Last night Lancaster University Politics Society held their second successful Question Time event on campus. The debate, chaired by PPR lecturer Dr Simon Mabon, attracted a large audience and the hashtag #LUPSQT was even trending in the UK. The panel consisted of prospective Lancaster and Fleetwood candidates; Robin Long for the Liberal Democrats, Matt Atkins for UKIP, Cat Smith for Labour, Chris Coates for the Greens and Eric Ollerenshaw, the incumbent, for Conservatives.
Five questions, previously submitted to the Society, were put to the panel and further questions were selected from twitter. Kicking off the debate Mia Scott asked;
“People in Lancaster with mental health issues are waiting between 6-12 months for treatment, and are waiting over the recommended 4 hours in A&E when in crisis (despite what has been reported). I believe this is unacceptable. I understand this is a national issue, but I would like to know what do YOU, as the elected political representative in the area, intend to do to support the people in Lancaster who are faced with this issue?”
All the candidates agreed on the importance of the issue, particularly the need to place physical health on a par with mental health issues. The talk of a “Cinderella Service” was mentioned time again which baffled many in the audience. Mabon responded to the confusion voiced on Twitter by asking the panel for clarification. Cat Smith’s response still confused some, but a essentially a “Cinderella Service” means something which is neglected or ignored within the NHS.
Following on from this question the candidates descended into manifesto measuring. With Atkins flashing his “independently checked” financial tables from the UKIP manifesto. A swipe from Ollerenshaw had the first laugh of the night, when he reminded the UKIP candidate they paid an external group to verify their numbers. Before the debate descended into deciphering who’s manifesto is the biggest leaflet of lies, Mabon moved the debate onto the next question.
Lee Dickson asked;
“As candidates and potential MPs for your respective party, in the change that there is Hung Parliament, what will be your stance in entering coalitions or confidence and supply deals with other parties and if there is a Hung Parliament, do you see it necessary to enter into a coalition or rule as a minority Government and if so, which will you be willing to work with and why?”
Smith affirmed straight away “Labour are fighting this election to win it, I don’t want to enter into any coalitions, we’re fighting tooth and nail against the SNP.” However, Ollerenshaw was adamant Labour are yet to deny the possibility of a Labour-SNP coalition. Chris Coates, the Green candidate, emphasised his work with both the Labour and Conservative Parties in the local council and that coalitions “are the reality” in this day and age.
The next question came from Harry Carter who asked;
“With the general election coverage particularly focused on issues like the NHS and immigration, there has been little coverage on issues to do with Climate Change. I want to know what will each party do to tackle the climate change crisis.”
Logically, Mabon went to the Greens first who stated, “We haven’t been forgetting about climate change. This underpins everything, it will affect our economy, immigration, energy supplies, what’s happening in the Mediterranean…in terms of what to do about this, we really need to de-carbonise our economy as fast as we can.”
The biggest shock (or maybe not so much) came from Atkins, who stated “there isn’t a policy that works for Green renewable energy yet.” Though Ollerenshaw wasn’t far behind in his ignorance regarding renewable energy, he argued “wind farms and solar panels don’t seem environmentally friendly…they just cover the countryside in steel.” Mabon tried to round off the question by getting the candidates to all agree they would pursue a green agenda in Lancaster, Atkins however was still adamant renewable energies don’t work.
Mabon had to continually restore order throughout the night, particularly with Atkins who felt it appropriate to interrupt the other candidates and at one point he even left the room missing some candidate responses. The twittersphere were outraged with his inability to wait his turn, my favourite tweet came from Kristina George “#LUPSQT MATTHEW PLEASE STOP MANTERRUPTING.”
The next question came from Lizzie Roberts;
“Since 2000, 22,400 people have died trying to cross Europe’s borders, mostly by sea. Given the recent developments in the Mediterranean this week what will you and your party do to ensure we stop letting innocent people drown, as well as combating the awful situations in their home countries which they are fleeing from?”
Atkins answered first, stating Nigel Farage had affirmed he wanted to take in more Syrian refugees and we need to address the situation relating to economic migration and the “problem should be spread out on many shoulders.” Long agreed the issue needs to be dealt with by “working with European neighbours and increasing the international aid budget.” Ollerenshaw also agreed with the need to maintain the international aid budget calling the situation a “vast and complicated issue.”
Smith brought the debate back to reality, “people are desperate, I cannot even imagine being like that…we are a rich nation and we don’t step up to the mark.” Coates was also on point with his answer, “this is a humanitarian issue, people are drowning through no fault of their own. We’re burying bodies in Italy we need to send help.”
During this question Atkins somehow went off on a tangent about Britain’s “moral obligation” as a Christian country to take in Christian refugees and ultimately blamed the EU for the migrant problem. This was met with laughter, confusion and disbelief from the audience.
Mabon then took a question from twitter, “How do the candidates propose to represent the students if they’re elected?” Long stated, “tuition fees were a mistake, we shouldn’t have done that it wasn’t right, I want to push for a fairer tuition fee system.” The phrase “we’ve heard it all before” sprung to mind. The Greens stated they want to abolish tuition fees and clear all student debt, this is funded, apparently, by their “fully costed manifesto” which became a buzzword for all the candidates.
Ollerenshaw highlighted the number of jobs the coalition have made “1.9 million” and stated he intends to keep pushing for new jobs for graduates. Smith’s support for the lowering of tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 under Labour’s plan didn’t seem to hit the spot, but she affirmed she wants free education. Atkins then made another clanger, stating he wants science and technology subjects to be fully funded, to which Smith replied “so you want all the subjects which are dominated by men to be free?”
The final question came from Sue Mccormick;
“In 2010 when the coalition took office, The Trussell Trust were providing food banks to 40,000 people in financial distress. By 2014 that figure had risen to over 900,000. What is the cause of this, why was it allowed to happen and what would you do to swiftly deal with the shame of nearly 1 million people hungry in our rich country?
All the candidates agreed it’s shameful, a scandal and the system is wrong. Ollerenshaw argued the coalition has been tackling unemployment and they’re still trying to deal with the” backlog of 2010.” Smith took a personal approach telling the story of her sister who, on a zero hour contract, had to resort to a food bank to feed her family, “we need to start tackling the cost of living crisis.”
To end the debate each candidate was given 30 seconds to state why they should be the MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood.
Long: “I was to fight for an equal society, with an evidence led policy.”
Atkins: “I am in UKIP because I think we’re honest with you, if you don’t believe me look at the facts.”
Smith: “I want to be a strong local voice for you. You can choose – tax the mansions or the bedrooms.”
Coates: “Two words – Caroline Lucas…Vote Green, vote for what you believe in.”
Ollerenshaw: “Please don’t turn it back to the very people who crashed the car before us.”
Whether the debate helped students determine who to vote for is questionable, but clearly it demonstrated the political passion of Lancaster students who put the candidates through the paces. However the universal question from the night was “Can we vote for the Chair? #Mabon4MP”
By Lizzie Roberts
[Image Credit: LUPS twitter page]