A POLITICAL war of words has broken out between Labour and UKIP over an election hustings event in Sunderland.
UKIP’s North East MEP Jonathan Arnott wanted to stand in for party colleague and Sunderland Central parliamentary candidate Bryan Foster, who had to pull out of the debate at the last minute because his wife was seriously ill.
But when Mr Arnott arrived at the event, organised by Sunderland University’s politics department on Monday, he says Labour refused to debate with him because he is not a standing candidate.
UKIP also accused Labour of suppressing a statement that explained the reasons for the party’s absence from the event.
Labour hit back, saying its candidate, current Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, would not debate with someone who has nothing to do with the constituency.
Mr Arnott, who is a candidate for Easington in County Durham, said: “All of the other candidates were happy to debate with me. The Conservative candidate even passed on his best wishes for a speedy recovery for Mrs Foster.
Julie Elliott has debated many times with UKIP candidates and will continue to debate with UKIP candidates in the future, to show them up for what they are, more Tory than the Tories.Labour spokesman
“But Labour insisted that the event must be stage-managed to such an extent that the audience would not be allowed to know why a UKIP candidate was not present.
“I rearranged my diary at very short notice in the interests of democracy. Sadly, Labour politics is all about spin not substance, and stage management not genuine debate. This shows just how terrified Labour is about UKIP in the north of England.”
A spokesman for Sunderland Central Labour Party said: “This was a hustings for Sunderland Central. The Labour Party has been consistent that our candidate would debate with her fellow parliamentary candidates in Sunderland Central. Mr Arnott is not a candidate in Sunderland Central or indeed any of the Sunderland constituencies.
“Julie Elliott has debated many times with UKIP candidates and will continue to debate with UKIP candidates in the future, to show them up for what they are, more Tory than the Tories.”
Also standing for election in Sunderland Central are: Rachel Sara Featherstone (Green Party), Adrian Page (LibDem), Jeffrey Guy Townsend (Conservative) and Joseph Young (Independent).