April 2nd saw a debate between seven party leaders, mediated by Julie Etchingham. The leaders included were Natalie Bennett (Green), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Nick Clegg (Lib Dem), Ed Miliband (Labour), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and David Cameron (Conservative). The debate began with opening statements from each leader, before moving on to questions from audience members and finishing with reasons for future optimism.
The audience proposed these questions for the audience:
How would they cut the deficit?
How would they secure free access to the NHS?
How would they address the issue of immigration?
How would they help young people?
Each leader made the following key points on each issue:
Natalie Bennett (Green):
- deficit – end austerity, the rich should pay their share
- NHS – free social care for over-65s, a healthier society would reduce pressure on the NHS
- immigration – emphasized that we are talking about people’s lives, supported Britain’s membership of the EU but would offer a referendum
- young people – emphasized the importance of ending austerity and focusing on climate change
Nigel Farage (UKIP):
- deficit – stop giving money to the EU, end HS2 and scrapping the Barnett formula
- NHS – we should divert funds from the foreign aid budget, end hospital parking charges and tackle health tourism
- immigration – controls must be implemented, but this is not possible as a member of the EU
- young people – housing and wages would improve with immigration controls
Nick Clegg (Lib Dem):
- deficit – cuts are needed, but we must ask the wealthy to make a fair contribution
- NHS – more funding and a greater focus on mental health is needed, dismissed claims of a wave of privatisation
- immigration – we should control access to benefits, leaving the EU would not be beneficial
- young people – the government has expanded apprenticeships and should continue to do so, removing the burden of debt should be our aim
Ed Miliband (Labour):
- deficit – common-sense cuts, boost the economy to raise living standards, reverse tax cuts for millionaires
- NHS – there is a role for the private sector, social care is underfunded, attacked the Tory’s record
- immigration – firms that take on foreign workers should also take on apprentices
- young people – reduce tuition fees to £6,000 a year, end zero-hours contracts, restrict exploitative practices of letting agents
Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru):
- deficit – end austerity, cuts have achieved little but done a lot of damage
- NHS – the private sector should have no role, attacked Labour’s record in Wales
- immigration – control of immigration not possible in the EU, but membership benefits Wales and an exit should be approved by all four nations
- young people – end tuition fees in Wales by achieving parity with Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon (SNP):
- deficit – end austerity, make modest spending rises and increase the top rate of tax
- NHS – it should be kept out of private hands, denied that funding has decreased in Scotland
- immigration – diversity is a strength, abolishing post-study visas was a mistake, we should work within Europe
- young people – SNP are needed to ensure promises on tuition fees are kept, good quality homes for rent and purchase should be provided by government
David Cameron (Conservative):
- deficit – cuts in public spending and in taxes have halved the deficit, the country should stick to this plan
- NHS – the key to a strong health service is a strong economy, pledged 7-day GP services
- immigration – controls can be achieved while still in the EU, we should look to negotiate with Europe on this
- young people – free schools will benefit our education system, the government has been creating jobs
The polls paint a mixed picture of the result, but the clear conclusion is that there was no clear winner. Perhaps what is more telling is the analysis of the debate. The parties are trying to persuade us that their leader was more convincing, while the press are writing their own stories. However, this has created space for interesting and necessary debates about the role of smaller parties and the role of women in political debate. The final debate, featuring the same leaders bar Cameron and Clegg, will take place on 16th April.
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