Voters and soon-to-be-voters take part in Marlborough College's general election hustings

Written by Tony Millett on .

The Panel (L to R), Claire Perry, Chris Watts, Michael Kallenbach (chair), Lord Razzall, David Polllitt, Emma DawnayThe Panel (L to R), Claire Perry, Chris Watts, Michael Kallenbach (chair), Lord Razzall, David Polllitt, Emma DawnayA panel of Devizes Constituency candidates - with one substitution - faced an audience of about 400 Marlborough students on Tuesday evening (April 28) and on a show of hands it was clear that about 150 of them would be able to vote on May 7.

Claire Perry (Conservative), Chris Watts (Labour), David Pollitt (UKIP) and Emma Dawnay (Green) were joined by Lord Razzall - standing in for LibDem candidate Manda Rigby who could not be there.  In the chair was Michael Kallenbach - a former Daily Telegraph political correspondent and well practised at these Question Time-like events.

Chris Watts flanked by Claire Perry Chris Watts flanked by Claire Perry Chris Watts was first to be put on the spot - Jemima Jones asked:  Labour have opposed every cut to public spending over the last 5 years and today your manifesto promises to keep borrowing for the next 5 years.  Your debts will have to be repaid by my generation.  What is fair about that?

Backed up with statistics, he wanted more people to earn proper wages and have proper jobs so more tax would be collected and less tax credits paid out.  Claire Perry thought it was down to a matter of trust.  She said future cuts would only amount to £1 in very £100 spent...which sounded very much like the start of a very complex  exam question.

For the Green Party, Emma Dawnay - an economist - said the debt and deficit were not out of proportion and were "Not the big problem."  But individual household debt - standing at an all time high average of £9,000 - was unsustainable.

Lord Razzall wanted a better mix of cuts and taxes and David Pollitt wanted the problem solved by cutting our EU contribution and restricting overseas aid to humanitarian relief.

Lord Razzall answering a question flanked by Michael Kallenbach (chair) on his right and David Pollitt on his leftLord Razzall answering a question flanked by Michael Kallenbach (chair) on his right and David Pollitt on his leftHow much time do politicians spend looking in the mirror?  Charlie Souster asked the panel:  Do you think the lack of charisma in the present party leaders reflects the lack of quality in our parliamentary representatives?

Claire Perry was quick off the mark:  "I wish I could tap dance and sing...Do you want X-Factor or competent politicians?"  Lord Razzall turned the question to make a critical attack on the negativity of the election campaign.  David Pollitt came back sharply with:  "I should like to think Nigel has got some charisma" - a remark the audience loved.

Chris Watts agreed with Nick - or Lord Razzall - he deplored the "pointing fingers" campaigning and wanted a campaign about the "real problems'.   Emma Dawnay got a cheer when she said:  "With climate change and rising inequality, I just want to stand up and try and make the world a better place."

We were nearly back in the exam hall again with Tim Oliver's question:  Are coalition governments here to stay? - discuss - with examples.  Again, this got a bit bogged down:  who had said what to whom and when about forming a post May 7 coalition with which party and/or parties.  Until a member of staff suggested a 'grand coalition' because there are "few ideological differences" between the two main parties.  While that idea did not really fly either, no one really challenged his assumption.

UKIP candidate David PollittUKIP candidate David PollittThen came a page from the College's prospectus - Charlie Wass asked:  What are the panelists' views on private education and would anyone of them send their children to a private school?

Emma Dawnay raised some hackles by revealing that it was Green Party policy to end the charitable status for independent schools.  An adult voice from the back of the hall asked if she knew how many good things independent schools were doing in the community:  "Do you want to destroy everything?"  

To which she had a smart reply:  "I actually want to save the planet."  And if charitable status was ended, she went on:  "I hope you would continue to work with the community because that's the right thing to do."

Chris Watts took advantage of the question to explain what was happening to non-independent schools under the coalition's policies with staff redundancies and schools too busy competing with each other.  And "No" - he would not send his children to private school.  David Pollitt explained that UKIP wanted to bring back grammar schools, but that anyway he would not be able to afford independent school fees.  Lord Razzall welcomed schools 'outreach' projects.

Green candidate Emma DawnayGreen candidate Emma DawnayClaire Perry, who said she had been to a comprehensive school, announced that her son will be starting at the College in September.  This earned her a round of applause.  And she wanted continued investment in non-independent schools.

Lord Razzall was challenged from the floor:  how could the LibDem's policy for equality of opportunity continue when he supported people going to schools just because their parents were rich?  Lord Razzall said their ideology was based on John Stuart Mill's proposition that you should not stop people doing things that are not damaging to other people...

We will skip over the question on immigration policy - the panel did get pretty bogged down about what precisely UKIP's policies were and what the figures were.  But everyone agreed that some (repeat 'some') and controlled (repeat 'controlled') immigration was essential to keep the British economy 'going' - or was the word 'growing'?

Finally, to lighten the mood just a tad, came a variation on the question posed in those balloon debates:  Apart from family and friends, which one person would you save if the world was ending?

That is a harder question than it first appears - always read the question very carefully before answering.  Emma Dawnay wanted to save her daughter - do read the question!  Claire Perry wanted to save the Queen - but what is the use of a Queen when there will be no one for her to reign over?

Chris Watts scored a probable own goal:  "George Best...but he's gone already."  Lord Razzall could not make up his mind between someone called Jimmy Anderson and another person called Joe Root - he settled for Root.  But what's the point of saving one cricketer when the rest of the team have gone the way of the disappearing world?

All the marks for this question went to David Pollitt:  "Bear Grylls - to help keep me alive."

It was a fascinating hour-long session - no one destroyed everything, but the planet still needs saving.