The five Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) for the Elmet and Rothwell constituency came together for a hustings event at Wetherby Methodist Church.
All major parties were represented at the event last night (March 19), and for an hour and a half the PPCs took questions from the audience.
The event was organised by Churches Together in Wetherby and chaired by Rev Tim Laundon, Curate of St James’ Church.
After the debate the candidates made time to speak to the Wetherby News about what they wanted to highlight about themselves and the parties they represent.
Below are some extracted quotes, not full speeches, from the answers given.
PPCs were asked to refrain from quoting statistics, and if they had to they were obliged to provide a source. They were also asked not to rely on prepared speeches or sound bites.
Conservative PPC and current MP Alec Shelbrooke said: “I am the son of two teachers and I went on to university, as did my sister.
“That opportunity was there because of the state education system and everybody who wants to get on should be allowed to do so.
“It should be about an opportunity for everybody with the ability to get on. That is why I have a long term plan to carry on the work we have started.”
Labour PPC Veronica King said: “I was always brought up hearing my Nan’s stories about her childhood in Armley when there was no safety net, no welfare state, and no alternative.
“And the stories she told me about the Labour government and how it changed her life in 1945 is what drove me to join the Labour Party when I was 17.
“I want to see more of those 1945 politics in 2015 and I’m still inspired by my Nan who came to my campaign office last week, which was such a proud moment for me.”
Lib Dem PPC Stewart Golton said: “Due to family circumstances for a significant part of my childhood I was brought up by my grandparents.
“My grandad was a working class Tory but voted Liberal locally because he was inspired by a local lady running there.
“I was taken to the Chapel a lot as a child and that made me aware that you can do more together than you can apart, and I have been loyal to the Lib Dems ever since.”
Green Party PPC Dave Brooks said: “Up until recently I have been totally uninspired with the political system.
“I have been very much an activist focused on establishing a workers’ cooperative and on the back of the Green surge I realised there is a party that speaks to me and to people about caring, about sharing, and about equality.
“So I have got involved with the Green Party. We are the fastest growing party in the country and the third largest party.”
UKIP PPC Paul Spivey said: “I have been a parish councillor now for over ten years and I work hard for my community.
“I became more and more frustrated by the inability of the government of the day to deal with problems affecting people on the street.
“I feel passionately that we should be doing everything we can to help you guys and I want to do the best job.”
QUESTION: HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE WOMEN TO VOTE?
Mrs King: “I think local people will be engaged in voting when we have a more representative government and I am really proud the Labour Party has the most female MPs and we are looking at a lot of issues like the gender pay gap.”
Mr Spivey: “I believe everyone should be respected, women and gentlemen. And many of you will know that when you have a good idea you check it with the wife and the wife has an opinion like everybody else.”
QUESTION: WHY DO SO MANY TEACHERS APPEAR TO BE LEAVING EDUCATION?
Mr Brooks: “The pressures on teachers are ridiculous and you will have heard about paperwork and inspections, but there seems to be a plan to basically fail schools so they can then be turned into academies run from central government rather than local control.”
Mr Golton: “Just because you’re a teacher that doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher so I don’t think it is a bad thing that some teachers leave because they might be being moved on to get a better teacher in place, but I think they should be helped to get to the best they can be.”
QUESTION: IS IT RIGHT THAT PENSIONERS SEEM TO BE UNIQUELY PROTECTED FROM THE CUTS HAPPENING NOW AND IN THE FUTURE?
Mr Shelbrooke: “The idea that if you are a wealthy pensioner you shouldn’t have the benefit is a political view, not an economic one, and it is about redistribution of wealth.
“The most important thing we have to recognise is that pensioners on the whole are on fixed incomes and when the cost of goods goes up pensioners are hit hardest.
“The triple lock pension means the government is doing all it can for people on fixed incomes.”
Mrs King: “I know from my work that local authorities like Leeds are being cut by 43p for every £1 from their money and they have to cut funding for things like adult social care. Pensioners are seeing a cut and there is a whole bigger picture that shows they are being hit really hard.”
Mr Golton: “Pensioners vote, so when people are making decisions about where they share scarce resources out they are going to make sure the people who vote for them are going to be looked after. But I don’t think anyone is being particularly featherbedded, it is just that you’re not being directly targeted.”
Mr Brooks: “The Green Party believes we should end austerity - there shouldn’t be cuts, there shouldn’t be suffering.”
Mr Spivey: “I believe our pensioners have all worked hard and contributed to the society we have today. Part of the original agreement with society in paying taxes was that you should have a comfortable old age but pensions have not gone up with costs and savings aren’t worth as much, so I believe you are being targeted and you are suffering.”
QUESTION: HOW WILL YOU SUPPORT STUDENTS AND ENCOURAGE YOUNGER VOTERS?
Mr Shelbrooke: “We must make sure that if you have the ability you must have the opportunity.
