GALLERY: Candidates become ‘The Famous Five” as they take part in first debate in Cambridgeshire for the 2015 General Election

Candidates standing for the South East Cambridgeshire seat in the forthcoming General Election.Pictu

Candidates standing for the South East Cambridgeshire seat in the forthcoming General Election.Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

A local historian refutes Swaffham Bulbeck being a “slumbering dormitory” insisting it is “a vibrant community” and yesterday it emphasised the latter by hosting the first hustings of the General Election.

Candidates standing for the South East Cambridgeshire seat in the forthcoming General Election.Pictu

Candidates standing for the South East Cambridgeshire seat in the forthcoming General Election.Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

Parish council chairman Ian Woodroffe presided over a gathering of some 70 people in St Mary’s church where, over the chancel arch, hangs the Royal Arms of George III, a monarch renowned for his “incessant loquacity”.

Five candidates enjoyed their first encounter with the electorate, part of the SE Cambs constituency where Sir Jim Paice is stepping down after 27 years as MP.

The question and answer session in a constituency that includes Burwell, Ely, Fordham, Haddenham, Isleham, Soham, Stretham and, of course, the Swaffhams began at 10am and finished shortly before noon -20 minutes over its allotted period.

Mr Woodroffe selected the parties alphabetically to decide who would speak first- Lucy Frazer (Con), Sir Jim’s widely tipped successor, opening the day.

Ian Woodroffe, who chaired the meeting for candidates standing for the South East Cambridgeshire sea

Ian Woodroffe, who chaired the meeting for candidates standing for the South East Cambridgeshire seat in the forthcoming General Election.Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

She spoke of campaigning over the past year on specific issues, particularly education. Her aim, she said, was to ensure “the next generation get the best start possible”.

Drawing on her career as a barrister – and its diversity of one day heading a team fighting a billion pound civil case to the next and preventing a bankrupt losing his home- her belief had always been “to fight for the rights of others”.

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Fairer funding for Cambridgeshire schools was vital, so too was improved infrastructure for East Cambs and business support. She had helped draw together 79 businesses to introduce them to 16 potential sources of funds for growth.

Clive Semmens (Green) insisted his was “the only party that hasn’t been panicked into a knee-jerk copying of UKIP’s paranoia about immigration”. He asked the audience who had caused our country most problems- “bankers who plunged us into economic crisis, expenses milking politicians, wealthy tax dodges, poverty-wage paying bosses and rip off landlords or foreign health workers and farm labourers?”

Candidates standing for the South East Cambridgeshire seat in the forthcoming General Election.Pictu

Candidates standing for the South East Cambridgeshire seat in the forthcoming General Election.Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

“The Green Party is the only party in England that opposes austerity,” he said. “And don’t try to tell me Green Party economics don’t add up- I understand mathematics and economics only too well.”

He insisted Greens were “the only party that still believes in public ownership of crucial services”.

Huw Jones (Lab) also focused on education, reminding the audience that Cambridgeshire might have gone from bottom to sixth from bottom in one year because of increased payments for schools but the money “would be eaten up by changes in teachers’ pensions and NHI changes”. The county has specific problems over recruiting “the best and brightest teachers. If I picked up Impington Village College or Bottisham Village College and dropped them into Essex or Hertfordshire they would get £1500 per child – that’s 35 per cent - increase in funding”.

He said: “Forty per cent of secondary schools in Cambridgeshire are either inadequate or in need of improvement. The panacea of academy changes has not worked in Cambridgeshire.”

Jonathan Chatfield (Lib Dem) described politics as “broken” and spoke of the “huge amount of apathy” he encountered. “I think we need change and a new system of politics.”

Of the election it “is really close –the polls indicate neither David Cameron nor David Miliband will be prime minister on their own”.

Three issues were relevant locally; development and housing – “I don’t believe infrastructure has kept up with it-, education and a strong economy.

Children “only get one chance and we need to give them best chance.” He was proud the provision of free school means for five to seven year-olds. He promised his party would invest in apprenticeships and give more help to small and medium sized businesses.

Deborah Rennie (UKIP) said the best people to govern Britain were “the British themselves not unelected bureaucrats.” UKIP would introduce direct democracy to enable five per cent of the electorate to call a binding referendum.

UKIP would reform planning and give it back to councils and prioritise social housing for local people and ex servicemen.

Energy bills were not coming down fast enough and “we need to end the heat or eat dilemma” of some, and she promised UKIP would abolish green energy levies, now five per cent but due to rise to 15 per cent by 2030. The climate change act would be repealed.

“On immigration we want to control the quality and quantity of those who come here,” she said.

(For more from the debate see this website later)

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