SEVERAL hundred North Swindon residents went the Wyvern Theatre last night to watch the first of the Adver hustings between the election candidates.

A wide range of topics were discussed from education provision to the European Union as each hopeful for the seat was put on the spot.

Justin Tomlinson for the Conservatives, Mark Dempsey for Labour, Poppy Hebdon-Leeder for the Green Party, Janet Ellard for the Lib Dems and James Faulkner for UKIP all took questions from Adver readers for the debate, chaired by editor Gary Lawrence.

Each candidate was given the opportunity to give their answer to the question before an often heated debate took place.

While within the audience there were some party supporters, there were also a number who had yet to make their mind up on which party to vote for next week, all keen to state when they were not happy with an answer.

Without doubt, the most contentious topic of the evening was that of immigration, the first question after the interval.

Candidates were asked how the issue of migrants crossing the Mediterranean could be handled, along with a wider approach to immigration.

First up was UKIP’s James Faulkner, who said: “If we continue to let people in then the fact is more will continue to come and this country is not ready.

“The truth is, the only way to stop people making the journey is to not allow them entry altogether. And the reality is many of these countries are richer than we think, many with shopping malls.”

It was a response which angered many in the crowd and all candidates distanced themselves from it, with Justin Tomlinson branding the answer a disgrace.

He said: “I am a Eurosceptic and many people have asked why I don’t join UKIP. That is why.

“The scenes we saw last week were shameful.

“I am proud that this government has continued with foreign aid. It is the subject I probably receive most emails about but I will always defend the foreign aid so we can help these people and prevent other tragedies occurring.”

Among the other topics which raised the anger of the crowd was that of higher education.

A 16-year-old member of the audience called Jonathan who asked what each of the parties would do to help reduce the living costs of students.

Poppy Hebdon-Leeder agreed that student loans no longer covered the cost of living and said the Green Party had the answers.

She said: “What we would do is two-fold.

“We would increase the amount of social housing so there was somewhere affordable for students to live and we would introduce a living wage so the students who had a job could afford to pay the bills.”

Labour’s Mark Dempsey repeated calls for Swindon to build its own university, something received well by a section of the audience.

He said: “Swindon is the largest town in the country not to have its own university.

“It is about time we provided something for our young people.

“Not only that, when I speak with businesses they say need struggle to get workers with the skills they are looking for so a university would address that.

The Liberal Democrat candidate Janet Ellard said the while there was no upfront cost to paying back student loans, not enough had been done to address the issue of living costs.

Justin said a greater number of funding streams had been made available so more people than ever could go to university but, after the responses, Jonathan said he was not happy with the Tory’s response as it did not answer the whole question.

While there was often disagreement on many topics, the candidates were all unified on saying negativity had no place in politics.

Janet Ellard said: “On this campaign trail I have met the candidates a number of times at these events and we have all let each other answer questions without interrupting which I think has been a benefit, although this is now changing.

“It is my opinion that if a party does not have something positive to say then there is no reason to support it.”

It was view echoed by the candidates, with both Poppy and Justin saying they did not like the way MPs often behaved at Prime Minister's Questions.

Any unity was short-lived however as the subject of the NHS and ways to prevent capacity overloads at the Great Western Hospital were also discussed.

James Faulkner, of UKIP, said: “The mistake we had was building a smaller hospital which replaced the Princess Margaret.

“It can’t struggle with the current growth of the town.

“It was also built with a PFI contract so does not actually belong to the NHS.

“We would want to see all these PFI contracts paid off as quickly as possible.”

Mark Dempsey said if Labour came to power it would increase the number of doctors and nurses to make an NHS “fit for 21st century” while the Liberal Democrat said it was important to invest the £8 billion which the head of the NHS has said is needed.

The Conservative said the investment of £12.7 billion showed the party cared about the NHS while Poppy said all parts of the NHS needed to be put back into public hands. Another topic which came up was support for the outlying towns and villages.

Mark Dempsey spoke of campaigns he has been involved in, with James Faulkner saying rates for small businesses in those areas needed to be cut.

Justin said: “As the MP I have been proud to work with the small towns and villages, especially supporting local pubs. Since I won the seat the leaders of these towns and villages have known my door is always open.”

The Green candidate said it was vital broadband was extended to the outlying areas while Janet Ellard said it was important young people had access to housing so they didn’t have to leave.

Tonight sees the second of the hustings events with all the candidates for the tightly-contested South Swindon seat going head-to-head at the Wyvern Theatre at 7.30pm.

There are still free tickets available for the event once again at the Adver.

Swindon Advertiser:

  • The North Swindon candidates: Mark Dempsey (Labour); Poppy Hebdon-Leeder (Green); James Faulkner (UKIP); Janet Ellard (Lib Dem); and Justin Tomlinson (Conservative)