“The tuition fee policy means the money is actually probably coming more from the government now than it was before and is that such a bad thing?
“What it does make sure is that universities know exactly where the funding is coming from, and reducing funding means fewer people can go to university and I don’t support that.”
Mrs King: “Young people tend to be the ones that are least likely to vote in elections, but I am glad we are talking about things that affect them and, unlike the Lib Dems in government, we won’t break our promise and our policy on tuition fees will stick.”
Mr Golton: “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Sorry.”
Mr Brooks: “We would abolish tuition fees.”
Mr Spivey: “At UKIP we believe tuition fees should be abolished.”
QUESTION: WHAT SHOULD BE DONE FOR PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH, ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE?
Mr Shelbrooke: “Mental health is an issue which society has to take on board. This is not a disease which means someone is going to come round to your house and put an axe through your head.
“Society has to become far more accepting about what mental health and mental illness is about. We shouldn’t be ashamed or it or frightened of people who have it.”
Mrs King: “One of the things we have said we would do in the NHS is invest in staff, more doctors, more nurses, and one of the big jobs they will be doing is ensuring we have specialist staff, ensuring that support is there for people of all ages.”
Mr Golton: “The issue has been talked about more and more and I think it is happening, there is a wave that is starting and the issue is how do we turn good intentions into policy.”
Mr Brooks: “One in four of us will have a mental illness at some point and the Green Party believes all health is centrally linked.
“We should see the whole of society’s wellness as a reflection of society. The pressures that put people into mental health breakdown situations leaves you open and vulnerable and the Green Party would focus on primary access to services.”
Mr Spivey: “We have pledged £3b to the NHS, which we would fund through our leaving the European Union.”
QUESTION: WHY IS THE WELFARE STATE BEING SLASHED WHILE BANKERS ARE GETTING OFF SCOTT FREE?
Mrs King: “I am glad we have got a safety net in place and I am glad that the first thing Labour would do is get rid of the bedroom tax.
“It is morally reprehensible and there is just not the case for it. Politics is about priorities and those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden.”
Mr Golton: “Before we have a go at the banking system, think about those who are there providing a service to working people.
“Even under a Labour government we did rely on the City of London too much as the goose that laid the golden egg and when the crash came there was far too little money going into the public coffers.
“Now we have an economy that is in growth we need to think again. We can’t keep relying on cutting the public spending.”
Mr Brooks: “Picking on those that are least able to defend themselves is one easy way to stop spending revenue.
“The Green Party would advocate a wealth tax and we would take one per cent off the richest.
“It is time to make the bankers pay and we should have a decent welfare state system.”
QUESTION: HOW DO YOU BALANCE ENCROACHING ON GREEN BELT LAND AND CREATING MORE HOUSES?
Mr Shelbrooke: “Leeds City Council says this constituency has to take 12,500 houses and 5,000 in the Wetherby and Harewood area in the next 15 years.
“You are either going to double the size of every village, or you are going to identify a site. I stand up and say that site should be at Headley.
“Many don’t agree with the suggestion I have put forward and I think it is a ridiculous figure based on statistics we don’t think exist, but I have identified a site that has schools, roads, doctor’s surgeries.
“Unless people can stand up tonight and say where those houses are going to go then you have not had an answer.”
Mrs King: “The issue is building the right homes in the right places, while protecting the identities of the villages in our area.
“We need to ensure new homes have got the right infrastructure in terms of flooding, schools, GPs and whenever there is new development we need to make sure new homes are affordable for local people.
“The Labour Party policy is to build on brownfield land first.”
Mr Golton said: “Everybody wants to build on brownfield sites but the other parties haven’t articulated how they are going to make that happen before the greenfield is built on first.
“All parties have relied on volume house builders and they are still holding onto the land they already have because they want to build the kind of houses they want to build.
“Up to a point they are in collusion with local councils. Leeds City Council wants to build 70,000 houses and they other parties are saying you don’t need to build that many, but they are tempted to because they get a new homes bonus from the government and more tax. This is the core problem.”
Mr Brooks: “It is about balancing the need for housing, and it is definitely about living in a community where your children need houses or they will move somewhere where there are some.
“House building has to happen. We will be expanding council housing and availability rather than expensive housing people can’t afford.”
Mr Spivey: “UKIP has a clear policy of favouring brownfield land and would incentivise house builders to allow them to build on these sites with grants and back cuts with the primary objective of achieving affordable housing.
“There is no other way to do it other than making it attractive for these developers.”
QUESTION: WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE THAT NO-ONE IS TALKING ABOUT?
Mr Shelbrooke said the exploitation of young people, both in work and in how they are perceived, Mrs King said support for carers, Mr Golton said David Cameron’s big society and enabling communities, Mr Brooks said climate change, and Mr Spivey said the candidates and who is going to get the best for the public.
Where candidates are not quoted that does not mean they did not answer. All PPCs gave full answers to all questions. What is quoted here is a brief part of what was said.