So apparently there’s a General Election next week (Thursday 7th May). People are saying it’s going to be the closest – therefore most exciting – in decades. The media report that various issues are of concern to the voter on the doorstep; the economy, the NHS, housing, immigration, pensions and welfare, the EU, taxation, HS2, the environment, etc. But here at BRATS, there’s only one issue that really concerns *us* and that’s roller derby. We flicked through the main parties’ manifestos online and were shocked to discover no mention of the sport in any of them. We can’t possibly vote unless we know what the candidates are going to do for roller derby. Our next step was pretty obvious. We’d have to ask them ourselves.
STEP 1. SELECTING THE SEATS
There are 650 constituencies in the general election, with a total of 3,971 candidates. We realised finding contact details for all of these would take us the rest of the year, by which time the election would be long over, so instead we decided to keep things local. We teamed up with Bourne Bombshells fans group the BBCD [who are also running this article] to target those seats in Sussex with a roller derby presence; places that are home to leagues, current or former venues, known skaters and coaches, etc. We settled on a total of twelve constituencies; all three in the Brighton & Hove unitary authority area, all five in the East Sussex county council area, plus four of the eight West Sussex seats. Although this means we haven’t covered the parts of West Sussex furthest from Brighton and Eastbourne (eg Chichester, Littlehampton, Horsham, Crawley), we do cover Worthing, Arundel and Mid Sussex – constituencies that include the county’s main open door derby venue in Haywards Heath, together with the site of the Rockers’ previous training/bouting venue in Shoreham.
STEP 2. CONTACTING THE CANDIDATES
These twelve seats contain a total of 70 general election candidates. We searched out their e-mail addresses via party websites, local media online and YourNextMP.com. Between Thursday 16th and Sunday 19th April, we sent an identical e-mail (explaining a bit about roller derby and outlining some of the issues that concern derby folk) to 69 of these candidates. We couldn’t find an e-mail address for the Monster Raving Loony in Mid Sussex – even though he’s their party secretary! – but we found his home address and popped a printout in the post instead. We ran the text of our e-mail past individuals from all five Sussex derby leagues (Brighton Rockers, B-Town Brawlers, Bourne Bombshells, Bomb S’Quad, New Bournes) together with other well known local derby figures. We included most of the additions/changes that people suggested, although some were left out in the interests of keeping the e-mail relatively short and easily understandable. (For example, we use the term LGBT rather than the better term LGBTQI to avoid confusing the less diversity aware candidates.) You can read the e-mail in full further down this article.
STEP 3. REAPING THE RESPONSES
Election candidates are busy people and our enquiry was somewhat obscure (not everyone’s a roller derby fan, amazing though that may sound) so we weren’t expecting a huge number of replies. We decided that those people who didn’t respond at all – the vast majority – we wouldn’t chase up with follow on e-mails; partly as we felt it was down to them to show their interest by responding in the first place, and mostly because we’re really lazy. In cases where we received an Auto Reply (acknowledging receipt of our e-mail) but no actual reply, we *did* send a follow on e-mail a week after the first. This explained that our original e-mail included input from derby folk from all over Sussex, rather than just an individual, and pointed out there are roller derby players and fans in *every* constituency. (We wrote this since most of the auto replies asked for our address and stated that those who lived in the candidate’s constituency were more likely to get a reply.) By the time April 28th, our deadline for replies, arrived we had received responses from eleven of the 70 candidates. This was a little disappointing; we had been hoping for 15-20. The response rate by constituency and political party was somewhat varied, and in many ways quite different to what we might have been expecting. UPDATE: A twelfth reply (Labour, Brighton Kemptown) arrived after the deadline, but has now been added below.
