With the 2015 General Election just around the corner the five candidates for the West Suffolk seat gave voters something to chew over during a hustings at Haverhill’s St Mary’s Church.
Last Friday’s (17) event saw questions as diverse as the European Union, tuition fees, health services and the prospect of a coalition Government addressed by the quintet; Matthew Hancock (Conservative), Julian Flood (UKIP), Michael Jefferys (Labour), Elfreda Tealby-Watson (Lib Dem) and Niall Pettitt (Green).
Mrs Tealby-Watson, who is standing in her fourth General Election (but her first in West Suffolk) outlined the core principles she believed in.
“I think its very important to focus on things like education and housing and health because unless you have got education, unless you have got adequate housing, unless you have got access to health care you can’t function as a member of society and these for me are the values that the Liberal Democrats represent.”
Mr Hancock, who has been West Suffolk MP from 2010 to 2015, added: “Being the MP for West Suffolk and therefore the MP for Haverhill is the best job in the world.
“Haverhill is a town that’s going places. It has a sense of community that you can’t find in other places.”
He outlined how unemployment in Haverhill has halved in his five years as its MP, how the number of apprentices has doubled and the need to support the town’s ‘brilliant’ secondary schools and strengthen primary schools.
He added: “I think the moral mission it so ensure everyone in our society and out town can benefit from this economic recovery.”
Mr Pettitt emphasised how the Green Party wants to cut energy bills, invest an extra £9b in public transport, ’deliver on recovery with jobs and decent livelihoods which won’t cost the earth’ and invest more into the NHS.
He added: “We wont ask the young or older people or disabled people or families to pay for this, we will ask the wealthy to pay their share and most importantly we will catch the thieving tax dodgers. Their record is broken, so lets change the tune.”
Mr Flood, like Mr Pettitt standing for the first time, said he was inspired to get involved after seeing Nigel Farrage speaking at a meeting.
“He sticks to the point and he tells the truth, in fact he may be unique.”
Mr Jefferys extolled Labour’s virtues of ‘community, compassion, cooperation and fairness,’ adding how he wants to stop the ‘creeping privatisation’ of the NHS, tackle the exploitation of migrant workers, raise the minimum wage to £8 per hour, provide 25 hours per week of free child care and cut energy bills.
He added: “As your MP I will work for all the people of Haverhll and West Suffolk and try to find a fair solution to our economic problems and fair rewards for our economic successes.”
The question of improving GP services drew a united response from all five candidates, who agreed that more investment and support is needed for the health service, with Mr Jefferys drawing particular attention to the affects on the NHS of its ‘marketisation’.
On the question of whether or not to stay in the EU Mr Hancock called for a referendum on whether the UK should stay in it; Mr Flood said the UK population has grown by 2 million since May 2010 and it was ‘time for a change.’
Mrs Tealby-Watson said: “If we turn our back on that (the EU) we do so at our peril.”
Mr Pettitt condemned the ‘appalling lack of transparency in the EU’ and favoured a national referendum and reforms, but not withdrawal, while Mr Jefferys was in favour of staying in the EU, saying: “If we go outside it (the EU) you can’t change the rules.
“If you want to change the rules you have to stay within it.”