FREE PRESS DEBATE: Doncaster candidates went head-to-head in exclusive hustings

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Doncaster election hopefuls were put in the hot-seat this week as they answered your questions on some of the hottest topics ahead of next month’s elections.

Held at Doncaster’s Little Theatre, Labour candidate Rosie Winterton went head to head with fellow Doncaster central candidates, Chris Hodgson of UKIP, Mev Akram of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition as well as John Brennan of the English Democrats who was standing in for Doncaster Central candidate David Burnett and Don Valley Parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives, Carl Jackson.

Ballot box

Ballot box

The lively debate was attended by around 85 audience members, some of whom posed questions to the panel around topics such as council cuts, immigration, the NHS, the economy and austerity, foreign policy, housing and Doncaster’s image.

The most divisive question of the night focused on overcrowding and immigration in Hexthorpe, something which an audience member said led to people in the area feeling ‘abandoned’.

In response, John Brennan suggested that issues with immigration in Hexthorpe had led to an increase in fly-tipping in the area.

Labour’s Rosie Winterton said the problem around rubbish was due to people abandoning large items in the street instead of disposing of them at a waste centre.

She added that Labour was set to introduce a selective licensing scheme, which would aim to crackdown on rogue landlords.

Miss Winterton added: “I know people have concerns, but a lot of the problems are to do with rogue landlords, and we’re attempting to tackle that.

“People need to stop scapegoating.”

The question led to a spat between two audience members, one of whom claimed fly-tipping had been a problem in Hexthorpe for a number of years.

This was disputed by another, who said ‘you obviously haven’t been there recently’.

On the general issue of immigration, UKIP candidate, Chris Hodgson, said: “The problem is with immigration policy, not with immigrants.

“We want to build bridges among communities,” he added.

The introduction of the living wage at Doncaster council earlier this year, also produced some heated responses from both panel and audience members.

John Brennan called it a ‘cynical move’ while audience member, Anne Rutherford, said it was unfair for tax payers to fork out for it while so many people in the town earn less than the living wage of £7.95 an hour.

She said: “Those people on the minimum wage will be paying for those working at the council to be on the living wage. Where’s the good in that?
“Where’s the parity? Where’s the equality?”

In response, Miss Winterton said: “I think having a council that is a good employer is something we should welcome, not denigrate.”

Mev Akram of TUSC also weighed into the debate by saying: “I think it’s a good thing that the council have got this living wage, but I think that living wage needs to be £10 an hour across the board, in line with increases in inflation.”

The NHS was also one of the debate’s hottest topics.

The panel were asked what they would do to stop NHS privatisation.

John Brennan said that he thought the main problem with the NHS is the way money is spent. “The salaries given to some of the top earners are completely ludicrous,” said John,

Meanwhile, Rosie Winterton, said Labour have pledged to scrap the Conservative’s controversial health and social care bill, which led to Primary Care Trusts being abolished and what some regard to be the further privatisation of the National Health Service.

“The Tories are planning more cuts to the NHS in the next two years, than those made in the last five - and I don’t think the NHS can survive it.”

Conservative candidate, Carl Jackson, told the audience that the NHS and education would be safe from cuts, but added that one area that would not be would be welfare.

The biggest applause of the night was in response to a question from an audience member who asked the panel whether they thought the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and if so why former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had not been put on trial for war crimes.

ENTRY AND EXIT POLLS:

Before and after the debate, the audience were asked who they wanted to vote for in our entry and exit polls.

Mev Akram of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and Chris Hodgson of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) fared the best in the hustings, receiving the biggest bounce of all of the candidates. Both parties gained five votes each, leaving TUSC with a vote share of 15 and putting UKIP on 25.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Rosie Winterton, lost four voters, reducing the number of people pledging to vote for her to six. Event organiser, Nadeem Murtuja, said he thought the message from voters attending the hustings was clear. He said: “To me what I think people are saying is don’t take Labour voters for granted.

“I think there are some who feel like that’s what Rosie has done, and it’s making them look for alternatives.”

The English Democrats gained one vote, giving them a vote share of two, while the Liberal Democrats, who declined to send a representative to the hustings, lost one vote, leaving them with a vote share of just one.

Conservative candidate, Carl Jackson’s vote share of one did not change after the debate. The number of people who did not want to vote for any of the candidates decreased as a result of the hustings. On entry, a total of 10 people would not have voted for any of the candidates, this decreased to one by the end of the debate.