By Sian Morris
Climate strikes and an impending environmental crisis dominated Tuesday night’s Our Time debate. The Question Time-style event saw election candidates taking questions from an audience of students at Bournemouth University.
The panellists were Labour party candidate Corrie Drew, Lib Dem candidate Vikki Slade, Green party candidate Simon Bull, and the former Brexit party members, now independent candidates, David Young and Ben Aston. Notably, no Conservative candidates attended – Bournemouth MPs Tobias Ellwood and Conor Burns command healthy majorities as they run for re-election at this Thursday’s General Election.
The evening covered a wide range of topics chosen by the young audience including the climate emergency, youth services, trust in politicians in the wake of the 2010 tuition fee rise, and of course Brexit.
Concerns about the environment sparked spirited debate from the panellists and the most reactions from the audience. Independent candidate David Young said rhetoric about the climate emergency was alarmist and added that he was “worried about youngsters who get panicked by a sense of impending doom.”
Simon Bull, Green party parliamentary candidate and councillor, responded: “That’s because there IS an impending doom!” a retort that earned him applause from the crowd.
Vikki Slade, Simon Bull and Corrie Drew all backed the young leaders of the climate strikes for taking action and calling attention to the Climate Crisis through their protests. Corrie Drew said that she had been protesting for environmental causes since she was six years old and been told that the adults would fix it. “Thirty years on and the adults have not fixed it,” she said.
In one of the most dramatic moments of the debate the Labour parliamentary candidate said she had decided not to have children as part of her personal fight to save the planet.
Also of note was the discussion of support for young people and their mental health. When asked about the prevalence of mental health issues among young people, Corrie Drew, cited her experience as a youth worker and said that “we are losing hope for people’s futures”. Vikki Slade, Ben Aston and Simon Bull echoed those sentiments, identifying the economy and low prospects of security or owning a home as driving factors for poor mental health and disillusionment among young people.
On the question of knife crime, David Young endorsed stop and search. This was greeted by an exasperated sigh from Corrie Drew who proposed a relationship based community policing response to the problems of knife crime and gang violence. The fact checking team from Full Fact revealed two studies found stop and search to have no deterrent impact on knife crime. Young described the statistics interesting but “counter intuitive”.
Slade voiced her support for community driven policing as well as the response taken in Glasgow which re-categorised knife crime as a public health issue and subsequently saw levels of knife crime fall. Ben Aston, who is running as an Independent candidate said: “We’re spending money on knife crime at the end of the cycle, we should spend it at the beginning instead by investing in youth services.” Simon Bull pointed to the issue of drugs by denouncing the war on drugs and the cost for the taxpayer and young people.
Trust in politicians came up as Vikki Slade and Corrie Drew were asked where they stood on tuition fees. Slade said that the Lib Dems had apologised for the rise in tuition fees and that it was important to move on from the issue, identifying the Lib Dem’s position as the juniors in the coalition as the reason they could not prevent the change that has haunted the party since Lib Dem MPs voted the rise through the House of Commons in 2010. Slade said: “If we’re going to keep going back to what somebody did 10 years ago and not allowing them to move forward, nobody would vote Labour because of the illegal Iraq War.”
Corrie Drew responded saying that even though she at one point quite liked Labour PM Tony Blair, when she was old enough to vote she chose not to vote for him because he introduced tuition fees and because she disagreed with the Iraq war, saying “there’s lots of reasons to question those who have been in parliament… and we have to hold people to account.”
Brexit lit up the debate as expected. The two pro-Brexit independent candidates are campaigning for a deal to be done. David Young claimed that a no deal scenario or what he called a “WTO deal” would allow the UK to negotiate from a “position of strength” saying that the “EU needs us far more than we need them”. Vikki Slade responded saying, “Brexit would be a complete disaster for the country” pointing out that in a No Deal scenario the UK would suffer under WTO tariffs until it could replace the 52 trade deals the UK is signatory to as an EU member state.
Overall, the debate (unlike some Question Time televised debates) was civil and was well managed by the panel moderators and fact checkers. The conservative party candidates were missed, especially during the Brexit debate, with Vikki Slade pointing out that there was no one present to defend Boris Johnson’s deal.
But there is still time for them to get in touch with the journalism team here at Bournemouth!!!
Sian Morris is a journalism student on the MA Multimedia Journalism course and will be reporting for Sky at the Trowbridge election count on Thursday night