The University Radio York (URY) debate with student members of the three political parties and a member of the debating society on Sunday night unfortunately, was not met with the same excitement as the recent prime ministerial debates.
Despite this, the four panelists including the society chairs of the Liberal Democrats the Conservatives and, the former Chair of York young Labour as well as Chris Woods of the debating society put on a good show. Unlike the recent leadership debates it lasted less than an hour and the audience participation made for a lively debate, even adversarial at times.
The debate focused on a variety of issues many of which the political leaders had avoided in their own debates. It provided an opportunity for students to have some of their questions on the issues that directly affect them answered.
Unsurprisingly the first question was about the leadership debates and what impact had, had on the election campaign. Craig Martin of the Lib Dems described the debates as “X Factor” in style, however he also stated that they had raised the profiles of each of the leaders. Felix Bungay of the York Tories stated that Nick Clegg was the “biggest winner” however as the debates continued he had “started to wane”.
I really do not think Nick Clegg is going to form a coalition with anybody
On Gordon Brown’s recent comments towards Gillian Duffy, the Labour panelist Joe Riches stated that he thought Brown “felt pretty stupid”. He said that the “Labour party generally needs to be more upfront in defending the value of immigrants”. Bungay suggested that the incident had raised further questions about Brown’s character stating that it showed “that he was unwilling to take the burden of his failure on his own shoulders” and had “given a lot of credibility to those stories about how just how dreadful Gordon Brown is to work with.”
Woods argued that despite the media furore it was “entirely a non-issue”. Martin also weighed in stressing that that the prime Minister would be a representative for the country on the international stage saying “we need to know these people’s characters just as much as their polices.”
The existence of smaller parties including the British National Party (BNP) and UK Independence Party (UKIP) made an appearance in the debate, after a question from the audience about whether we should be concerned about parties such as the BNP and UKIP getting into power. Martin said “not really” due to the current electoral system which is biased towards larger parties. Woods raised the issue whether, under the Alternative Vote System favoured by the Lib dems, we would be more likely to see the BNP or UKIP in power. Martin suggested that it would be beneficial for “minority parties to be involved with politics in this country”. Interestingly Bungay referred to UKIP as a “Conservative party pressure group.”
The potential of a hung parliament after the election was also raised, however unlike their party leaders the panelists were rather more specific on what they thought the outcome would be.
Riches said that he believed that the Lib Dems were unlikely to form a coalition with Labour and instead would probably form a coalition with the Conservatives. Craig suggested that “if we were to suddenly side with the Conservatives or suddenly side with Labour it would split our party in half, and I really do not think Nick Clegg is going to form a coalition with anybody.”
In essence the debate was four students discussing politics. However, ironically on some issues it provided greater clarity in terms of policy than the party leaders themselves did in their own debates.