Election 2015 England

Election 2015: View from the West London Sinfonia

Factory, Britain, Office

The political canvassing is now in its final week, with the general election just days away. While politicians fight for support in towns and cities across England, BBC News will be speaking to those who matter most - the voters.

Music is a powerful tool. It can flex the emotions of any audience member, captivate its listeners and lead them to tears or laughter, create fear, compassion or conjure up a fierce and rousing patriotism.

It is the kind of emotional manipulation parliamentary candidates can only dream of mastering.

But what do the music-makers think of the election campaign so far?

Image caption With an assortment of candidates to choose from, where will the music-makers put their cross?

Once a week in a church hall in Ealing, members of West London Sinfonia tackle challenging and ambitious pieces of classical music.

It brings together a cross-section of the local community from GPs to full-time parents, their ages spanning decades.

They may hold a love of music in common, but what about their politics?

Image copyright WLS
Image caption What does West London Sinfonia see when it looks out at the election landscape?

Double bassist Mark McCarthy, says in his experience musicians are "usually not very political" but it is the prospect of a new direction that will attract his vote on 7 May.

"I like to vote for ideas," he says. "This time around minority parties are having a greater importance. The next parliament could be good for views otherwise kept off the main party agendas."

Lydia Stevens works as a GP and when asked whether she will be voting replies "I certainly will". She says she has "always followed politics, partly because my own job is at the mercy of politicians".

In Ealing that certainly rings true, with threats to close Ealing Hospital's emergency department just months after nearby Hammersmith Hospital had its A&E department replaced with a 24-hour urgent care centre.

Image caption Dr Lydia Stevens says problems with recruiting and retaining GPs needs to be addressed

But in this campaign Dr Stevens says the politicians have done "everything people hate" - the Tories have used "lies, negative campaigning and sweeteners" while Labour "don't listen enough to those at 'the coal-face'".

According to the Office For National Statistics, 86% of Ealing Central and Acton constituents consider themselves to be "in good health" compared to 81% nationally, but that is not necessarily reflected in the profession.

The 44-year-old said: "GPs don't have enough time with their patients. There are not enough GPs and a serious problem with workload, stress and burn-out, and growing problems of recruitment and retention.

"It beggars belief that bringing back the 48-hour access target is the answer. Sick people need same day access, non-urgent but important problems need to see the GP of their choice for long enough to deal with their problems, not a random GP, who doesn't know them, for eight minutes, just to fulfil a political target."

Facts and stats about the Ealing Central and Acton constituency

  • In 2010, 67% of those eligible voted compared to 65% nationally
  • The average house price is £417,000, double that of the UK average
  • Nearly 50% of constituents are educated to at least degree level, compared to 27% nationally
  • The community is diverse with 47% of constituents having been born outside the UK, compared to 13% across the country

Data from Office For National Statistics

Weighing up the options, and with promises that plans to close A&E departments will be fought, Dr Stevens concludes "I have to vote Labour this time".

While many around the country feel that their vote will not count, in Ealing Central and Acton, Labour requires a swing of just 3.9% to oust the Conservatives.

On the cusp of her career and wielding electoral power for the first time, 18-year-old music student Rebecca Cheung says the opportunity to vote "is one I will not pass up".

Despite only being 13 at the time of the last election she still feels the sting of the Lib Dem's promise over tuition fees and education policy is her priority.

Image caption Music student Rebecca Cheung is concerned about student fees and future employment

"I'm not a huge fan of what the current so-called coalition government has done", she said.

"They have left a lot of students and graduates in debt because of the unbelievable raise of tuition fees to £9,000 so students, like me, end up in debt as soon as we graduate.

"[They] have made it incredibly difficult to gain access to employment opportunities and the housing market."

Another first-time voter is cellist and press officer Caroline Hailstone who plays in the neighbouring Ealing Symphony Orchestra.

Image copyright WLs

While some deride young people as being "apathetic" many, like this 22-year-old, have been studying the political theatre.

Ms Hailstone said: "I have tried to put a lot of time into thinking about my vote, [but] in spite of these efforts, nothing feels clear to me. I find it hard to know who to believe, not only the politicians but the media coverage, and find myself constantly second guessing everything that is said."

For her, living in Ealing, the NHS is "definitely a key issue" although immigration is important too.

"The amount a party focuses on immigration will definitely influence my opinion on them, since it is clearly used as a political weapon...and I think exposes the fickle nature of certain politicians," she says.

Small business owner Bharat Parmer said he would be voting with his "small business owner hat on" but would mark his polling card with a warning to all parties.

Image copyright Wls
Image caption Business-owner Bharat Parmar said he would voting with his company in mind

He said: "Labour's intention to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour can be crippling for small businesses. The party which seems to have the most balanced approach is the Lib Dems, however, they don't have any chance of getting in, and I feel a vote for them will be wasted.

"I am begrudgingly going to vote Conservative only because they seem to understand that the way to recovery is economic strength."

But he warns: "All the parties leave me cold...[and] come across as being self-interested in gaining power almost at any cost.

"I think it's time for a new language and thought in politics."

Image caption For Philippa Griffin and Andrew Pears it is concerns beyond the constituency that matter

Environmental consultant and cellist, Andrew Pears, 60, also feels drama and greed have over-taken the reality of pledges and despite feeling "well informed on what the politicians are up to...I do not know if what I know is enough".

He said the campaign has suffered from a "lack of intelligent debate, the continual manipulation and abuse of statistics, the constant focus on the negative rather than the positive".

Candidates have also been "ignoring important issues - climate change, foreign policy, education" and dealing a blow to the parliamentary hopefuls he feels there is an "absence of true leaders".

For viola player Philippa Griffin, 26, who works in administration, it is also issues beyond the constituency which have focused her attention and says the "single most important issue for me is climate change".

Image caption Having played the violin for 60 years, Richard believes the economy is the key topic

She said: "All the other key issues at stake - immigration, the economy, the NHS - will be hugely impacted by climate change if greenhouse gas levels are not curbed and fossil fuel divestment does not take place.

"Positive steps are being made, but we need a government to take radical, leading action, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't worry that the UK will fail to deliver on this."

The note of political cynicism seems to ring through the orchestra with oboe player Richard Partridge, 69, feeling that "all the parties are inventing policies on the hoof to bribe the voters".

And Richard Norris, a semi-retired chartered accountant who has played the violin for more than 60 years says the election campaign has been beset with "frivolous promises".

Image copyright WLS
Image caption Some players said they feared democracy could often fall with whoever beat the drum loudest

He said: "Undoubtedly the most important issue is the economy. Successful growth will resolve many of the arguments about spending and reducing the national debt."

But he remains concerned that for many voters "the issues which should guide the decision are often complex and beyond reasonable comprehension" such as the European Union and foreign policy.

The 68-year-old adds that despite democracy sometimes being mistaken for a "contest of popularity, rather than a test of competence" those elected must remember to work "for the benefit of all and not just his supporters".

The uncertainty, excitement and drama of this election has been akin to a great symphony or opera, but only when the curtain falls next Thursday will we know who can step forward to take a bow.

The candidates for Ealing Central and Acton are:

  • Jon Ball (Liberal Democrat)
  • Angie Bray (Conservative)
  • Scott Dore (Workers Revolutionary Party)
  • Peter Florence (UKIP)
  • Rupa Huq (Labour)
  • Jonathan Notley (Independent)
  • Tammy Rendle (Above and Beyond)
  • Andrzej Rygielski (Europeans Party)
  • Tom Sharman (Green)

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