SSFC Question Time - a student perspective

17 April 2015

SSFC Question Time Tuesday 14th April – Reported on by Hazel Rogers

‘This is your evening, not mine’ Eric Smith boomed throughout the hall of Shrewsbury Sixth Form’s English Bridge Campus, hosting Question Time, following a brief, but concise, welcome from Principal Martin Ward. Surprisingly, not an ounce of cynicism could be seen; the students had taken their pews with controlled eagerness, and the consequent silent anticipation echoed through the room as loudly as Smith’s voice, all eyes glued to the stage, whereupon the five candidates were observing the crowd with measured passivity. The introductions were made: Emma Bullard, Green Party; Jonathon Carr, electoral agent to Susannah Evans, UKIP; Laura Davies, Labour; Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative; Christine Tinker, Liberal Democrats. The evening had begun.

An initial question rose promptly from the crowd and brought on immediate controversy:  ‘Is Sixth Form College a financially endangered species?’

The generic response rose up from the panel (no, and their parties were completely supportive of the educational system in Sixth Form Colleges). Additionally, the Greens made a valid observation: ‘there is NO SUBSTITUTE for good teaching’ and the requirement for colleges to pay extra taxation (more than schools – Sixth Form colleges pay VAT whereas secondary do not) should be completely eliminated.

The Liberals spoke up, and were instantaneously met with Smith’s comment on their supposed ‘educational failures’, a remark that stimulated a divisive audience response; there was a slight outburst of frank laughter at Smith’s bluntness, but at the same time a considerately pensive atmosphere: for the students, this was affecting, and intriguing; Should the Liberals be blamed for their theoretical ‘failures’, or should the strained coalition? This enthused more educationally-based questions; Tim Mayo demanded to know whether the panel ‘[supported] the university planning in Shrewsbury’, to which the Liberals, and the rest of the panel, subsequently, stated that they genuinely believed it would be a valuable asset to the town, bringing variety and a differing culture to the existing community. UKIP used the question to state their willingness to fund the university, but also to eradicate the need for fees for those studying Maths, the Sciences, and Technology, as the UK, they claim, is in desperate need of trained professionals in Medicine and Computing for example. Understandably, this caused a rather contrasting mood change; did this mean that the Arts, English, Classics and History were not as important? Who decided this? Also, a pupil commented on the fact that the university would most probably not be of particular benefit to the students of Shrewsbury; further education is generally a chance for newfound independence, therefore why would young people from Shrewsbury want to remain where their families, their friends, their past is? Surely they want to experience a different lifestyle, different people, a different form of maturity?

Cameron Brydone-Reed, another student, proceeded to ask an imperative question: ‘How will the youth be heard in Westminster?’

This is an almost palpably important question for today’s youth, to which the answers varied greatly; Liberals praised the quality of contribution from young people in politics, and particularly during the Scottish Referendum. Labour pledged contentiously to lower the voting age to 16, however, were willing to consider the fact that perhaps there might potentially be too much parental influence at this age, thus meaning that the voting would be tainted; this was counteracted by UKIP’s clearly stated opinion, that voting means power; the youth should conscientiously join a political party that they have investigated and that represents their core interests, so that their issues ARE addressed, and their voices ARE heard. This was followed by eager ovation from the audience – this objective point is one that very much needs to be said, particularly with some celebrities such as Russell Brand attempting to convince young people that voting should be avoided. The entire panel agreed that it is imperative that students recognise that they have a voice, a voice given not easily, but by years and years of universal struggle to gain suffrage for all.  Conservative followed this up by declaring that they had supported multiple internships for young people, and had had over 14,000 new constituents over the past 10 years, to which Smith inquired without delay whether the interns were paid, or whether some were on zero hour policies? A growl rose from the spectators; a large number of young people are often exploited by employers with these contracts.  The Conservative claim: that most are pleased to have zero hour contracts. The general response: are they? Are they really?

The Conservative policy of right-to-buy for tenants from housing associations stirred up some forceful inquisition due to the clear fact that young people as a whole will be greatly influenced by this, because, as Smith rapidly clarified, this is rather a lucid ‘throwback to the Thatcher era’, to which the crowd became excitedly aroused; none of the students were alive during Thatcher’s reign, and yet all experienced her death and witnessed the highly opinionated views of her, as well as many having heard horrific family legacies, along with dedicated praise of her. The idea that politics could go backwards, to a time primarily dominated by austerity, is not only unthinkable but seemingly impossible. Yet, the facts are transparent: this could happen. Smith went on to further quiz Conservative’s Kawczynski’s on what, initially, buying a house should be.

Kawczynski responded: ‘A sound investment.’

The collective opinion, voiced by Smith, to this was whether a house should be ‘a sound investment, or a home?’

UKIP followed this with a housing-based comment about immigration: the 300,000 immigrants a year mean that there is a housing shortage, giving the implication that getting rid of immigration would immediately stop the housing crisis in this country, a statement that should be closely considered.

Are houses being rented out on exploitation of people? the Liberals questioned, whilst they claimed that they were, as a party, helping people to buy their homes.

A highly-charged question for an increasing number of young adults was suddenly posed from a student: ‘Child mental health services in Shropshire are being neglected – they are in crisis – and self harm itself is not a priority. Will the successful party choose to change this?’

Labour swiftly supported the statement, stating themselves that psychiatry had become a ‘Cinderella affair’, with in-patient care being often hundreds of miles from the patient due to mental and physical health being dubbed as separate by the NHS, even though they are evidently connected. They proposed to join them if they came into power, thus supposedly meaning that patients could be much more widely catered for, a proposal widely appreciated by the audience, but also counteracted by UKIP; they planned to invest an extra £1.5 billion to mental health and dementia services.

This bold claim was met by Smith’s nonchalant satirically humorous observation: ‘Where’s that money from? Europe?’

A further almost violently rowdy hoot arose from the audience once again – this was an almost vulgar abuse of UKIP’s policies – whilst UKIP’s spokesman merely spoke inaudibly.

The conclusion to a questionably productive evening was this;

What WILL our future be? Has politics moved on at all? Where should student’s priorities be?

As Green rightly concluded: ‘Vote for what you believe in.’

That is the least any of us can do.


Hazel Rogers - Year 1 Student of English Literature, English Language, History and Film Studies