Lancaster and Fleetwood election hopefuls face city’s students

Lancaster University Student Union held a hustings at Lancaster Town Hall. PHOTO: Lancaster University Students' Union
Lancaster University Student Union held a hustings at Lancaster Town Hall. PHOTO: Lancaster University Students' Union

The four people hoping to become the next MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood were grilled by students from Lancaster University.

Labour’s Cat Smith, The Green Party’s Rebecca Novell, The Liberal Democrats’ Robin Long, and the Conservative Party’s Eric Ollerenshaw clashed over education, health, social care, the economy and Brexit at a hustings at Lancaster Town Hall on Thursday evening, May 18.

Lancaster University Student Union held a hustings at Lancaster Town Hall. PHOTO: Lancaster University Students' Union

Lancaster University Student Union held a hustings at Lancaster Town Hall. PHOTO: Lancaster University Students' Union

Dr Mark Garnett, a senior lecturer in Lancaster University’s politics department chaired the event, which was organised by Lancaster University Students Union (LUSU).

He said it was extremely important people used their vote on June 8, adding: “I hope we can all leave tonight inspired, energised and hopeful for the future.”

Eric Ollerenshaw, who was MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood from 2010-2015, said his campaign was about “economy, economy, economy”, and praised the Conservative Party for reducing the national deficit.

He said the deficit would be eliminated by 2025, which would help reduce the national debt.

For the financial year to the end of March 2017, the deficit was £52bn or 2.6 per cent of GDP.

He said of the Labour Party manifesto: “They’re trying an experiment which hasn’t been seen since the Callahan government in the 1970s.”

Cat Smith said the Conservative Party manifesto was putting a stranglehold on the Lancaster economy.

Mr Ollerenshaw, who voted “narrowly to leave” the EU in last year’s referendum, said the UK needed a Brexit deal to create the jobs that “everyone in this room will need in the future”, and that negotiations would need to be “hard”.

Robin Long said he would prefer the “olive branch” approach.

Cat Smith said that Lancashire receives £200m a year for structural funding from the EU, and she would want to see that protected.

One student asked how the election hopefuls would approach Brexit as individuals.

Mr Ollerenshaw said: “Fleetwood is a big part in all this in terms of fishing, and the farming community is relying on a different system for subsidy, and that needs fully supporting, and there’s an environmental side to that as well.

“Also Lancaster University will be affected.

“Any MP that’s elected is going to be receiving massive correspondence about Brexit. If the deal is critically damaging against this area, I would vote against my party.”

Robin Long, a physicist at Lancaster University, who voted to remain in the EU, said: “I’ve lost colleagues at the uni already. We’re losing those great lecturers and professionals.

“It’s a very complicated issue. For me, it would always be about staying in the single market, and the levels of funding we get from the EU have to be balanced.”

Ms Smith, who voted remain, said: “For me it’s about guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, higher education collaborations on things like Erasmus (European exchange programme), fishing and farming, but ultimately the questions - does this work for the majority of my constituents? I’ve broken the party whip before and I would again.”

Rebecca Novell, manager of Marsh Community Centre and a single mum, who also voted to remain, said: “Freedom of movement is so important, and I think we’re going to lose that.

“We’re fighting for some of the environmental protections. Thirty or forty years ago we were one of the dirtiest countries in Europe, and I don’t want to go back to that.”

The four candidates also took questions from students about health and social care, education funding and the economy in terms of taxation, public spending, and growth.

Student tuition fees were also widely discussed, with one student saying: “Why should taxpayers foot the bill for students?”

Labour has promosed to abolish university tuition fees, and Cat Smith was pressed on how this was achievable, and affordable.

She said the Labour Party would fund university tuition fees based on the current level of students going to university.

Robin Long said the Liberal Democrats would add an additional one per cent to income tax to pay for public services like the NHS and education, while Rebecca Novell said the Green Party would introduce a universal basic income to allow people to meet their basic living costs whilst providing care for relatives.

The Lancaster Guardian and The Visitor has been conducting video interviews with all of the election candidates in Lancaster and Fleetwood and Morecambe and Lunesdale, and will publish them on our websites and in print over the coming weeks, prior to the election on June 8.

To watch the full coverage of the hustings click HERE