Sunday, 14 February 2010

GE2010: Lincoln: Mixed Response To Lincoln's First General Election Debate

Mr. Jack Dobson at The Linc reports that there were mixed feelings towards the debate on higher education, held by Lincoln Students’ Union on Thursday, 11th February 2010 at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre's Auditorum.

The Students' Union invited all the declared prospective parliamentary candidates to debate with students and academics.
  • Ms Gillian Merron MP, Labour (Lincoln) - Minister of State for Public Health
  • Mr. Karl McCartney, Conservative
  • Cllr. Reg Shore, Liberal Democrat (Skellingthorpe & South Hykeham Division) and (Stow Ward) - Leader of the Opposition on West Lindsey District Council.
Right: The three candidates and panel chairman Mr. Ryan Blackburn. (Photo by: Dec Ackroyd) 

Mr. Dobson reports that while some praised it as a good opportunity to ask questions, others scorned it, saying the candidates avoided the main questions, and were left feeling disappointed.

Miss Siobhan Bligh is one of those left feeling frustrated and The Linc quote her as saying:
"I think it was a chance for the politicians to say an awful lot of rhetoric and avoid talking about policies – the chair could have done better in getting the candidates to answer questions."
Mr. Huseyin Kishi, a first-year journalism student, is reported to have said he was disappointed with the debate, and felt the 'MPs evaded questioning.' While Mr. Nick Carey, a second-year politics student, is reported to have said:
"All three candidates seemed to be pathologically incapable of answering questions."
Mr. Chris Charnley, the Students' Union’s President, said:
"It was excellent that students were given the opportunity to ask questions – it was a healthy debate with great questions and a great turnout too."
Ms Merron declared:
"It was really worthwhile. The students weren’t afraid to ask difficult questions."
Mr. Ryan Blackburn, Vice President for Education and Democracy at Bishop Grosseteste University College Students’ Union, who chaired the debate. was reported to have said:
"It was a wonderful opportunity for students to question their parliamentary candidates
"I think a lot of questions were led away from the main subject."
The agreed format of the deabte was that each candidate had five minutes to give an introduction and explain their stance and their party’s stance on higher education.

Mr. McCartney was first and immediately attacked Labour’s efforts to date, suggesting that they had failed education by saying
"some children at 16 still can’t read.
"Three hundred thousand people are projected to not get a place at university this year".
Mr. McCartney specified to the audience that the Conservative Party's policy is to remove the cap on students in universities and said he was 'worried with how education is currently going'. He added:
"I enjoyed university, I think it should be available to anyone that wants to do it."
Ms Merron followed and defended her party’s contribution to education in Lincoln so far, stating that:
"Over one hundred million pounds has been invested by the government into the university since 1997."
Ms Merron is reported to have apologised for not being able to sign the pledge due to an independent investigation in education spending being made, but said the current system is 'much fairer than it used to be'.

"I don’t want to see university only for those who can afford it, and the door slammed in the face of others. That’s why I oppose the Tories plan to give discounts to wealthy graduates who pay their loans back early. – This election is going to be a real choice,"
Cllr. Shore, Mr. Dobson notes, started by painting a grim picture.
"We are here against the depressing background of a failing economy – the impact on young people was far reaching, and the future of the nation lies in your hands."
He condemned Labour for causing the deficit in university placements, and the Conservatives for not opposing their policies, suggesting that their own education policies do not differ.

Cllr. Shore, The Linc says, spoke to the audience about how students will be burdened with debt for almost their whole lives, and will believe 'blindly' that the Conservatives will 'rescue them'. Cllr. Shore went on to say that the biggest part of the Liberal Democrats’ budget would be education, and vow to remove tuition fees, as they have in Scotland - Although this is no longer the party's policy as it is unaffordable and surely the NHS (at over £100 billion pounds a year) will be the the main part of the UK's budget for years to come.

The floor was opened for questions, where Mr. Ernest Charles, English Democrats, ambushed the debate by beginning a long speech of his own. When asked by Mr. Blackburn to make a question, he retorted:
"Okay, but it will be a very long question"
He continued with his speech.

The candidates were pressed with a variety of questions. Aaron Porter, Vice-President for the National Union of Students, attacked the candidates with questions, accusing Mr. McCartney of a 'lack of contribution to the discussion and a general lack of policy ideas'. He also assaulted the Liberal Democrats for 'u-turning' on their free education policy, and Labour for allowing Lord Mandelson to sacrifice public services and education so willingly.

Lincoln Students' Union went on the attack, gunning for Ms Merron, as both Mr. Chris Charnley and Mr. Dan Derricott, who is a student officer, pressed her for answers to the potential bursary cuts. Ms Merron is reported to have skillfully dodged answering the queston, much to Mr. Derricott’s evident annoyance.

After the ninety minute session, the candidates were given two minutes to make a closing speech, where Ms Merron said:
"I think this debate has shown the need to be realistic – I would never promise something that couldn’t be achieved."
Mr. McCartney, true to form, continued to attack Labour with more statistics, and Cllr. Shore talked about his worries for the future under a Labour or Conservative government - so nothing nuanced from any of them.

Mr. Blackburn finished the debate by declaring it:
"A wonderful sign that students here want to get involved, want to get talking and want to ask the diffucult questions."

"This is our country, these are our politicians, it’s our vote and we need a government we can trust. So get out there, ask the questions, find the answers, and make an informed decision."
Audio from this event is included in The Linc's weekly podcast Week In Review available here

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