Party representatives met for a lively debate at Huddersfield university on the 04th December, fielding questions from students in preparation for the upcoming election.
In attendance was James Wilkinson representing the Liberal Democrats, Barry Sheerman for the Labour party, Stuart Hall for the Brexit party, Ken Davy for the Conservative party and Andrew Cooper for the Green party, although we unfortunately lost Andrew Cooper mid-way through the debate due to personal commitments.
The candidates all made an opening statement, outlining their key policies. Andrew Cooper opened focusing on the success they have had in the local area of Newsome, having been elected as a local councillor since 1996.
Next up was Ken Davy who focused on his business acumen within Huddersfield, and the importance of seeing through Brexit.
Stuart Hale followed, similarly highlighting his business acumen and again the need to respect the democratic decision reached to leave the EU.
Barry Sheermen highlighted his history as Huddersfield’s long-standing MP before insisting that this election is more than just Brexit, but also there was the issue of the environment and poverty too.
Finally, James Wilkinson pointed to his roots in Huddersfield before bringing up the UK’s struggling economy and poverty issues, then focusing heavily on climate control.
Following the opening pitches the debate moved onto questions either submitted for the chair to read or fielded by the audience. The debate covered the key areas surrounding the current election, namely Brexit, the NHS, social welfare and the Environment. For the most part, the candidates answered with authority, sticking to their respective party’s beat. However, as the representative of the current regime, the Conservative candidate faced some tough questions.
Several members of the audience questioned Ken Davy regarding the proposed increases in both police and nurses – highlighting that the figure of 20,000 police officers falls around 2,000 shy of the number employed by the force before the Conservatives took power in 2010, and the 50,000 new nurses proposed including the 19,000 currently on staff.
The conservative candidate rebuffed the claim about nurses claiming that the audience member ‘was playing around with numbers’ and pointed to the ‘mess’ left behind by Labour being the reason behind the initial cuts in police officer numbers. It is safe to say the politically savvy audience were not sold by what Mr Davy had to say, repeatedly challenging his answers.
He was further challenged by a student nurse claiming that she ‘now had to pay to be a nurse’ and furthermore, she has ‘severe mental health conditions from nursing’
Ken Hale pointed out that it was ‘the Tories who took away the bursary.’
Barry Sheerman then made the claim ‘these two will stop nurses,’ referencing the Brexit and Conservative candidates.
Ken Davy retorted that Brexit would not result in the loss of nurses, claiming ‘any European citizen and member of the EU here now will be able to stay, it’s poppycock when they tell you they are going home because of that.’
Another heated exchange erupted when an audience member raised the issue of Islamophobia within the Conservative party – pointing to Boris Johnsons chequered history with derogatory comments made, comparing Islamic women to letterboxes being the most memorable. The Conservative candidate insisted that it was not a problem he had personally but refused to comment on it being a problem with the party or its leader.
When pushed on whether he believed that the Conservative Party didn’t have a problem with Islamophobia, Mr Davy responded ‘no, I didn’t say that entirely.’ Another audience member then challenged Mr Davy on his allegiance to a Party which had a leader guilty of Islamophobia, claiming that by standing for the party showed complicity.
‘I don’t accept one iota of that statement, and neither does the party.’ Mr Davy responded.
Barry Sheerman didn’t hesitate to seize the moment, quickly announcing ‘I have spent a lot of time begging our leader to act faster and harder on anti-Semitism. We haven’t done it, I apologise because we pushed and pushed and it was much too slow. I hope the Conservative party can learn from our mistakes.’
Stuart Hale insisted that the Mr Davy should resign and highlighted how the Brexit party is not a racist party – that he himself has an Asian partner too. James Wilkinson took the opportunity to point out that we should be wary of labelling a party as Islamophobic, as a party consists of many individuals. However, he pointed out, it can be indicative of a party.
Further pressure arrived in the form of an impassioned mother of a child, described as being profoundly disabled with mental health issues and extremely challenging behaviour, confronted Ken Davy regarding the Conservatives program of austerity, which has seen her family struggle to receive the benefits they so desperately need.
Barry Sheerman insisted what was happening was a ‘disgrace’, while James Wilkinson focused on his party’s commitment to deal with the waiting times to deal with mental health issues. Stuart Hale pointed to the Brexit party’s two-year programme to reform the social welfare system. While Ken Davy said he agreed with his counterparts Mr Wilkinson and Mr Sheerman that the system needed to be re-addressed as it does not work.
The night was well argued by all representatives who vigorously and passionately defended their party’s policies, but throughout remained respectful to one another. The Students in attendance raised pertinent questions that at times genuinely had the candidates feeling a little hot under the collar. Finally, a note of mention for the chair Dr. Grainne McMahon who gave the representatives a fair opportunity to offer their rebuttal whilst maintaining control throughout.