Ahead of the general election on December 12, a debate between Cheltenham candidates took place at Park Campus on Tuesday November 26.
The candidates present for the hustings were Alex Chalk (Conservative), George Penny (Labour) and Max Wilkinson (Liberal Democrat). The Monster Raving Loony candidate George Ridgeon was not present.
The event was set up by the university and opened by Imaani Mitchell, president of the Student Union. Imaani stressed the importance of the student vote and the history of low turnout: “Our voices as young voters can be powerful, so long as we use it.”
The debate was moderated by Anne Dawson, head of the School of Media. All candidates began by stating their key manifesto points in an election broadcast with the help of journalism students Louise de Freitas and Paul Sutton.
Also at the event was Erica Ramos, Vice President of the National Union of Students, who gave a student perspective to the panel.
Traditionally in Cheltenham, there is a two-party race between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. The Cheltenham constituency is always a highly contested seat with just 2569 votes separating first and second place in 2017.
Around 200 people attended to what turned out to be a humorous debate, with Conservative candidate Alex Chalk often poking fun at Labour candidate and newcomer, 22-year-old, George Penny.
One of the biggest political discussions included different candidates’ views on how to deal with Brexit. Being a hot topic in British politics, it was no surprise this issue came up early on in the debate.
Mr Chalk, who has represented the constituency since 2015, said we can’t have a second referendum because the losing side would not accept the result, although he admitted was grumpy about the referendum result originally.
“People would fight like rats in a sack,” he said. “It would divide and wouldn’t decide”.
Labour candidate George Penny said he wanted a second referendum which would offer a better deal than the Tories, protecting worker’s rights and the UK’s environmental commitments.
Liberal Democrat candidate Max Wilkison said to “stop Brexit” and instead invest in public services such as education and focus on the environment.
Due to the recent Extinction Rebellion protests, protecting the environment has been pushed significantly into discussion, with more and more parties recognizing the climate emergency.
When talking about climate change, Mr Penny explained: “It’s something which matters to me on a deep and fundamental level.”
The Labour candidate stated that the UK should be leading the world on climate change and aiming to get down to net-zero by 2030.
Mr Wilkinson explained that the environment is the “prime issue” at this election. He said by 2030 the Liberal Democrats would ban all petrol and diesel cars and ensure 80% of energy is from renewable sources.
Mr Chalk claimed he introduced environmental legislation to allow Britain to be the first country in the G7 to legally commit to net-zero by 2050. He stated that the problem when it comes to the environment is reducing carbon emissions and keeping energy in homes.
With the debate taking place at the university, and with many students and lecturers attending, the topic of student fees was also addressed.
Mr Chalk defended not removing or reviewing tuition fees like his political opponents explaining it was a moral issue.
He said: “Why should the dustman pay for the duke? There is a balance to be struck about what it is moral to ask people to do. If you do slash tuition fees, social mobility goes into reverse. I don’t think that would be the fair thing to do.”
Mr Penny, however, defined student loans as “morally wrong”.
He said: “The fundamental point is that Alex is seeing education not as a social good but as a personal enrichment, something that causes you to make more money in your career. Education at all levels is a fundamental social good and the basis of a fair, open and tolerant society.”
Mr Wilkinson argued a review was needed in order to work out what level of fees is required.
The hustings were live-streamed by the University of Gloucestershire School of Media students and the Television Society, and available to watch below.