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The Big Student General Election Debate

On Friday 2nd June, the four political parties at the University of Nottingham, the Lib Dems, Labour, the Conservatives and the Greens, when head-to-head, in a Question Time-styled debate in front of an audience of students. The structure consisted of opening statements, followed by panel and audience questions. Here is what they had to say:

Jordan Thorpe, Greens:

“On June 23rd 2016, we found out that we were leaving the EU, but did not have a real plan. Little did we know that June 8th will be the actual date to decide the future of this country.

“We need to invest in British infrastructure and training to make Brexit a success, and ensure that education is not a commodity to be sold. We need to be a country that invests in innovative Green technology, and lead the way on climate change, and a world working towards nuclear disarmament.”

Sam Hamilton, Conservatives

“Let’s do a quick comparison of governments. The last government borrowed £153 billion, this government has borrowed £43 billion. Under Labour, the deficit was £110 billion, now it’s £20 billion. Under Labour there was crippling unemployment of 7.9%, now it’s just 4.2%. When it comes to the NHS, Labour spent £111 billion, while spending now is £121 billion. You may dislike us and our leaders, but one thing for certain is that the Conservatives are working. The alternative is a disorganised coalition.”

Jacob Collier, Labour

“People are completely enthused by Jeremy Corbyn and our manifesto, while I do not really know what the Conservative politics are. This is the first time a manifesto has been re-written as we go; dementia tax in, dementia tax out.

We believe that it is a right to get an education and go to university. We will make sure every child goes to a fantastic school, and ensure that Brexit prioritises our economy, and treating people with the dignity they deserve.”

Sammy Barry, Lib Dems

“I am not here to complain about Corbyn, I am here to talk about policy. We are not here to talk about referendum results; we are the party that will stand up for the NHS, and for the mental health crisis.

There is chronic underfunding for mental health, and to ignore this is awful. I think that a lot of people are now realising that without the Lib Dems [in coalition] it is a lot scarier.”

Q1: What kind of effect does international students have? Should they form part of immigration targets?

SH: “It’s obvious they play a huge part. They are fantastic for The University of Nottingham financially but they offer more than money, they deepen our university experience. We should be supporting them to come over here.

“We aren’t the global power we once were and international students help us spread our values, spread democracy, spread our language, the way we live, our food.”

SB: “We think that, in light of leaving the EU, we need to protect our Erasmus scheme, which gives us so much.”

JT: “We all know how much it broadens your mind coming to this university. Immigration targets are an extremely backwards concept, and demonising international students is preposterous.”

JC: “Theresa May has said in her managing house speech that she wanted to cut the number of international students. Our President of the SU is an international student, to show the contribution they have to our society.”

SH: “Theresa May hasn’t been saying we need to cut international students, she has agreed to cut immigration. And after the Brexit result, we can all agree that this is what people would like.”

Q2: Why is it important that tuition fees are removed, stay or go up?

JT: “It goes back to my opening speech: how do you value education in this country? It has moved towards marketisation, with students as consumers, and universities hitting tick boxes so they can raise fees.

“It is a human right to have free education.”

JC: “I think the stats speak for themselves; students coming out with almost £44,000 in debt, the lowest amount of applications to uni in 30 years, and the poorest students put off by tuition fees. All this, and the Tories want to increase tuition fees to around £21,000.”

“We continue to price out the very poorest in our society, and university should not be the privilege for those at the top of society.”

SB: “We are living in a system where education at this level isn’t sustainable to be free; people are put off by not getting maintenance grants.

“The Lib Dems want to bring these back, especially nursing bursaries, and we have seen a 25% drop  in nursing applications since they were scrapped.”

SH: “At university, we are literally consuming a product. If we shouldn’t pay, then who should? Is it our dustbinmen, our dinner ladies, our firemen, our policemen? There is a danger that poorer students wouldn’t want to pay high fees, but that’s why we have a loans system, and even then you might not even have to pay back your fees.”