TOTAL RESPONSE RATE: 17.1% (12/70)
RESPONSE RATE BY PARTY
60.0% independent candidates (3/5)
50.0% Socialist Party of Great Britain (1/2)
25.0% Conservative Party (3/12)
18.2% Green Party (2/11)
16.7% Liberal Democrats (2/12)
8.3% Labour Party (1/12)
0.0% UK Independence Party (0/12), Official Monster Raving Loony Party (0/2), National Health Action Party (0/1), Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (0/1)
RESPONSE RATE BY CONSTITUENCY
71.4% Brighton Kemptown (5/7)
25.0% Bexhill & Battle (1/4)
20.0% Hastings & Rye (1/5)
16.7% East Worthing & Shoreham (1/6), Eastbourne (1/6)
14.3% Brighton Pavilion (1/7), Mid Sussex (1/7)
12.5% Hove (1/8)
0.0% Arundel & South Downs (0/5), Lewes (0/5), Wealden (0/5), Worthing West (0/5)
THE E-MAIL THAT WE SENT
“Hello. We run various websites about the sport of roller derby in Sussex. We’re asking all the general election candidates in constituencies close to local teams for reasons why roller derby players/fans should vote for them. These replies will be published on one or more of our websites in the run up to the election. If you (your candidate) have any particular reply/statement on this issue, we’d very much like include it. Our deadline would be 28th April to allow time for us to collate and post replies in advance of polling day. Below is some information about the sport and the issues that concern participants. Many thanks.
ABOUT ROLLER DERBY: Described as the world’s fastest growing sport, roller derby is somewhat unique in that most of the teams (circa 80%) are women only, although men’s teams, co-ed teams and junior teams (for ages 11-17) are all on the rise. The sport is full contact and played on roller skates, with two teams of five overtaking and/or blocking each other on a oval track. Modern roller derby originated in Texas in 2001 and reached the UK in 2006 (England now rank #2 in the world after the USA). It’s only since the last general election that the sport has taken off in this region, with the first public game in Sussex taking place in August 2011. It has grown hugely since then. There are currently two roller derby sides in Brighton (one women’s with A and B-teams; one gender inclusive) and three in Eastbourne (women’s, men’s, juniors), as well as other ‘challenge sides’ with local involvement. The Brighton Rockers regularly rank in the Top Ten in the UK and attract sell out crowds. Eastbourne’s Bombshells host Europe’s only outdoor tournament every summer. Sussex residents also play for teams outside the county, eg Croydon and Portsmouth. By best estimates there are several thousand people in Sussex now involved in the sport as players, coaches, officials and fans. It’s niche but growing fast!
THE ISSUES THAT MATTER: Topics that are of particular concern to roller derby folk (the first two of these are probably more local council than national issues) include: (1) Indoor leisure facilities – finding suitable space to train and put on events in Sussex is difficult. Although the Dolphin in Haywards Heath is becoming an established venue for even national roller skating events, elsewhere halls of sufficient size with a suitable surface that allow skating can be hard to come by. (2) Outdoor skating surfaces (for summer fitness work etc). Although Eastbourne’s prom is good for skating, most other Sussex towns have little in the way of lengthy, smooth, safe-from-traffic areas to skate on. (3) Healthcare – most people involved in derby are not from sporty backgrounds, and the sport provides great health/fitness benefits. Injuries are fairly common, however, so good public healthcare provision is a concern. (4) Diversity – roller derby is a traditionally women-led sport whose participants regularly show support for issues such as gender equality, LGBT rights, inclusivity and mental health awareness. (5) Economics – obviously an issue for all groups in society. From a specifically roller derby perspective, the sport (with its amateur status and equipment and travel costs etc) is an expensive pastime, with many Sussex derby folk spending several thousand pounds a year taking part in and following the sport. A healthy economy/employment are important, as are any initiatives that might help open up the sport to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.
We look forward to hearing from you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need anything clarified.”
