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St Bart’s pupils steal the show at school’s hustings before the General Election on July 4





St Bart’s School held its political hustings on Wednesday (June 26) a week before the General Election.

Hosted by deputy head of sixth form, James Wilder, the panel included six parliamentary candidates standing in the revised Newbury constituency: Liz Bell (Labour), Lee Dillon (Lib Dem), Laura Farris (Conservative and Unionist), Gary Johnson (UKIP), Steve Masters (Green) and Doug Terry (Reform UK). Earl Jesse (Freedom Alliance) did not attend.

St Bart’s pupils attend hustings in the School Hall
St Bart’s pupils attend hustings in the School Hall

Pupils grilled the candidates on a range of key issues including National Service, the aftermath of Brexit, university tuition fees, views on Islam, period poverty and the mental health epidemic — not to mention unpopular policies and scandalous figures in each party.

After brief introductions, the questions followed. Candidates had approximately a minute each to respond. Here are some of the questions posed.

Deputy Head of Sixth Form, James Wilder, hosted the debate
Deputy Head of Sixth Form, James Wilder, hosted the debate

Pupil Archie asked why young people should be made to do National Service, referring to the Conservative Government’s recent announcement to reintroduce full-time military placement over 12 months, or community volunteering one weekend a month (25 days a year), for 18-year-olds.

Laura Farris (Conservative) speaking at St Bart’s hustings
Laura Farris (Conservative) speaking at St Bart’s hustings

Mrs Farris highlighted the benefits, citing her own father’s service, and commented how “we are at a dangerous point of global security.”

Lee Dillon (Lib Dem) speaking at St Bart’s hustings
Lee Dillon (Lib Dem) speaking at St Bart’s hustings

Meanwhile, Mr Dillon called for further investment in the military itself and disagreed with forcing young people into National Service through legislation.

Gary Johnson (UKIP) speaking at St Bart’s hustings
Gary Johnson (UKIP) speaking at St Bart’s hustings

Mr Johnson said the “two-year National Service made men of us,” adding how this could help to reduce youth crime today.

Steve Masters (Green) speaking at St Bart’s hustings
Steve Masters (Green) speaking at St Bart’s hustings

Mr Masters called the practice an “absolute non-starter” and accused the Tories of attempting to incite a media and nostalgia frenzy.

Next, pupil Tom asked whether the candidates would apologise on behalf of their parties for their false promises about Brexit and for irreparably damaging the future for young people.

Mr Johnson was first to respond, outlining his party’s plans to arrest and deport illegal asylum seekers entering the UK to reception centres on the Falkland Islands.

Mr Masters branded Brexit a “proven disaster” and condemned the “nonsense attitudes by right-wingers” towards the European Union and European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Dillon admitted he hadn’t campaigned “hard enough to remain” in 2016.

Mrs Farris said she wished to remain but honoured the result of the referendum.

Liz Bell (Labour) speaking at St Bart’s hustings
Liz Bell (Labour) speaking at St Bart’s hustings

Dr Bell voted to remain and said the entire process was rushed.

Mr Terry told the audience “you will thank us in the long run,” adding it is for those who wished to overturn a democratic decision to apologise.

Pupil Jemima asked whether the candidates would provide further financial support to university students and apprentices.

Dr Bell agreed university tuition fees are too high but conceded “we just can’t afford it and must prioritise the NHS.”

Pupil questioning candidates
Pupil questioning candidates

Mr Dillon said tuition fees should be interest free and called to raise the payback threshold.

He added his party has now abstained from making bold pledges — the Lib Dems approved raising tuition fees in England under the 2010 Coalition Government despite pledging to abolish the practice.

Mr Terry called to axe the interest rate and to scrap “nonsense degrees.”

As a former Lib Dem, Mr Johnson apologised and suggested apprenticeships could be a suitable alternative.

“I wish you all the best in your education,” he told the audience.

Pupil Laura asked whether period products were still considered a taxable ‘luxury item’?

All candidates concurred period products should not be taxed.

Laura Farris (Conservative) speaking at St Bart’s hustings
Laura Farris (Conservative) speaking at St Bart’s hustings

Mrs Farris added women’s rights have taken second stage and called for more female representation in Parliament.

Political candidates pose with St Bart’s pupils in the School Hall
Political candidates pose with St Bart’s pupils in the School Hall

Once concluded, newburytoday asked Year 12 students what they thought about the event?

Year 12 students Jenny, Laura, Mikey and Astrid
Year 12 students Jenny, Laura, Mikey and Astrid

Jenny said: “Some of them spoke well, but a lot of them were good at reversing the question and answering what they thought sounded good to them.”

Year 12 student Jenny
Year 12 student Jenny

“They were talking down to us a lot I felt, telling us things but not expecting us to understand,” added Laura.

Year 12 student Laura
Year 12 student Laura

And did they feel the issues raised were properly addressed?

Jenny said: “I think Laura spoke really well about the issue of period products being taxed, but she didn’t really answer the question from a Conservative point of view.”

What do they think came across most from the candidates, party or personality?

Year 12 student Astrid
Year 12 student Astrid

“In the end, they’re your MP for your constituency,” said Astrid. “They’re supposed to fight for you in Parliament.

“Although you are voting for a party to run your country, you also have to think about the MP who's going to be running your constituency.”

Year 12 student Mikey
Year 12 student Mikey

Mikey agreed, adding: “I felt like Doug stuck very hard on policy over opinion.

“When it comes to it, as much as you’re voting for policy, you’re voting for a person you can trust to put that policy into place.”

All four would recommend upcoming pupils attend a hustings, even those who are unable to vote.



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