A hustings of local parliamentary candidates was held yesterday in Blackett which saw Victoria Borwick (Conservatives), Cllr Alan De’Ath (Labour), Bridget Fox (LibDems), Richard Braine (UKIP), and finally Bill Cashmore (Green), engaging in a debate on Education, Public Health and Brexit.
Borwick, has served on the Science and Technology Committee in the House of Commons and chaired the Health and Public Services committee at the GLA. She is committed to supporting Theresa May’s strong and stable leadership to secure the local economy in the future.
De’Ath is focussed on human rights, in particular those for LGBT+ people and women suffering domestic violence.
Fox is firmly against a hard Brexit and has accused Conservatives and Labour alike of failing to listen to Remain voters. She has promised to fight for liberal values and stand up for civil liberties.
Finally Cashmore owns a business with an annual turnover of £2 million per annum, thinks there’s need for a second EU referendum and promises hope, creativity and persistence.
Braine is one of the more seemingly sane UKIP candidates. His website and campaign leaflets offer accusations of a “fake Brexit plot” and mentions a “LibLabCon surrender-cartel”... wut? His priorities include cutting immigration, funding the NHS with money taken from the Foreign Aid Budget, and helping immigrants to integrate. Students and locals joined for a chance to grill the keen politicians on matters close to their heart. Before entering the space, attendees were given the chance to submit questions to the organisers.
The panel was chaired by Union President Nas Andriopoulos who promised he’d stay apolitical. Opening statements were well received (Yes, even Braine’s which included the characterisation of judeo-christianity as mankind’s greatest engine for prosperity, and even Borwick’s who insisted she cared about North Kensington despite it being outside her constituency) and generally reflected parties’ general views. As the discussion progressed though the mood shifted. The discontent and frustration in the room became palpable as Braine’s consistently inflammatory remarks started being met with jeering, Borwick was heavily criticised by fellow panellists and audience members alike, and even Fox took a hit when an audience member accused the LibDems of betraying ‘The People’ who had loudly voted Leave.
Generally responses mirrored party manifestos, and demonstrated which parties and candidates had done their homework. The discussion kicked off with education with De’Ath and Cashmore being proponents of tuition fee abolishment. On the other side of the spectrum Borwick maintained the system works perfectly fine and fairly (though she admitted interest rates could do with some adjustment), claiming that more students from disadvantaged backgrounds have been going to uni than ever before (though that might be because there’s more of them). Somewhere in the middle Fox didn’t explicitly say what her stance on fee scrapping is though she did imply tuition fees are a necessary evil, and instead LibDems were dead-set on doing something about student maintenance costs. Also somewhere in the middle Braine echoed UKIP’s infamous stance of scrapping tuition fees but only for STEM subjects, causing an outburst from English Literature graduate Cashmore.
Questions on education from the floor were mostly centred around concerns for the funding of STEM. How would parties fund STEM and Research and Development (R&D) without international students or tuition fees? The only serious response came from Labour who have pledged spending 3% of the GDP on R&D. Braine’s response was reallocating the Foreign Aid Budget and Borwick went on a tangent talking about her visit at CERN.
Next came the NHS and its privatisation. Fox started by reinforcing her commitment to a universal NHS. She did however distinguish between hardware and clinical services, claiming she’s open to privatisation of the former.
Borwick returned to the favoured party message of no money, no honey. A strong economy is necessary for proper investment in health services. The Conservatives have already provided £10 billion to the NHS, she claimed, and would release an extra £8 billion over the next parliament (though if you have kept up with analyses of the manifestos, you will be aware that this money will actually come from cuts in other sectors). Skirting around the controversial Conservative social care policies, she merely said that social care and health care should be integrated and care should come first when it comes to a growing and ageing population.
UKIP promises to put another £6 billion into the NHS again from the magical Foreign Aid Budget. They’ll also bring in some 35,000 GPs and nurses (though it’s unclear if there will be any willing takers of these positions).
The Greens promised even more – £20 billion – from scrapping Trident (which Cashmore says is pointless and costs £3.6 billion per annum) and Financial Transaction taxes. Finally, De’Ath attacked the Tories’ “appalling” record. He highlighted the 24,000 nursing vacancies and criticised the uncosted Conservative manifesto. Borwick returned fire, criticising the unsuccessful PFI scheme under the Labour government (even though the idea was first implemented by John Major’s government). She claimed it was easy for the other candidates to make promises but the Conservatives had presided over an increase in doctors, operations and care.
Question once again started coming in from the floor, with audience members chastising the current government for health cuts, hospital closures and the recent ‘Dementia tax’ plans.
Fox started by calling out the irony in the conservatives who have presented non-costed manifestos criticising the costed manifestos of their opposition. She acknowledged that current LibDem plans would not bring UK healthcare spending in line with the EU average but that it was “a step in the right direction”.
De’Ath and Cashmore also jumped on the offensive criticising the government for health cuts and short-sightedness.
On the defence, Borwick returned to the idea of social care, this time mentioning the manifesto promise that people would be left with at least £100,000 after paying for their social care and made a vague reference to the successful rolling out of pilot schemes.
Last came the issue of Brexit which was always going to be important given that 33-40% of Imperial students aren’t British. The question specifically referred to what each party would do to guarantee the rights of EU students.
Borwick and Braine both maintained that contrary to “tabloid drivel” internationals in the UK did not seem worried.
Cashmore quickly came to the offence citing the feelings of fear and discomfort many non-UK nationals were feeling.
In another dig at the Tories, De’Ath proclaimed that Borwick had just won the “Theresa May award for not answering the question”. His answer was simple: the rights of all nationals would be guaranteed. Fox also agreed that guaranteeing the rights of nationals was the right thing to do. She also stressed the importance of making ordinary internationals feel at home, not just the Chelsea elite. In response Borwick asked “Why are you saying that all plumbers must be Europeans?” despite nobody having asked that question. At that point the discussion lost focus and quickly moved on to Environment.
Unfortunately there were only five minutes left to discuss environmental policy which gave candidates a thirty second window to air their green views. Unsurprisingly everyone’s main focus was London’s appalling air pollution. Notably Borwick and Braine did not mention climate change, with the UKIP candidate additionally going into a tangent about a German diesel conspiracy.
That concluded the event which was surprisingly civil and an overall success.
Now go vote.