THE REPLIES WE RECEIVED
Please note that the candidates in most cases will have nothing but our e-mail to go on with regard to what roller derby is. In some cases they may have misinterpreted derby as a sport played outdoors, or on rollerblades rather than quads. This is probably our fault for being fairly low on detail (to keep the length down) in our e-mail. ALSO PLEASE NOTE: ALL REPLIES ARE THE VIEWS OF THE CANDIDATE CONCERNED AND NOT OF THIS WEBSITE.
1. ARUNDEL & SOUTH DOWNS
No replies received from: Peter Grace (UKIP), Nick Herbert (Conservative), Shweta Kapadia (Lib Dem), Isabel Thurston (Green), Christopher Wellbelove (Labour)
2. BEXHILL & BATTLE
No replies from: Geoffrey Bastin (UKIP), Huw Merriman (Conservative), Michelle Thew (Labour)
Rachel Sadler, Liberal Democrats: “Thank you for your email. Roller derby is certainly an impressive sport, and I’d like to congratulate you for being involved. Regarding your points, here are my answers…
1. Indoor facilities: Have you tried local church halls?
2. Outdoor facilities: There is unfortunately no easy short-term solution to this. Have you tried contacting your local councillor(s) regarding making outdoor spaces safer?
3. Healthcare: Lib Dems want the NHS to flourish as a well-funded public service. That’s why we’re providing the additional £8bn the NHS needs between 2015 and 2020, fully funded.
4. Diversity: Equality’s vital to the Lib Dems; we want everybody to have opportunities, regardless of their gender, race and sexuality. We were also the architects of same-sex marriage. Regarding mental health, we’ve vowed to provide additional funding, as we want there to be parity between mental health and physical health.
5. Economics: I appreciate that roller derby has a cost. Lib Dems will be helping by increasing the lowest income tax threshold to £12,500 by 2020.”
3. BRIGHTON KEMPTOWN
No replies from: Ian Buchanan (UKIP), Davy Jones (Green)
Paul Chandler, Liberal Democrats: “Thanks for letting me know about Roller Derby. Many of the issues you raise are really a matter for the local council rather than parliament, but if elected I would love to come to one of your events and discuss how I could help you.”
Simon Kirby, Conservative Party: “Thank you for your email. I was very interested to read about the success of roller derby in Sussex and I hope to see the continued growth of the sport. I am pleased to see the Brighton Rockers is one of the Top 10 teams in the UK.
I am very keen to promote sport and to encourage people to participate in physical exercise, with the many health and social benefits this can bring. Team sports can have a particularly positive effect, offering an environment for people to meet and helping people, particularly the young, build important skills.
I also care deeply about the issue of equality. Brighton Kemptown is a very diverse place and I worked very hard to ensure the passage of the Same Sex Marriage Act 2013. Since then, I pushed to allow civil partners to convert their partnership to marriage. During the last parliament I was the Private Secretary to the Minister of Sport so I have taken a close interest in supporting sporting organisations. One of the issues that I took a particular interest in was greater equality in sport, for instance by tackling homophobic abuse.
A real focus of the Department was on increasing female participation in sport and whilst welcome progress has been made in some areas, it is clear that there is still much more to be done and Roller Derby is clearly leading the way on this. I hope this information is helpful.”
Nancy Platts, Labour Party: “Thank you for your email about roller derby in Sussex which sounds like a lot fun. I personally am a keen runner and enjoy running between 5k and 10k by the sea three or four times a week as well as walking on the South Downs. I feel very lucky to live in Brighton and have found this inspirational in my running. I think that keeping fit is important for physical and mental health as well as bringing together people from different backgrounds.
I am keen to encourage participation in sport for everyone but in particular I want to see more women taking part in sport and greater access to sport for people living on low incomes. Labour will place exercise at the centre of public health policy with a new ambition to get more people physically active. We will look at how we can better support local communities to have the opportunity to use sporting facilities outside of school hours and term time.”
