Project Description

Students grilled Epsom’s five candidates for May’s General Election about the economy, gay marriage and whether there is any point in voting if the constituency is such a safe Tory seat.

Epsom College hosted the Question Time event yesterday evening which saw all of the candidates hoping to be elected as Epsom and Ewell MP later this year, take questions from an audience of students from schools across the area.

The candidates – Susan McGrath for the Green Party, Robert Leach for UKIP, Epsom and Ewell councillor Sheila Carlson representing Labour, Conservative Epsom and Ewell MP Chris Grayling and Liberal Democrat Steve Gee – had a lively debate on various issues raised by the young audience, some of whom will be first-time voters in May.

While Mr Grayling firmly supported his policy of introducing a British Bill of Rights and withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights, Coun Carlson said the country could not afford to lose the protection of the rights the Convention bestowed.

Asked whether Mr Grayling’s policy on withdrawal from the Convention is the right one, Mr Gee said: “It’s the Tories fighting off UKIP.

“The only thing they are trying to do is remove the word ‘European’ from it.

“Don’t fix something if it’s not broken.”

One student in the audience asked whether his vote would be a waste because Epsom and Ewell is a traditionally Conservative safe seat.

Ms McGrath said: “It does leave people with feeling like ‘what’s the point in voting?’

“But the more people who get behind new policies the more things can change.”

Mr Gee said he supported a proportional representation voting system instead of the current first past the post process.

He added: “Just because it’s been like this for 100 years doesn’t mean it has to be like this for another 100 years.

“Maybe if it’s a five-horse race in Epsom and Ewell, it doesn’t have to be another huge Chris Grayling majority.”

Mr Grayling, the constituency’s MP since 2001, said he does not believe in the concept of safe seats.

“I don’t believe any candidate should approach standing in a constituency as a slam dunk,” he said.

“It’s not sensible for any MP to take a seat for granted.”

“But it’s not just about canvassing at election time. I have tried to be an active MP.”

On the issue of gay marriage, all the candidates except Mr Leach agreed that people in relationships with those of the same sex should be able to marry each other.

Mr Leach said: “I have no problem with gay people, but there are some things the law can’t do.

“You could pass a law saying that all cats are dogs but it doesn’t mean anything.

“As a Christian, I believe marriage is an institution created by God. Parliament can’t vary that.

“When I heard David Cameron make a speech supporting gay marriage, I read the UKIP manifesto and sent off my £30.”

When the candidates were asked about the economy and how the country should reduce its deficit, Coun Carlson said the Government’s strategy has “just made more people poor”.

She said having a deficit and borrowing money “isn’t necessarily the worst thing that can happen”.

“Making sure you know what to do with the borrowing and doing something positive is the key,” she said.

“George Osborne has borrowed more money and achieved far less. Don’t please think that because we have to borrow money it’s a bad thing.”

But Mr Grayling said the deficit had been halved as a percentage of the total national income, that unemployment is down, and he questioned whether people could trust the Labour team with the economy, given their role at the time of the financial crash under Gordon Brown.

When asked about social inequality, Ms McGrath said: “We are in a place of privilege tonight but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognise the problems we have.

“It’s scandalous that we are the sixth richest nation in the West and living in a society so divided. How did we get there? It feels as if we have gone backwards.”

Epsom College student Tom Baker, 17, said he believed celebrities such as Russell Brand are getting more young people engaged with politics.

He said: “Lots of people tend to say he has a negative impact on politics, but I think he’s probably a good thing.

“I feel as if Russell Brand and UKIP have actually created a rise in political awareness.”

Eleanor Haywood, 17, who attends Rosebery School and said before the debate that she was supportive of the Liberal Democrats, found the event very informative.

“Labour spoke more boldly than I thought.

“I think the UKIP candidate was a disgrace,” she added.

Courtesy of Epsom Guardian