Tuition fees, the NHS and drugs got local election candidates talking when they were put on the spot by students at City of Bath College at a recent event.
Bath’s six prospective parliamentary candidates faced an audience of about 65 students who were keen to quiz them on local and national issues.
The topics thrown up at ‘The Big Conversation’ included mental health, removing the stigma of claiming benefits, social equality, special needs education, the closure of Bath’s NHS Walk-In Centre and the legalisation of marijuana.
The election candidates also had to defend themselves on perceptions that the main political parties were ‘old-fashioned’ and that politicians were known for their ‘childish behaviour and squabbling.’
A major concern for the mainly 16 to 19-year-old audience was how the candidates would reach out to young people and how their policies would benefit the College.
The candidates in the spotlight at the hustings event were: Ben Howlett (Conservative), Dominic Tristram (Green Party), Lorraine Morgan-Brinkhurst (Independent), Ollie Middleston (Labour), Steve Bradley (Liberal Democrats) and Julian Deverell (Ukip).
Steve said that as all candidates were “new faces standing for Bath” it was even more important to make themselves known.
He said he would be continuing to go to people’s doors and attend as many events as possible “to engage with the people of Bath.”
Ben said he was working hard to reach out to people across the board. He said: “This election really does make a difference, everyone should vote to have their say.”
Ollie disputed claims that young people were apathetic, but agreed more needed to be done to integrate politics into education.
He said: “Young people are just disillusioned with the political process. Seeing politics as a vehicle for change has been lost.”
Julian said he was “very, very passionate about democracy” but he wasn’t surprised that “people had become disconnected with politics.”
Dominic said he would like to see colleges “open to anyone at any point in their life” and Lorraine said as an independent she would “have the freedom to vote for policies.”
The event was organised by the College’s Students’ Union as part of a national campaign called Generation Vote to get young people engaged, empowered – and voting.
There are about 4,500 students at City of Bath College eligible to vote in the election on 7th May.
Carole Stott, chair of City of Bath College’s Governors and the Association of Colleges, and local comedian Jon Monie jointly chaired the event on Tuesday.
They had to be firm but fair to keep candidates to their allocated answering times, regularly repeating that they wanted a discussion rather than a debate.
John said he was impressed with how many students had raised their hands to have their say, adding that their questions had “constantly keep him on the move like a shark in shallow water.”
Students in the audience were asked who they would vote for before and then after the discussion.
The Green Party came out on top of both straw polls, with their vote percentage rising from 35 to 42.