Jacqueline Shodeke, Socialist Party of Great Britain: “Hi. I’m just standing for socialism and not making promises on any subject because we’re not running the sort of campaign where parties say “Vote for us and we’ll do this or that for you”. So all I can say is that amateur sport is good, and that in a socialist society all sports will be amateur, since it will be a society without money and its corrupting influence on everything including sport.”
Matt Taylor, Independent: “It’s an absolute delight hearing from you and about the sport of Roller Derby. Like ‘non-binary people’, of whom I had not heard the term used before being asked to sign their pledge; I had no knowledge of Roller Derby, and am eternally grateful for you enlightening me. I live in sight of the new Amex football stadium which has lengthy, smooth, safe-from-traffic areas to skate on. Myself, daughter and son would love to get skating and I’m looking forward to taking them to a Roller Derby game.
As well as an independent parliamentary candidate, I’m also the editor of Guerrilla Democracy News and have 300 plus subscribers on my YouTube channel, on which I post numerous broadcasts and trailers. Whether I’m elected or not, I’m really fortunate to have heard from you, because Roller Derby is the kind of sport I’d like to watch, play and get involved in promoting to a wider audience. As an MP, you can be assured I’ll promote Roller Derby with the same vigour and passion.
The central message I need to get across is that, if you were to put me in a political box, I’ll be a liberal conservative with green fingers! Think of me as the Son of Simon Kirby, who shares the central principles of conservatism (family values, hard work, big reward, low taxes, less interference from state, Christian values) but who’s less nasty. Never forget Simon Kirby is implicated in the Katrina Taylor murder cover-up, austerity, taking us to war and fraud on a massive scale which is costing the economy billions yearly.
I cannot stress enough to your readers the severity of the situation. It’s as if the demon is staring us in the face and the next move he makes is when he opens his mouth and gobbles our Democracy away. TTIP is my tipping point. Taylor’s Tipping Point, or more commonly known as The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Secret talks between the USA and EU, which threaten to do away with democracy as we know it.
NHS is central to my concerns too. I want to see a more natural health service in which a doctor prescribes a change of job, diet and four litres extra water a day, rather than the pharmaceutical drugs of multi-national corporations which are proven to kill us, not heal us like they claim. Chemotherapy kills and it costs £40-50K per treatment. Growing cannabis is free and it cures cancer and a variety of other serious diseases and ailments. In health I turn to the Facebook group NaturallyBetterMultiversity.
Sustainable Housing: Using Michael Reynolds inspired Earthships as the blueprint to solve our housing crisis by building thousands of Earthships on brown fill and green belt land (www.earthships.com). Moai Tidal Energy: The only alternative to fracking and oil. Capturing energy from around our island from the seas rather than raping our ancient and rolling hills and fields.
I stand for honesty and integrity in public office and it’s time our politicians tell us the truth. I’ve got loads more to say; King Arthur II, aliens, police corruption, Sussex Police Crime Commissioner elections. I’m the UK’s most controversial parliamentary candidate. Our nation is facing its darkest hour; now is the time to believe King Arthur II was born one Christmas Day 503AD and died in Kentucky USA in 566AD. We have a well recorded ancient British history waiting to be rediscovered.
REVOLUTION NOW. More to follow at sosparty.co.uk and I hope you vote Independent on Independence Day 7th of May.”
4. BRIGHTON PAVILION
No replies from: Chris Bowers (Lib Dem), Nigel Carter (UKIP), Clarence Mitchell (Conservative), Howard Pilott (Socialist Party GB), Purna Sen (Labour), Nick Yeomans (Independent)
Caroline Lucas, Green Party: “Roller Derby looks a lot of fun and a great team sport, and it’s fantastic to see so many women involved. With Government funding to local authorities being slashed so deeply (by 40% between 2010-16) our public services are increasingly vulnerable, and I’m doing all I can to prevent cuts from adversely affecting community services and sports.
