Hosted by the York Union, candidates from the three main UK parties gathered in Central Hall for what proved to be quite an entertaining and engaging debate.
Turnout was not at its highest with only approximately half of the five hundred capacity venue being filled. Despite this those in the audience, both students and members of the general public, asked many thought provoking questions to the candidates, with topics ranging from gypsy sites in York and LGBT rights, to tax dodging and the future of public services in the context of an increase of privatisation.
Callum Elliott, from the York Union committee, chaired the debate, which began with speeches from each of the three candidates. Conservative Party candidate, and current MP for the constituency, Julian Sturdy led his speech by relaying the successes of his party over the past five years and how “proud” he is of the coalition. The issues that he said he would be supporting in the local area included protecting green belt land, investing in infrastructure and putting money into the NHS.
The representative from the other half of the coalition government, Liberal Democrat candidate James Blanchard, then took over the reins. Blanchard also re-emphasised the message that the coalition government had achieved more than the Labour government did before it, however his speech also seemed to be aimed at confirming that some Liberal Democrats policies that are separate to those in the coalition. These policies included cutting income tax bills, protecting education budgets, giving parents of new born children shared maternity leave, and introducing new laws to protect the environment. Mr Blanchard spoke to Nouse about his value of the youth demographic and his opinion on tuition fees and said how: “[I think] education should be free as a right, but we didn’t win the general election.”
Speaking for the last six minutes of speeches Joe Riches of the Labour Party set the scene of a disappointing and damaging last five years under the coalition government, and how Labour are planning to change that by helping young people, supporting rights of the LGBT community and fighting for justice and peace in the Middle East. In an interview prior to the debate Joe said that the most important issues in York, and across the rest of the United Kingdom at the moment, are the economy, the NHS, jobs and housing as he stated that:“[in York] rents are some of the highest in the North of England”.
Following the speeches, questions were taken from various members of the audience with each of the candidates giving their stance on the issues in hand.
Unfortunately due to time constraints and the union wanting there to be more focus on debating than just repeating what policies each party has, only the three parties who secured 96% of the vote in the 2010 general election were invited to debate. This was much to the disapproval of the Green Party candidate for York Outer, Ginnie Shaw, who attended the debate as an audience member and sarcastically thanked the union for allowing her to ask a question to the other candidates on housing support.
Overall the debate was an informative one. However, if more parties had been involved in the debate and it had therefore ran for a bit longer to account for the increase in candidates that could have given the audience more information about the other parties outside the main three so they could consider voting for them too. Even so, it was still a good build up to the May election and some interesting issues and questions were raised.