On the afternoon of Friday 27th February, three potential parliamentary candidates for South West Surrey, Howard Kaye (Labour), Susan Ryland (Green) Patrick Haveron (Lib Dem) were joined by Paul Chapman from Surrey Heath (UKIP) and a late substitution of Jonathan Lord from Woking (Conservative) in a lively debate at Godalming College. It was unfortunate that Jeremy Hunt the Conservative MP for South West Surrey was called away from the area on ministerial business.
The event organised by the Politics department was hosted by Assistant Principal, William Baldwin who helped 200 hundred students take part in a political debate with the candidates. For many of the students this is the first time that they will be voting, therefore their political engagement is to be encouraged as they become active citizens and full members of their local community. A show of hands proved that many would be eligible to vote but less than half of these were decided about which party they would vote for.
Each candidate was given 5 minutes for a party political broadcast to explain why these young voters should vote for them. Candidates were then involved in debate and argument on issues affecting students with their current concerns on national and international events as well as policies affecting their education, ambitions and career prospects. It was inevitable that the rise in university fees and the cuts in funding for sixth form colleges were brought up as consequences of this parliament. Other questions which addressed issues of under-represented groups in politics and why policies favour older, working voters, plus should the voting age be lowered to 16 and why independent schools should be allowed to keep their charitable status and therefore reclaim the VAT that they have paid while colleges are forced to pay VAT in full.
The debate at Godalming College was the first hustings in the constituency before the general election in 10 weeks time. The candidates all welcomed the opportunity to meet with young people and find out what the burning issues for young people are. Despite the differing views amongst the candidates and a little personal ‘mud slinging’, all enjoyed this stimulating and inspiring event. It could have continued for another hour, with students also adding their views to those of the candidates.
The debate and involvement will continue to be developed in the classroom and this exposure to politics will be used to further inform studies. Politics students will set up their own parties within the college and a mock General Election will run alongside the real General Election. Voting will take place on the same day, 7th May, to see if the voting pattern of the students reflects the national trend.