But my opponents are fond of asking what ‘one Green MP’ can actually do. I think I’ve been able to show exactly what one MP can do if they really want to. As an unwhipped MP, my position wouldn’t be decided for me by a party official – I’m able to freely fight the corner of my constituents; they feed into every speech, every vote. And while I work very effectively across parties, which is really crucial to making stuff happen, I’m also able to hold them to account, press them to be bolder and more progressive and push Labour, in particular, to be the Party we really need it to be – on everything from the cost of living, to education, the NHS and public services.
Central to my politics is a commitment to social and climate justice. And at a time when we have four parties which seem to be buying into the same narratives on issues like immigration, welfare and the NHS, we need a strong, clear and independent Green voice in Parliament now, perhaps, more than ever.
Take the Independent Living Fund – a life source for nearly 18,000 disabled people with high-support needs. The Government is cutting it, and no other Party has opposed that. Time and again the Green voice has been the only real opposition in Parliament, the only alternative narrative – from challenging austerity cuts, to fighting for a truly public and protected NHS, public services in public hands, improved housing rights, tackling tax cheats.
I was humbled to be named MP of the Year 2014 for my work with minority and disadvantaged communities, and delighted that Pinknews also named me its MP of the Year. People are the heart of my politics, and I’m so proud to serve a city where time and again we see diversity, justice and equality not just tolerated – but celebrated.”
5. EAST WORTHING & SHOREHAM
No replies from: Mike Glennon (UKIP), Tim Loughton (Conservative), Tim Macpherson (Labour), Bob Smytherman (Lib Dem), Carl Walker (National Health Action)
James Doyle, Green Party: “Thanks for your email. I’ve got to admit, this is probably the most specific request I’ve had, and I don’t think flipping through the Green Manifesto is going to help me find much on roller derby!
More seriously, I appreciate what you say about roller derby both in terms of health, and in promoting gender equality and diversity issues. Although roller derby has been low on my radar, I certainly think that it fits with my, and my party’s, general ethos in promoting opportunities for people to look after themselves, participate in the community around them, and look after their bodies. And skates are a great way to get around Worthing too!
Access to facilities is a problem for many sporting groups, and I understand your problems. We have a pretty good prom (in terms of straightness and width) in Worthing, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of surface quality – I know because I own a pair of roller blades, albeit only for going in (mostly) straight lines. As I’m a councillor in Worthing, and my patch includes a big chunk of the prom, I’d be very happy post-election to meet with someone to discuss what could be done to improve it to a standard necessary for roller blading. I’d also be happy to talk about access to Worthing’s leisure facilities.”
No replies from: Caroline Ansell (Conservative), Andrew Durling (Green), Nigel Jones (UKIP), Jake Lambert (Labour), Stephen Lloyd (Lib Dem)
Paul Howard, Independent: “I can’t say I’ve given much thought to roller derby, possibly because of my own abject lack of ability on skates (blades or rollers)! The most compelling part of your pitch is the health benefit that derives from all sports including yours. It concerns me that the NHS is really the National Illness Service with little investment in healthy living.
I have more chance of becoming a competent skater than an MP so there’s not much point my promising you much; however, I genuinely wish you every success with your venture.”
7. HASTINGS & RYE
No replies from: Jake Bowers (Green), Andrew Michael (UKIP), Sarah Owen (Labour), Nick Perry (Lib Dem)
Amber Rudd, Conservative Party: “Thank you for your email regarding Roller Derby in Sussex. I can assure you that both myself and the Government want to ensure that everyone has the chance to participate in a diverse and interesting range of sports and activities. The great outdoors is hugely important for tourism and the country’s economic well-being.
Outdoor sport and recreation are key not only to our personal well-being but to the nation as a whole. We are hugely privileged in the South East and especially Hastings in that we have access to a number of large open spaces and a fantastic promenade. You may also be aware that work is being undertaken to transform the White Rock Baths into a £1 million world-class BMX and skateboard arena, I am sure you will agree that these are exciting plans!
