Election 2017: Saffron Walden candidates answer questions at hustings
PUBLISHED: 12:20 06 June 2017 | UPDATED: 16:55 06 June 2017
It was standing room only last night as all four candidates vying for the Saffron Walden seat in Thursday’s general election answered questions at a packed hustings.
Kemi Badenoch (Con), Jane Berney (Lab), Mike Hibbs (Lib Dem) and Lorna Howe (Ukip) took to the stage at Saffron Walden Baptist Church to put across their manifestos.
The lively debate drew cheers, applause and a few boos from the audience, with some having to stand throughout the two-hour event to hear what the candidates fighting Sir Alan Haselhurst’s former seat had to say.
The hustings was excellently chaired by Reverend David Tomlinson, who made sure the parliamentary hopefuls stayed on track and to their strict question time limit during the evening.
After three minute opening addresses from all candidates, the first question submitted prior to the 7.30pm start time was about Brexit, with the candidates asked what a good exit from the EU looked like to them.
Mrs Berney said there was no such thing as a good brexit and that she “bitterly regretted leaving”. Her comments were echoed by Mr Hibbs, who said he thought Brexit would be a disaster for the area.
Mrs Badenoch said she voted to leave, although her husband voted for remain, and she was sure that a positive Brexit could be achieved. She highlighted guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights and UK citizens abroad as most important to her in negotiations.
Mrs Howe said there was much scaremongering and a hard Brexit would be best for the country.
But it was a question about social care which really revved up the audience, with Mrs Badenoch coming under fire after she stressed the Tory policy of setting an ‘absolute limit’ on care fees.
She said: “We need to get to the root of the problem and that is that we have an ageing population. These are not easy decisions to have to make but we are working on it.”
Her comment “We are not asking people to sell their home, we are asking people to borrow against their home” brought cries of “What’s the difference” from some members of the angered audience.
Mr Hibbs said the Liberal Democrats were committed to investing £7billion extra into the education system, increasing school budgets and the pupil premium.
Mrs Badenoch was also greeted with boos over an education question, saying the Tories have invested more in schools than ever before.
Mrs Berney replied: “Any headteacher will tell you that’s a lie. Investment in education is so important to our future.”
The Labour candidate also pointed to free school meals and the abolishment of tuition fees as important manifesto points.
It was Mrs Howe’s turn to get booed after she confessed to knowing very little about climate change and read straight from Ukip’s manifesto on the subject.
In a subsequent question over the Paris Climate Accord, she said Ukip would leave the agreement – which also brought derision from the packed audience.
Mr Hibbs said the Lib Dems would continue to support the Paris Agreement and the party were committed to the high standards of environmental protection worked out by the EU.
He said: “We are wholly opposed to fracking. We need to have a diesel scrapping scheme. Other countries are setting targets for electric vehicles and we need to do the same.”
Perhaps the biggest laugh of the evening came when the candidates were asked why their leader would make the best prime minister.
Mrs Badenoch said: “Theresa May is not someone who goes for sound bites”, before “Ok perhaps with the strong and stable thing”. But the Tory candidate stressed that Theresa May was the “only option” for prime minister.
Mrs Howe also drew chuckles from the audience when she said: “I’ve got to be honest, Paul Nuttall is not going to be the prime minister so it’s a moot point.”
Mrs Berney said she thought Jeremy Corbyn was a “marmite character” who has gone up in her estimation.
When questions went to the floor, Mrs Badenoch was the main target of the audience’s inquiries and was asked about what the Conservatives are doing to tackle big corporation tax avoidance.
She said; “We are doing as much as possible to close loopholes. If there were easy answers, we would have done it already. We are working on it but making it seem like it’s easy is not right.”
The hustings ended with each candidate putting forward why people should vote for them.
Mr Hibbs said every vote for him was a vote to say that not everyone agrees with Theresa May.
Mrs Howe said Ukip was still the common sense party on the ground fighting for the people.
Mrs Badenoch said someone told her you could put a blue rosette on a donkey in Uttlesford and they would still vote Conservative, but insisted she is taking nothing for granted.
Mrs Berney said Uttlesford needed a Labour government for the many, not the few.
Be sure to check the Saffron Walden Reporter and Dunmow Broadcast website on Thursday evening for all the general election updates.