By Ryan Gould
Candidates from the main five political parties for the Durham City seat gathered at Durham Union Society (DUS) last night in a General Election Question Time debate.
Roberta Blackman-Woods MP (Labour), Rebecca Coulson (Conservative), Craig Martin (Liberal Democrats), Jonathan Elmer (Green), and Steve Turner (UKIP) took questions from students on a variety of issues in the run-up to the general election on 7th May.
Mr Turner, prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) for Middlesborough, stood in to represent UKIP as the party are yet to announce their choice of candidate for the Durham City seat.
Styled on the format of the BBC’s topical debate programme Question Time, students were allowed to submit prepared questions to the DUS prior to the debate, while the floor was also open to direct questions to any of the candidates.
Students grilled the panel on topics such as the current coalition government and the prospect of another following May’s election. On the subject, Liberal Democrat candidate, Craig Martin, pointed out that the “key to good negotiation [in coalition] is not telling where the line in the sand is.”
The matter of Britain’s role and membership in the European Union was also raised, with questions from the floor prompting response from the panel on the in-out EU referendum guaranteed by David Cameron in 2017.
Ms Blackman-Woods MP, who has held the Durham City seat since 2005, talked passionately on the issue of gender inequality and female representation in Parliament.
She made reference to the Labour Party’s decision to use all-women nomination shortlists during the 2010 election, and how such mechanisms do more to encourage more women into Parliament.
The issue of the rising cost of living for Durham students was addressed, with Ms Blackman-Woods remarking that the Labour Party are actively seeking ways to ensure stability for the cost of rent and accommodation for both students and the wider community.
In a debate that saw the panel positively united on the right to vote for 16-year-olds and youth engagement in politics, all five candidates expressed their sincere sympathy following the tragic death of Euan Coulthard.
The panel all agreed that swift action should and will be taken to ensure the safety of Durham students going forward.
Rhys Tanner, a second year Politics student at the College of St Hild and St Bede, said of the event: “It is great that the Durham Union Society has provided such a great forum for such intelligent debate.
“I think all the candidates seemed like genuinely nice people. However, I think it’s a shame that you have to have a [DUS] membership card to come and get informed this way.
“Of the candidates, I think the best performances were from Roberta Blackman-Woods and Rebecca Coulson.”
Mr Turner, UKIP’s PPC for Middlesbrough, also remarked: “It was probably less hostile than I was expecting as a UKIP candidate. The students were excellent, everybody was fair and polite. It was a good debate.”
Mr Elmer, of the Green Party, said that he thought it was a “really lively event, full of energy, with people asking really intelligent questions.
“It was very well chaired so there wasn’t too much interrupting and shouting going on.”
Photograph: Ryan Gould