General Election candidates call for new hustings event in Jarrow after Labour rival's late withdrawal
General Election rivals have urged their Labour opponent to name a date for a hustings evening after she was the only candidate not to appear at a question and answer event.
Kate Osborne, who is defending Labour’s 17,263 majority in Jarrow, is said to have contacted an organiser at Churches Together in South Tyneside around an hour and a half before Monday night’s 7pm meeting to say that she was unwell.
Yet the person she emailed was not at the hustings and did not pick up the message until shortly after the event ended – leaving people inside mystified about her absence.
Many of her rivals said they are dissatisfied with the nature of the explanation and wondered why another member of her Labour team could not have attended the Christ Church event to explain in person.
A spokeswoman for Ms Osborne, who earlier on Monday posted a picture of herself with colleagues next to Labour’s battle bus in Easington, would not confirm the time the email was sent and said “it would be impossible to organise another hustings a week before the election due to a full diary”.
A statement from her campaign team added on Tuesday: “Kate took ill yesterday afternoon and therefore couldn't attend the hustings.
“There was an email sent to the organisers immediately which unfortunately was not passed on so Kate was empty chaired, which was an unfair turn of events.”
Bernadette Askins, chairperson of Churches Together South Tyneside, said: “She emailed our secretary at 5.30pm to say she was unwell.
“This was unfortunate because we were expecting her to come. Unfortunately the secretary was at a meeting elsewhere so she did not get the message until 9.30pm.
“It was unfortunate that this was the case because no-one at the meeting seemed to know what was happening.”
Mrs Askins and candidates who attended said the event, which attracted an audience of more than 100 people, was still a success.
On the issue of Ms Osborne’s absence, Green Party candidate James Milne added: "The important thing is that the residents of Jarrow constituency have an opportunity to hear all the candidates debate before deciding on their vote.
“It's also important for our democracy that constituents can have confidence all the candidates are willing to listen to the people they represent and be held to account.
“That's why we're asking for another hustings, or for an opportunity to debate online if it's not possible to co-ordinate that in time."
Conservative candidate Nick Oliver also wants Ms Osborne to commit to another hustings and said: “There was palpable anger in the room at the time.
“A lot of people in the room wanted to know her view on Brexit and what she is going to do for the local area and she was not there.”
Fellow independent candidate Shaun Sadler called the lack of an explanation to the meeting “disrespectful” and said he would be in favour of a second hustings, continuing: “She has mentioned she has a strong voice sticking up for Jarrow. But we did not hear it last night.”
Independent candidate John Robertson said: “Someone should have turned up to speak on her behalf. It was right in the centre of Jarrow.”
Social Democrat candidate Mark Conway added: “There are a lot of Labour supporters working in the constituency. It would not have taken two minutes to come along and explain.”
Brexit Party candidate Richard Monaghan said: “If people are ill, people are ill. But the people of Jarrow in that room seemed let down by Labour.”
Yet Liberal Democrat candidate David Wilkinson insisted: “I did not think she was trying to avoid the public, why would she? I don’t think we should make party politics out of all this.”
A similar hustings event for the South Shields constituency takes place on Thursday, December 5, at the Living Faith Church, in Westoe Road, South Shields, at 7pm.