Lucas gains support in Question Time debate as other candidates flounder.
Last night saw the General Election Question Time debate take place at Grand Parade, as the candidates of the four main political parties standing in Brighton Pavilion answered questions from their constituents on the major issues affecting public opinion in the build up to this election.
Brighton Pavilion remains a unique constituency, with UKIP scarcely featuring as an available option and the Green Party able to elaborate on the ideological base they have been limited to in nationwide debates, such is their popularity. That the UKIP candidate for Brighton Pavilion, Nigel Carter, asked that the audience be made aware that he has a Facebook page is met with sniggers.
Fully aware of the liberalness of the audience in attendance, Caroline Lucas kept it simple on the night. It was her debate to lose, after all, with opinion polls giving her a 10-point lead over Labour’s Purna Sen. Lucas stuck rigidly to her party line throughout, campaigning for free education, a re-nationalisation of the railways and an end to the ‘creeping privatisation of the NHS,’ amongst other issues. Only occasionally did the audience get a glimpse of the feisty nature that has endeared her to many during her time in the Commons, as she clashed with Conservative candidate Clarence Mitchell over the affordability of the Greens’ public spending plans.
Having noted the popularity of the Green Party amongst the students, both the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates could be seen to consciously lurch to the left on key issues, leaving Clarence Mitchell isolated and alone on the right in defence of austerity. Though strong on local issues such as reducing parking charges and regenerating the seafront, which were welcomed warmly, the national Conservative dogma of ‘austerity and efficiency’ was continually laughed down by the audience. On multiple occasions throughout the evening, Mitchell was reduced to berating the audience for their rudeness towards him. Not a good night for the Tory, who may find come polling day that shouting at people is not the best way to get them to vote for you.
Liberal Democrat candidate and self-described left-winger Chris Bowers fared better, though the muted indifference to his thoughts is perhaps representative of national public opinion towards his party. Many current students were not old enough to vote in the last General Election, but they still remember that broken promise on tuition fees very well indeed.
Purna Sen also attempted to appeal to the left-wing, focusing on select Labour Party Manifesto points, including opposing profit being made from the NHS and capping private rents in line with inflation. However, Sen’s attempts to distance herself from her party in opposition to austerity were immediately rendered obsolete once she was reminded that the Labour Party Manifesto pledges to make cuts to spending. Repeatedly at odds with her party, Sen claimed to be pro-immigration, while Labour promises to control it (who could forget the anti-immigration mug?).
While Sen pulls to the left in Brighton, her party leans towards the right, ensuring a frustrating night for the Labour candidate, who, though popular, struggled to reconcile what she as a potential Labour minister would like to implement with what those in charge of the party feel is best for the country.
Ultimately, though, the winner on the night was Esther, the eight-year-old girl who kicked off proceedings by asking the candidates ‘why students have to pay so much money to go to university’, and gaining whoops and an unabashedly huge round of applause in the process. She melted hearts with her bravery, and was deservedly praised by all of the panellists. Talking of which, of the candidates Lucas undoubtedly emerged victorious, though, in front of such a partisan audience, she probably still would have gained the largest round of applause if she had just sat in silence for two hours.
By Lennon Craig