Students grill Rutland and Melton parliamentary candidates at hustings event
Parliamentary candidates for the Rutland and Melton seat faced a lively audience of Melton Vale Post-16 Centre (MV16) students at a hustings debate.
Around 150 sixth-form age students fired questions at the panel to gauge their views on issues ranging from climate change and university fees to the rights of parents with children and the radicalisation of young Britons to becoming jihadists.
Most of the students present were in Years 12 and 13, studying A-levels in law, economics, sociology, government and politics, though others were there from other study subject classes because they had political interests.
Candidates, minus Conservative nominee, the Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan, who had visited the school separately, were not pre-warned about the nature of the questions posed at random via a microphone.
One of the feistier exchanges was prompted by a discussion around the theory of climate change, when UKIP candidate Richard Billington said there was no justification for blaming human intervention for detrimental changes in weather patterns across the world.
Many of the students applauded when Green representative Alastair McQuillan replied: “There have been 10,000 scientific papers looking at climate change and only two papers refuted it. This is the number one threat we face as a society.”
There were murmurings among the students when Rutland county councillor Sam Asplin, who was standing in for Liberal Democrat candidate Ed Reynolds, who had to leave to attend a personal appointment, described UKIP’s stance on climate change as ‘appalling’.
Most of the panel were in agreement on a question seeking their views on whether the UK voting age should be reduced from 18 to 16.
Labour candidate Dr James Moore felt it should happen but young people needed to be educated earlier at school about the mechanics of politics so they understood enough about it to make a reasoned judgement.
The others saw no reason not to reduce the voting age but Independent Marilyn Gordon said she was undecided on the issue since, she felt, some 16 and 17-year-olds were mature enough to vote but others were not.
The election nominees debated university fees, with Mr Billington saying UKIP was initially committed to scrapping them for subjects such as science, maths, technology and engineering and eventually would make higher education studies free.
Labour’s Dr Moore said his party would reduce fees by £3,000 if they got into power while Mr McQuillan (Green) described the current cost of university tuition as an ‘outrage’ and served to make students take courses which they were not passionate about but which promised a salary big enough to pay back their study fees.
The panel were also probed for their thoughts on the principle of paid maternity leave. Both the Green and UKIP candidates said it was vitally important and the Labour nominee agreed, adding that his party also promised an extra 25 hours a week free child care for families.
Mrs Gordon, the Independent, argued that it was important for a mother to build a bond with her baby but that extended paid leave for parents would put a huge strain on small businesses.
MV16 head of centre, Kirstie Black, who compered the event, told her students as it ended: “Can I just say how incredible that was - this was the first time I have seen an activity like that take place in a school.
“I am very proud of the way you asked some very intelligent questions and treated the candidates with respect.
“You are an absolute credit to this school.”
A recent survey by MV16 revealed 40 per cent of pupils who were eligible to vote in the General Election were not planning to do so.
But head of law, Janene Weymouth, said she hoped that number would rise as a result of the school’s hustings event.