A district councillor drafted in to replace Lewes Conservative candidate Maria Caulfield at a climate change hustings is alleged to have ‘climbed over some bins and an eight foot fence’ rather than re-enter the hall, after making an early exit on Monday night.
Councillor Nancy Bikson, who represents Wivelsfield, was a last-minute replacement for the Conservative prospective MP, who was reportedly too busy to attend the hustings at Priory School.
Ms Bikson made the sharp exit after delivering a brief speech explaining that she had little time to prepare.
The Guardian reports Ms Bikson was seen climbing over the bins and fence by a teenager and reports of the incident have also been widely circulated on social media.
The girl, who did not wish to be named, told The Guardian : “I came outside and I was about to cycle off and she was behind the gate next to our school canteen which was locked and said, ‘excuse me, can you help me?’ She sounded quite desperate.
“I said the only way back out is through the auditorium and she said she didn’t want to go back through the auditorium because of everyone.
“She said ‘they all despise me … and they don’t want me to go back in there’.”
Ms Bikson, who said she ‘cared deeply about the planet’, before opting to leave, later told the Evening Standard: “It was only because there wasn’t any other way and I didn’t want to disrupt everybody. It was either that or sit outside for a couple of hours.”
Lewes residents reacted to the incident on social media. Jim Cornelius said on Twitter: “I couldn’t attend the climate change hustings in Lewes last night, but I’ve heard a report of what happened.
“All candidates each gave an opening four-minute statement. The Tory surrogate announced that she had not had sufficient time to peruse the questions and so would be leaving after making her statement.
“Unfortunately she left by the wrong exit and into a yard where the bins are stored, blocked by a wall and a locked gate.”
The hustings was organised by a climate alliance including Extinction Rebellion Lewes, Transition Town Lewes, Plastic Free Lewes, Keep it in the Ground Lewes, Divest East Sussex, Ovesco, Community Energy South & Riding Sunbeams.
It was hosted by retired environmental journalist Alex Kirby, with an introduction on the climate emergency by Dr Martin Meadows.
The candidates were asked to answer a series of questions pre-submitted by members of the public, followed by an open mic session debating issues such as public transport and flooding.
All candidates agreed on the urgency of the climate and ecological crises, with Johnny Denis of the Green Party describing the situation as ‘an absolute emergency’.
“The response has to start now,” he added. “We can’t just put it off until we get the right technology.”
Lib Dem candidate Oli Henman described the climate crisis as a ‘global phenomenon’, citing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and the threat posed by leaders such as Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump.
“It’s a global takeover by the far right,” he said.
He questioned the absence of the prospective Conservative candidate, adding he was disappointed Maria Caulfield wasn’t there to answer questions about plans for a ‘motorway-style road’ through the national park.
In her opening speech, Labour candidate Kate Chappell outlined four ways that Labour is addressing the climate emergency: acknowledging it, showing leadership, investing 250 billion in a green transformation fund and taking on companies that don’t do enough on climate change.
“We, human beings, created this problem,” she said.
“But the good thing about that is that we have agency and we can now put our minds to it and do something about it.”
She added: “Many of us here have done our bits, but that individual action has not been met with equivalent action from corporations.”
Independent candidate Paul Cragg said that he was most concerned by the UN’s policy of continued economic growth.
“Ultimately though,” he said, “It’s all a waste of time, we’re not going to win this war.”
The candidates were asked to answer a series of questions pre-submitted by members of the public, followed by an open mic session.
The issues debated included how candidates planned to support public transport, what emergency plans they would put in place for flooding locally, their ideas for increasing local biodiversity and what they would be doing at Christmas to address the climate emergency.
There was widespread accord across the podium on many of the issues, with the only major disagreement arising over a question on tactical voting.
The Express approached Ms Bikson and Ms Caulfield for their comments on this story but had not received anything by the time we went to press.