Exeter MP Question Time: The Debate

On Friday 20 March, Exeter University's Debating Society and Politics Society presented one of the most exciting events in the political calendar this year (except possibily something going on around May...?): a 'Question Time' featuring the six Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) for Exeter.

The PPCs included Ben Bradshaw, incumbent candidate of 18 years for Labour; Dom Morris for the Conservatives; Joel Mason for the Liberal Democrats; Diana Moore for Green; Keith Crawford for UKIP; and Edmund Potts for Left Unity.

The lively debate touched on many important topics, such as the future of university tuition fees, and questions from the student-only audience were encouraged through Twitter using the hashtag #ExeQT. This was so popular that the hastag became the fourth most popular in the UK that evening.

The debate was split between four topics: student focus, economic policy, foreign policy, and domestic policy. It encompassed a range of pressing issues which need to be addressed ahead of what could be one of the most important elections of our lifetime.

Student Focus: "What is your party's approach to higher education funding?"

Ben Bradshaw kicked off the debate by oulining Labour's position on tuition fees; plans to cut them to £6000 as funded by pension contributions, increases to grants by £400, caps on rent increases, and the abolishment of letting agent fees. Keith Crawford responded in a less comprehensive manner, promising a reveiw of fees, but reminding the audience that 'governments are broke'. Joel Mason, a current student at the University, addressed the elephant in the room immediately; that the Lib Dems did indeed promise to not increase tuition fees back in 2010. However, he then outlined the advantages that increased fees have brought since; namely a better repayment system, and greater applications from and help for disadvantaged students.

Diana Moore stated that the Greens would abolish tuition fees and introduce a basic income to cover student living costs. Where this money was going to come from was not mentioned. Dom Morris responded by noting that tuition fees are currently at the right level with the number of University students higher than ever, and more students from disadvantaged backgrounds having access to a University education. Left Unity candidate Edmund Potts declared that everyone has a right to education and that it should be free, speculating that he was probably the only PPC present who demonstrated against the tuition fee increases in 2010.

The Economy: "Has Austerity Worked?"

Edmund Potts' answer to this question was clear; austerity is 'a rubbish agenda from a bankrupt political elite'. Dom Morris instead highlighted the 'jobs miracle' performed by the current government, which inherited a country in crisis. With 1000 jobs created per day, he argued that progress has been made, but there is a lot more to do. The Greens answered this question by arguing that the 'rich have got richer', and the problem of inequaity prevails, with austerity measures hurting the poor disproportionately.

Joel Mason responded by saying that in 2010, the Lib Dems went into government to tackle this issue, and now the country has one of the highest levels of economic growth. However, Keith Crawford answered that austerity has indeed worked, but only in parts as millions of 18-24 year olds are still out of work. Ben Bradshaw rounded up the answers, by noting that 'any responsible government would have to have reduced the deficit'. However, the Labour PPC believed that most of the burden of deficit reduction has been on the poor.