Under the HCC Spotlight: political sketch
Ross Twinn goes behind the scenes at the Heathfield Hustings
While exam season was in full swing for Heathfield Community College, a slightly greater test was taking place for parliamentary hopefuls all over the country; the UK general election.
We were lucky enough to meet some of these hopefuls, better known as constituency candidates, at our school. On Tuesday 6 June, the warriors in the battle for Battle (and Bexhill) came to visit us for a hustings event, where they would subject themselves to questions prepared by a fascinated, yet frightening, crowd of Heathfield students and embroil themselves in the issues and debates surrounding the Community College.
The candidates were also happy to come for an exclusive interview with members of Heathfield Radio and the Heathfield Vine. They were; Huw Merriman, the Conservative candidate; Christine Bayliss the Labour candidate; Joel Kemp, the Liberal Democrat candidate and Jonathan Kent, the Green Party candidate. They met us in a small room behind reception at 10:35, giving them 20 minutes before break time to give us an intimate portrait of themselves and what they stand for.
First, after brief round of greetings, tea and navigating the annoyingly enigmatic functions of the school microphone, we pressed the candidates on how, in such a polarised political period, they would do more to encourage young people to participate in politics. Christine Bayliss opened with a three-pronged approach; she emphasised reducing the voting age to sixteen (due to the responsibilities they already shoulder, such as the ability to marry and pay income tax), putting an extra effort into social media campaigning and galvanising young people to become Party members (where she mentioned the whopping 5,500 views on a Labour Facebook video and the intimidating 16 new Party members picked up during the election from Bexhill and Battle). Kent, the green party candidate, began by condemning the UK’s current “First-Past-the-Post” voting system, citing that had returned a Conservative candidate from the local constituency since 1910, and how it made people feel as if they didn’t count to politicians. He also praised the 22-year-old SNP MP Mhairi Black for inspiring young people to get involved.
Joel Kemp, running as a Liberal Democrat at the tender age of 23, concurred with Christine about reducing the voting age and with Jonathon on changing the voting system. He also added that not just young people need to be addressed, and that politicians should be the ones asking us about how we can be included in political discourse, rather than us asking them. Finally, we came to the incumbent Conservative MP, Huw Merriman, who stipulated that MPs should lead by example when involving young people. He did this by highlighting his visits to 25 schools in the local area in the run up to the general election and his party’s focus on intergenerational fairness by proposing to alleviate pensioners of their government benefits. He also focused on the importance of engaging and debating, and how all issues matter, “whether you’re 16 or 60”.
We asked candidates to comment on President Trump’s reaction to the recent terrorist incidents and the environment, asking how important the special relationship with the US can now be for our future. Merriman emphasised how the U.S.A. was important as a trade ally and security partner, “It is “important to have dialogue with Trump, however unpleasant I find him,” he added. Kemp condemned the way Trump had criticised Sadiq Khan on Twitter for the the London mayor’s handling of the attack at London Bridge. “It’s important that we tell the President when we disagree with him,” he said. Kemp also abjured Theresa May’s lacklustre response to Trump leaving the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Green candidate, Kent, however, spoke most strongly against the 45th president of the United States. “His remarks about Khan were despicable,” he told The Vine. “Trump doesn’t stand up to the status of his office.” In response to the issue of Trump leaking intelligence that was given to the U.S.A in confidence, Kent argued: “The only intelligence he doesn’t seem to be expressing is his own”. The Green candidate said he would even countenance a state visit, so that the Queen can tell him off for two hours. Bayliss ended on a more sombre note regarding the special relationship, saying that when she was working in America on Obama’s presidential campaign in Ohio she met plenty of Republican Americans who hated Britain. However, she continued by saying that Trump lacked a mandate for his policies, as he did not receive a majority of vote in the 2016 election, and that “Sadiq Khan was off limits” to his malice.
All of the candidates had positive messages for young people moving forward after the terrorist attacks. Kemp praised the emergency service and the members of the public who immediately intercede to help those in need after the attack. He also praised the initiative of the Manchester concert and encouraged the UK to never give up their democracy, “We have the best democracy in the world,” he argued. Kent praised the police response as well, but put the attack in context with the much worse attacks on the South East by the Doodle Bug bombs during the blitz, to illustrate how the British people shall never give up their freedom, no matter what. Bayliss briefly talked about Jo Cox, repeating her motto; “We have to remember that there is more that unites us then divides us. ” Merriman sounded a more cautionary note, saying that we have to think carefully about the unbridled freedom of the internet we enjoy and that we may have to clamp down on it if we want to stop terrorist attacks from happening again.
Then they filed out for a brief break, including a spectacularly professional and solemn minute’s silence, blanketing the school in compassion and respect for those killed or affected by the terrorist incident at London Bridge, before proceeding on to the main hustings event.
Our interview with the candidates revealed something the hustings didn’t; that the prospective MPs have more in common then we think. We see them lay into each other on the television, but when you sit them down all together you find many of them hold similar beliefs, and could perhaps be willing to work together to improve the country. So, in the age of polarisation and radical viewpoints seeping into the mainstream, we need politicians like these to stand up and show that there can civility and ability to collaborate when governing the UK.
Ross Twinn, Y12