waffling and answer the question. She did not do so, and went on to state that she was “happy” we have food banks in the constituency. This shocking admission was too much for myself and other members of the audience; there were many gasps of horror. Mrs. Murray’s next comment was to remark “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s just ignore these people”, indiscriminately indicating a whole section of the room with a sweep of her hand.
I felt I could no longer accept her condescending, contemptuous and bullying approach; I stood up, saying “How DARE you, we are HUMANS!” (I should like to point out that, contrary to allegations made in a Press Release issued by Mrs. Murray’s agent today, I did not reach into my bag in any ‘threatening’ way. I may have replaced a bottle of water from which I was drinking, and can be clearly seen to be drinking, in the film footage of the incident currently circulating on social media, but that is all). Before I had a chance to say anything else I was approached and physically pushed back into my seat by Mrs. Murray’s son, Andrew. Another member of the audience then stepped in between myself and Mr. Murray jnr to prevent further aggression.
Mrs. Murray then suggested she would leave the room. On being persuaded to stay by the Chair of the meeting, her next tactic was to try to have me ejected from the meeting, going so far as to request her agent call the police. I refused to leave and invited her to go ahead and call the police. It was clear she was perfectly willing to do so, but many other members of the audience stood up for me and she backed down.
During the rest of the meeting Mrs. Murray continually insulted, belittled and talked down to the audience. She repeatedly interrupted other candidates (the only candidate to do so) and repeatedly quoted standard Tory mantras such as “magic money tree”, “coalition of chaos” and “strong and stable leadership” whilst talking around and avoiding actually answering the questions the audience had put to the panel. It is noteworthy that all the other candidates gave proper, considered, direct and, above all, polite and respectful answers throughout the meeting. Mrs. Murray appeared on several occasions to talk to her son who was sitting several places further away from her than I was, and instructed him to photograph myself and other members of the audience, particularly those who were filming the proceedings. I have no idea to what purpose she might intend putting those photographs, but I am now fearful of her intentions. I find this behaviour extremely threatening and sinister.
I would like to thank all those who took the time to ensure that I was OK after the meeting, including the Labour and Green Party candidates, Labour CLP Chair and others. Anyone should feel able to attend a public meeting such as this without fear of such bullying and intimidation as that shown by Mrs. Murray, her agent and her son.