Heated hustings gives residents an insight into plans of prospective MPs
AS voting day for the general election looms, Bradford on Avon residents learned more about their prospective MPs at a heated hustings yesterday evening.
Nearly 300 people packed out St Margaret’s Hall to hear what Conservative Michelle Donelan, Labour Andy Newman and Helen Belcher from the Liberal Democrats had to say on a range of issues from national security to Brexit, as audience members asked probing questions.
The event was organised by Make Votes Matter, a cross-party campaign which wants to see Proportional Representation replace First Past The Post in the House of Commons by 2021.
When asked how public services should be funded and run, Mr Newman said the NHS and railway network are both better off as publicly-owned services, Mrs Donelan said she is “committed” to keeping the NHS free at the point of use and Mrs Belcher said the Lib Dems will put 6mil into the NHS by reversing corporation tax.
The candidates were then asked how their respective parties would keep the country safe. Mrs Belcher said we need to use our intelligent services more intelligently, and Mrs Donelan said the safety of our nation must come foremost in “frightening times”.
Mr Newman disputed that, claiming under the last Labour government, we had control orders which meant terrorism suspects were placed under house arrest, but Theresa May abolished the system, before adding that the Conservatives have cut 20,000 police officers and 1,000 border force officers.
When questioned on the current voting system, Mr Newman said he would like to see a contingent vote brought in, Mrs Belcher said she supports the single transferable vote and Mrs Donelan defended first past the post, claiming that changing the system might “overcomplicating and confusing things,” a comment which was “demeaning to the intelligence of the public,” according to Mrs Belcher.
Discussing immigration and refugees, Mrs Belcher blamed tabloid newspapers for the negative view of refugees while Mr Newman said it is our human duty to do more to help them, but the infrastructure must be in place before local councils agree to take more in.
Mrs Donelan said the distinction between refugees and economic migrants needs to be made clearer and that these people are desperate and need help.
However, a member of the audience called her out on her voting record, which appears to contradict these views, but she dismissed it as “social media propaganda” and insisted Theresa May is committed to ensuring security for immigrants.
The candidates disagreed on housing, with Mr Newman calling out Mrs Donelan after she said housebuilding has increased over the past two years. The Labour candidate claimed it was in fact at its lowest since the 1920s and said Labour pledge to build over 1mil new houses and eradicate the problem of rough sleepers.
When asked if Wiltshire’s economy can survive post-Brexit, Mrs Donelan and Mr Newman both said they both wanted to remain in the EU but their parties will honour the public vote, whereas Mrs Belcher said there should be a second referendum once the financial implications are clearer.
All three candidates said education will be their priority if elected.
Speaking after the hustings, 24-year-old Amy Johnston, of Bradford on Avon, said:
“I came along this evening as I have a lot of hope for this election that we can stop the Tories from getting a large majority and I wanted to hear what they had to say.