Q3: How important is Parliamentary scrutiny over the Brexit process?

JC: “Labour want to make sure parliament has scrutiny over the final deal. We will be putting the country above party, prioritising free market access, workers rights and environmental protection.

“We would scrap the Conservatives’ ‘White Paper for Brexit’, and prioritise the economy and people.”

SB: “The Lib Dems do not want to re-run the referendum, we want to run the referendum on the deal, and where we were going. We voted to leave on the back of a lot of lies from both party. It is so important that you get the final say.”

SH: “For the first time in UK history, we had a policy without a party after the Brexit referendum. It was a policy that the people came up with. We will be doing what the people asked us, which was to leave the EU. That means we leave the Single Market and the Customs Union, and we get the best deal we can.”

JT: “The choice for Brexit negotiations is that of Boris Johnson, or an actual lawyer in Kier Starner [from Labour]!

“The Green agree with the Lib Dems on needing a final say on the Brexit deal, as this will be a very different country at the end of the exit process.”

JC: “I think that May should have read ‘the Art of the Deal’ by Donald Trump, her new best friend. We need to put everything on the table to get the best deal, not take things off it.”

Q4: How important is reducing the deficit to your party?

SB: “This is something which a lot of parties consider. We have said that we only want to borrow to invest, investing in infrastructure, education and the NHS.”

JC: “Labour have a fully-costed manifesto that will eliminate the deficit in 5 years. The Tories have taken the ‘Skepta approach to policies’. Hospitals, shutdown; schools, shutdown; A&E, shutdown.”

SH: “The UK’s deficit has plummeted since we’ve been in office – it was £110b, now it’s £20b. When you see so called cuts being made, it doesn’t mean a service is getting worse – the key is to reorganise and make it efficient.”

JT: “I think that the Labour manifesto is a much better one than the Conservative one. We need an approach of investment, need the workforce and infrastructure, open for business, which is not offered by the Conservatives.”

Q5: What is your policy on corporation tax?

JT: We feel that Corporation Tax has to go up and the wealth redistributed, which corporation tax cuts costing us around £5.8 billion a year to public finances.”

SH: “We oppose increasing corporation tax. It’s common sense that in a global world we are competing with other countries, especially after Brexit when the economy will be more unstable than normal. So we will bring it down to 17% which will bring more investment and jobs.”

JC: “We do not want to be some tax haven offshore of Europe, and we have the lowest corporation tax anywhere in the Western world.”

Q6: What is the parties outlook on home ownership?

JC: “Labour want to increase the number of affordable homes in this country, to help people get on the housing ladder. We want to take action of rogue landlords, and make sure houses are fit for habitation.”

SB: “Labour say they want to continue to help people, but want to continue with Help to Buy, which only helps those which can afford to buy.

“The Lib Dems want to build social housing rather than just Labour building council housing , and install a  ‘use it or lose it’ policy.”

JT: “Just a few generations ago, people were able to buy up houses on the cheap, whereas now houses are so expensive that we cannot even dream of affording a home. We are unable to afford a house while people in this country own ten or more of them.”

SH: “We are on track to beat our target of 1mil new homes by 2020. We plan to convert brownfield government sites to building sites, so we don’t have to pay for them. We’re setting up a legacy so we will never be out of social housing.”

Audience questions:

Studies have found that a tuition fee scrap does not help poorer students, so why are we obsessed with a cynical attempt to win our vote?

SB: “I could not agree more, it is maintenance grants that we need to be voting on, not fees itself, and  we need to change the system of judging people on how much their parents earn.”

JC: “The tuition fee level at the moment does put people off. Labour will be restoring education maintenance allowance, and restoring bursaries, making sure our health service is properly staffed.”

JT: “Maintenance grants are the key, so that everyone can go. Often, people do not go to uni to earn more, but to go into vocations that aren’t the highest paid.”

