General Election 2017: Harpenden candidates laugh, argue, and cry over schools and Brexit at hustings

Harpenden hustings

Harpenden hustings - Credit: Archant

There were tears, laughter and arguments as Harpenden’s six parliamentary hopefuls debated education cuts, food banks, and Brexit at last night’s hustings.

Harpenden hustings

Harpenden hustings - Credit: Archant

Much like the St Albans Cathedral hustings, the event took place in the shadow of a terrorist atrocity on home soil, and those present bowed their heads as a prayer was read out in the memory of the victims before addressing the issues at the heart of Thursday’s election.

School pupil Henry Meredith asked the candidates: ‘Do you agree that the real terms funding per pupils is important to the quality of education, and how will you ensure schools are adequately funded?’

Independent Richard Blake spoke of the urgency of the problem, saying: “My children’s headteacher said the money will run out in the next six months.

“We need to put more money in schools now.”

Harpenden hustings

Harpenden hustings - Credit: Archant

Green Party candidate and teacher Richard Cano warned that support staff are leaving, and next year would see more senior staff like deputy headteachers and heads of departments quitting education.

He said the lack of funding would also make school buildings themselves “much more dangerous”.

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Te Christian Peoples Alliance’s Sid Cordle attacked the Conservative proposal to create new grammar schools, saying it was taking money from across the board.

“All this is harmful to young people, and means the money is not going where it is needed.” Labour’s John Hayes, himself a headteacher, said his school was struggling.

“I spoke to other headteachers about where to get cheaper pencils and paper.”

He said Labour would do away with the “ludicrous” fair funding formula, and spend £5.3 billion on childcare provision.

Conservative Bim Afolami hit back, attacking Labour’s proposed ‘garden tax’ {their proposals to reform council tax), which was met with shouts of ‘he’s lying’ from the audience.

Bim continued: “Since the 1990s the school budget has more than doubled. In 2010 the schools budget was protected.”

Liberal Democrat Hugh Annand said his party would reverse all cuts to school budgets, and protect the pupil premium.

When asked if they would support turning a local comprehensive into a grammar school, all of the candidates said ‘no’.

The candidates were also asked to identify what a good deal on Brexit looked like.

John Hayes said Labour had put together six tests for Brexit, and if the deal did not meet all of them, Labour would vote against it.

Bim Afolami said a good deal was free access for the financial services, access to markets for farmers, and the right for EU citizens to remain here and for Brits to remain living abroad.

Hugh Annand began tearing up when discussing how young people would lose freedom of movement, and how the UK could be left out of the World Trade Organisation if Britain falls out of the EU.

He was cheered when he said he would champion remaining in the EU.

Raymond Blake said: “I believe the people should have one more referendum at the end of the process to say if we are happy with this deal.”

Richard Cano also said the Green Party would also offer a second referendum.

Sid Cordle told the crowd he was “proud to have voted leave”.

He accused the EU of being corrupt, saying money went missing from the budget each year, and undemocratic.

He argued Britain could survive without the EU, and could pay tariffs and while maintaining a trade surplus.

The candidates then made their closing statements, and were wished good luck in the last few days before the election.