Hitchin candidates go back to school for questions from first-time voters
- Credit: Archant
Five of the candidates who will be hoping to pass the general election test in May went back to school to field questions from Hitchin teenagers.
Hitchin Boys’ School played host to the first hustings of the 2015 general election campaign, with pupils from Hitchin Girls’ School and The Priory School also keen to hear the debate.
On the platform were sitting MP Peter Lilley, who will again be standing as the Conservative candidate, and rivals Rachel Burgin (Labour), Pauline Pearce (Liberal Democrat), Richard Wise (Green) and John Stocker (UKIP).
They were all given a Jeremy Paxman-style grilling by the school’s sixth formers in an audience which numbered more than 100.
The first question was addressed to Mr Lilley, who was asked for his views on radical extremism.
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He said: “As a Christian society we are about forgiveness. We don’t like the idea of surveillance of potential terrorist suspects – but that’s a price we have to pay.”
Rachel Burgin said: “I think we need to work much harder as a society to help solve this problem. We need to mix and integrate our communities.
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On the same subject Pauline Pearce said: “Whatever your background, community is important. Once we understand our differences we can move forward.”
When the discussion moved to immigration, both the UKIP and Green candidates were in agreement.
John Stocker bluntly told the teenagers: “I’d repatriate all illegal immigrants as soon as possible.”
Richard Wise backed his stance, even though it’s not the national policy of his party. He said: “I am against my party policy. I’d repatriate illegal immigrants.”
On the subject of the draft Local Plan, which has been a hot topic in North Herts for months, Pauline Pearce said: “We don’t need 12,000 homes here. You call it nimbyism – I call it realism.”
But Mr Lilley responded: “I call it hypocrisy. Students here will one day face applying for crippling mortgages because there aren’t enough houses.”
With an audience of A-level pupils contemplating three years of expensive study at university, things got heated when student fees were discussed.
John Stocker said: “We need to encourage people to leave school at 16 to take on apprenticeships rather than studying psychology or sociology.”
At that, a voice from the audience shot back: “I’m willing to bet the UKIP candidate doesn’t know the difference!”
A visibly shocked Mr Stocker replied: “I’m not going to debate with you – you’re ruining the debate.”
There was a lighter moment when Green candidate Richard Wise, talking about budget issues, said: “It’s a tricky subject and when I try to explain it, it’s like showing a dog a card trick.”
The debate was impressively chaired by head boy Peter Saville, who will himself be standing as a Conservative candidate for Bearton in May’s local election.
Closing the session, he firmly told the audience, which included many first time voters: “Make sure you use your vote on May 7.”