SH: “The evidence does show reducing or abolishing fees does not help, it’s a much more complicated problem. I’d encourage people to look at the evidence.”

Does any party believe in immigrant voting? Residents from EU like me are not allowed to vote in referendum, even though I have lived here for 13 years?

JT: “Yes, you are key stakeholders in this country.”

SH: “I’m afraid no, I think as a rule of thumb only British citizens should be able to vote.”

JC: “I’m not sure what the Labour Party policy is… [audience members says they do], well Labour support it!”

SB: “We support it fully, as with giving 16-17 year olds the vote.”

It is terrifying being an EU citizen,  with companies paying for EU workers to have residency permits, but what happens to those whose companies cannot pay for these or people who cannot pay for it themselves?

JC: “We at Labour are not going to use you as a bargaining chip, and will from day one guarantee your rights to stay in this country. We will also commit to the Horizon 2020 scheme, which has a direct impact on this university.”

SB: “The Lib Dems would love to keep everything to do with the EU, and we would make sure EU citizens have every right to stay here.”

JT: “We will have to compensate and ensure doors are open to make sure people are travelling to and from this country.”

SH: “We’re in a nightmare phase now – the intermediary phase. We really didn’t know what Brexit meant – we had nothing to say but “Brexit means Brexit”. It is implicitly known that there is zero political chance that EU migrants will be turfed out.”

We are currently seeing per student funding dropping year on year – what will your party to ensure our education system improves?

SB: “Education is a vital part of the Lib Dem manifesto, and we want to put £7 billion in, mainly into primary education.”

JC: “We are going to say no to grammar schools, which belongs in the 1870s; who wants to receive a letter at age 11 to say that they are a failure?”

SH: “We have two education systems – state and private, and the private system is a class apart. Theresa May has suggested introducing grammar systems which will give working class kids the chance of a private school standard education based on meritocracy. The new system is that people who fail the 11+ will go do other things that they’re good at – they will be in a classroom doing something productive to make them more employable.”

JT: “Children need to be fed and made sure they can pay attention in schools; we need to stop putting them through an exam meat-grinder, producing grades and that’s it, and let them explore at their own rate and pace.”

What is your party going to do on tackling the issue of climate change, and should we be doing more to condemn Donald Trump?

SH: “Theresa May is a diplomat, so she can’t say Trump’s a buffoon. We had the first day on record where all our energy needs were met by renewables under our government. It’s easy to condemn Trump but he’s not going to come round unless we show him that he’s wrong, rather than tell him.”

JC: “Labour are working towards a low-carbon economy, with a £250 billion national investment bank to ensure we have a low-carbon economy. And no, we should not be standing hand in hand with Donald Trump.”

SB: “We should be showing Trump he is wrong, and Lib Dems want to ban Diesel cars, ban fracking, and make sure everyone in the country is on a ‘C’ energy rating.”

JT: “Apparently we have a special relationship with US; great for wars, not so good for climate change. We need to have a drastic change of how we see renewables in this country.”

Closing statements:

SB: “You should vote for the Liberal Democrats not as part of a progressive alliance but because it is what you believe in. We are the party putting the most into education and NHS, standing up for EU citizens, and they only ones who think 16-17 year olds should be allowed to vote.”

JC: “On June 9th, we will either have a Labour or Conservative government. Labour will pave a new path, prioritising the economy and people.”

SH: “Essentially your choice is a Conservative government which will put forward the best team possible to negotiate the best Brexit that we can get, or we have a government which is essentially a hash up of people who have failed in their past and people who are in it for their own careers.”

JT: “As much as I hate the first-past-the-post system, this election really is the most important we will face for a very long time, have to work with it on this election, in which vision, Conservative or Labour, that you think is best.”

Connor Higgs, Jack Taylor, Ben Edge and Nicolas Caballero

Image courtesy of the University of Nottingham Students’ Union.

For more information on the political societies at the University of Nottingham and their views ahead of GE17, head to our Experience section.

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