Which party is best for Durham Students?

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The candidates for the City of Durham constituency have been making their case for election to students, through a Model Westminster Society Question Time session held in St Chad’s College on Monday.

Defending Roberta Blackman-Woods is standing for Labour, Amanda Hopgood is standing for the Liberal Democrats, Jonathan Elmer is standing for the Green Party, and Richard Lawrie is standing for the Conservatives.

Particular issues relevant specifically to Durham students are student fees, Brexit, and the planned expansion of Durham University by 5,000 students by 2020. Below are listed the candidates’ party and local position on these.

Take a look before making your decision on Thursday!


Roberta Blackman-Woods The Labour Party

Roberta has been the MP for City of Durham since 2005. A vote for her would see the continuation of Durham as a Labour stronghold.

“[It’s an] absolutely amazing manifesto. The best manifesto I’ve ever stood on”, she said at Chad’s Question Time. “For a fair and just society that looks after all its citizens.”

She is also a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and holds the position of Shadow Housing Minister on his Shadow Cabinet.

  • Student fees (Against)

Labour has said that if it wins the election it will cancel all student fees, stating that education is a right for everyone.

“We want young people to have a good deal”, said Roberta in support of this position.

  • Brexit (For, but only if the deal meets Kier Starmer’s six-point plan)

Labour has “accepted” Brexit, and is now committed to ensuring that Britain gets the right deal. Their vision for Brexit was outlined by Kier Starmer in his six-point plan. If it is not met, then Labour has vowed to vote against Brexit in the House of Commons.

In an interview with Palatinate, Roberta said: “if it isn’t close to it [the Brexit deal], we will vote against the Conservatives deal.”

  • University expansion plan (For)

Roberta is in favour of the expansion of University accommodation and looking to set up graduate opportunities for Durham students once they finish their degree.

Roberta stated that she is happy to see more purpose-built student accommodation in Durham, owing to the pressure the growing student population exerts on the local area.

She also called for a “reduction in accommodation costs.”

Local Labour is also proposing a plan to provide graduate opportunities in Durham, allowing students to stay on in the city for another year if they wish and earn some money.

Roberta would like to put aside land and provide council funding for student start-ups. She is particularly interested in seeing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) start-ups in Durham.

“If I am elected, I am going to make a huge push for this,” she said in interview.


Richard Lawrie The Conservative Party

Richard is intrinsically linked with Durham University, through his position as Vice-Master at University College (Castle). He has lived in Durham for many years, first arriving as an undergraduate.

Richard has previously stood for the local council in Durham South where he came last with only 150 votes. He blamed this on “tribal loyalties,” and not his own campaign.

“We won’t change the Labour vote overnight”, he said.

A vote for him may result in Durham having an MP linked to both the University and the local community. The Conservatives were the second largest party in Durham in the previous election.

  • Student fees (For)

Since coming into power the Conservatives increased student fees to £9,000, whilst in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The party has also pushed through the Higher Education and Research Bill, which will allow universities to increase tuition fees in line with inflation every year. This will mean that some university fees will increase to £9,250 in September 2017.

  • Brexit (For)

The Conservatives have attempted to make getting the best deal for Britain front and centre of their campaign. Richard is in favour of his party’s approach to Brexit. He said that the UK needed a strong negotiating team that could only be provided by the Conservatives.

“Brexit is the biggest question in this election”, he said during Chad’s Question Time.

  • University expansion plan (For)

Richard stressed during Chad’s Question Time that he is “not against” the University’s plans to expand, but stressed that this “has to be done with the local community.”

“Any decision the University make has to be held up to public scrutiny”, he said.

A fellow Conservative campaigner, Daniel Cohen, said that “He’d [Richard] certainly stand up to the University.”


Amanda Hopgood The Liberal Democrats

Amanda has been local to the Durham area for many years. She was recently elected to the local town council with a large majority. In the council elections, she gained 2,491 votes in the area of Framwellgate and Newton Hall, giving her the highest number of votes received in that area.

A vote for Amanda may give Durham an MP that is also involved in the local council.

 

  • Student fees (For, but with reductions)

The Liberal Democrats were part of the coalition that raised student fees to £9,000 in 2010. Amanda was not part of this decision. She is still in favour of the fees but believes that they should be reduced.

“It was about striking a balance between tuition fees or equal rights and gay marriage”, she said when asked why student fees were first raised in interview.

“I don’t think that we should have the size of fees that we do”, she added. “I think £9,000 is too much.”

  • Brexit (For, but only with the Liberal Democrat plan of a second referendum after the deal is agreed)

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a second referendum after Brexit, where the public decides to either accept or reject the deal. They argue that this is democratic because it was not clear what the public was voting for originally.

“We need to retain single market membership, and protect the rights of EU citizens.”

  • University expansion plan (For)

Amanda is in favour of the expansion of Durham University but also has concerns about the effect that this may have on the local community.

“We risk losing a city with a university, and having a university with a city”, she said during Chad’s Question Time.

She also recognised the need for changes to student accommodation Fees, as many students feel priced out of University accommodation and move into the town, which has an adverse affect on the local market.

“I would work with colleges to provide accommodation choice”, said Amanda in interview.


Jonathan Elmer The Green Party

At Chad’s Question Time he outlined his vision for society. “Our vision is based on three pillars: social, economy, and the environment.”

“Those more fortunate should contribute to those less fortunate.”

  • Student fees (Against)

The Greens believe that good education is a fundamental right for everyone and that it should be free.

“Education is a public good, that benefits all of society”, said Jonathan at Chad’s Question Time.

  • Brexit (Against)

The Greens are concerned by Brexit. Jonathan highlighted this when he mentioned his fears for “environmental legislation”, protected under EU law, and “access to the single market.”

“We also need to provide for EU citizens”, he said in the Chad’s Question Time debate.

  • University expansion plan (Non-specified)

Jonathan believes it should be more considerate of the environment.

He has challenged Durham University to make its plans more environmentally friendly. At Chad’s Question Time he encouraged everyone to take a deep breath and think about what they’re breathing.

“All the oxygen we breathe comes from plants”, he said. “The uncontrolled destruction of habitat systems is putting this under threat.”

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