I am very much aware of the positive impact that sport can have on everybody. Aside from the obvious health benefits it helps boost self-esteem and confidence and I firmly believe that there is a sport out there for everyone. The Government and the National Lottery are investing more than £1 billion over four years to help more people enjoy sport, and to develop sporting talent.
I am greatly encouraged by the number of women participating in Roller Derby and I know that the Government is absolutely committed to supporting women in sport. I wish your team, your players and all those participating in Roller Derby all the very best in their activities.”
No replies from: Jenny Barnard-Langston (Independent), Dame Dixon (Loony), Christopher Hawtree (Green), Dave Hill (TUSC), Peter Kyle (Labour), Peter Lambell (Lib Dem), Kevin Smith (UKIP)
Graham Cox, Conservative Party: “Thank you for your enlightening email. I am a keen local sports supporter, having been secretary of Brighton and Hove Cricket Club for many years (and a season ticket holder at the Albion).
However I have to confess that my knowledge of roller derby is very limited. Funnily enough my stepfather was a roller skating instructor at (I think from the stories he used to tell) Richmond Ice Rink in London when roller skating first became popular before the war. I confess though I did not know of the popularity of roller derby here in Brighton and Hove until receiving your email.
It strikes me that the timing is right as I am campaigning for the replacement of the worn out King Alfred Leisure Centre on the seafront and at last progress is being made. It is essential that the new KA includes a facility for staging team events/sports such as this so I will pass this on to local colleagues who are currently involved in the tender process at this time.
If I am fortunate enough to be elected the MP for Hove and Portslade then I would very much like to visit you to learn more and do what I can to support in a practical way.”
No replies from: Norman Baker (Lib Dem), Maria Caulfield (Conservative), Ray Finch (UKIP), Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Labour), Alfie Stirling (Green)
10. MID SUSSEX
No replies from: Toby Brothers (UKIP), Daisy Cooper (Lib Dem), Miranda Diboll (Green), Greg Mountain (Labour), Nicholas Soames (Conservative), Baron Von Thunderclap (Loony)
Beki Adam, Independent: “Thank you for your unusual email. Most of the issues which you have listed as of importance to Roller Derby players are covered on my website and for obvious reasons of time, I ask that you and your colleagues look there to better understand where our values meet – and where they diverge. Having spent many years in meditation, I might reasonably claim to have a deeper understanding of mental health issues than many people. I have written an explanation of why I’m not signing the transgender pledge – it’s on my voteADAM.info blog from April. I’d be interested to know your thoughts, and am more than happy to meet a group of players to discuss this and your other issues if I am elected.
As your MP, I would have the funds to employ a team of researchers, run a staffed constituency office, and more time to discuss issues of importance with my constituents. I would be able to meet with concerned groups and individuals in a way which is not possible before the election. MPs will have over £150,000/year – on top of their salaries – to pay for staff and offices next parliament. I would ensure that means an open door opportunity for Mid Sussex voters to share ideas and concerns. I plan to facilitate regular debates on topical issues, and utilize technology to share these widely. It’s good that you are such a physically active group. Wishing you all the best in health and well-being.”
No replies from: Solomon Curtis (Labour), Nusrat Ghani (Conservative), Giles Goodall (Lib Dem), Peter Griffiths (UKIP), Mark J Smith (Green)
12. WORTHING WEST
No replies from: David Aherne (Green), Peter Bottomley (Conservative), Tim Cross (UKIP), Jim Deen (Labour), Hazel Thorpe (Lib Dem)
So which reply impressed you most? Will it change the way you vote? It would of course have been good to have received more responses. Hopefully by the next general election in 2020, roller derby will be so well established that candidates will be falling over themselves to reply to our e-mails. On the (admittedly very remote) chance you want to know what the main parties are promising on issues other than derby, you can check out their manifestos below:
UK INDEPENDENCE PARTY
I love how thorough this is! And while admittedly most candidates didn’t know what roller derby was before you contacted them, they certainly have heard of it now.