The election campaigns of all three main party leaders were brought to Southampton this week, as the city saw visits from David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg. With the general election now less than a week away, the Wessex Blog takes a look at the week’s events.
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Leader of the Conservative party David Cameron was the first to arrive in the city Monday morning. The University only found out about the visit the previous evening. A small amount of students had been informed and asked to meet the Conservative leader for a news item on Sky. The channel filmed students in the background while Mr Cameron spoke about his policies on higher education in the Student Services building.
English student Chloe Green hit national headlines when she asked the party leader about his plans on bursaries to support lower-income families, and when told about Conservative plans to ‘support government support’ responded, ‘I still don’t believe you.’ The 19 year old student approached Mr Cameron as he made his way out of Student Services, and the video clip of the impromptu debate became the BBC election coverage’s most watched video for over 24hours. Miss Green’s challenging made several national and local publications including The Telegraph, Daily Echo and Wall Street Journal.
As the Conservative leader left Student Services building after approximately an hour, news of his arrival was beginning to spread amongst students. A crowd formed outside the building and the Wessex Blog reported that Mr Cameron was on campus. The party leader, who was elected in 2005, then made his way to building 22 at about 11.30 where he was given a tour of the Energy and Climate Change Division Laboratories of the School of Civil Engineering and the Environment. More students gathered outside the building and another student, 21 year old Sam Hall, also made headlines when he asked Mr Cameron about Conservative plans to lower interest on loans that are re-paid quicker.
The History and Politics student told the Wessex Blog that he felt this ‘disadvantaged those from lower income families.’ Mr Hall asked the Conservative leader about this as he watched him enter the building. He told the Wessex Blog that Mr Cameron did not respond to his question, and shouted ‘David I thought you were a man of the people!’
The third year student told the Wessex Blog: ‘I got a bit excited but he wouldn’t turn around and answer my question, he was a bit red in the face actually.’ He continued: ‘I was really disappointed that he wouldn’t give me the time of day. I don’t understand why Conservatives claim to be a modern party, but then want to cut help for middle and lower income families. His policies are a bit skewed really, his plans to reward students who pay back their loans earlier disadvantage students from normal backgrounds, and only help those in higher income families.’ Mr Hall explained that he plans to vote Labour in the upcoming general election because ‘ they are the only party who are fair and have normal people’s interests at heart.’
Press and media interviewed the 43 year old party leader after the tour, and the Wessex Scene, SUSU TV and Surge were all given a short amount of time to ask questions.
VP Education and Representation Becky Maclean and VP Education and Representation elect Chris Pidgley asked Mr Cameron about his policies for higher education. Chris Pidgley questioned the Conservative leader about his plans for bursaries, and was told a Conservative Government would want to support students so that everyone has the chance to go to university.
Mr Cameron also ‘absolutely’ agreed when The Wessex Scene asked whether he thinks the ‘punishment should fit the crime’ in relation to the MP’s expenses scandal. When questioned about the issue of the devaluing of a degree with so many students attending university, the Conservative leader attacked Labour’s target of 50% of all young people to attend university and asked ‘where do Labour get these targets from?’ Mr Cameron then left the building and the University after briefly meeting with Jeremy Moulton, Conservative candidate for Southampton Test.
Gordon Brown was also in Southampton Monday afternoon. The Prime Minister took part in an unrehearsed question and answer session with listeners from local radio station Wave 105. The event was held in the Conference Centre of Southampton Solent University. Live Editor of The Edge, the Southampton University’s student entertainment publication, Hayley Taulbut was in the audience. She said: ‘He answered questions quite well, especially considering he didn’t know what he was going to be asked.’ The English student continued: ‘The man next to me broke down when he asked Mr Brown about help for those looking for a job. He had adult dyslexia and was unable to get a job. [Mr Brown] took him to one side and spoke to him separately about it.’ The Labour party leader was photographed shaking hands with students on his way into the building, but made a swift exit after the question and answer session.
The Wessex Blog spoke to Alan Whitehead, current Labour MP for Southampton Test as he waited outside the Conference Centre for Mr Brown’s arrival. Mr Whitehead said: Students should vote for Labour because we offer the best future prospects for them. We provide fair funding, a future for them, and prospects after University.’
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton Don Nutbeam was also at the question and answer session. He spoke to the Wessex Blog about the party leaders’ visits to the city and said: ‘both were prepared to answer difficult questions from students.’ He added that Mr Cameron’s visit was also ‘a great opportunity for the University to show off our research into renewable energy resources.’
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg was the third party leader to visit Southampton, as he arrived at Southampton General Hospital the following day to speak about the party’s health policy. The party leader held a speech outside the front entrance of the Hospital and claimed that it was the Liberal Democrats who ‘made the debate about fairness.’ He added: ‘I’m going to listen to staff at the hospital. It’s not for politicians to tell staff what to do, but for staff to tell politicians what to do. We want to protect and cherish our National Health Service.’
Mr Clegg then answered a question from The Wessex Blog regarding his plans for bursaries for students at university. (See article Clegg Sparks Confusion Over New Bursary System) He was accompanied on his visit to the hospital by Vince Cable, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Sanda Gidley, Liberal Democrat for the Romsey Constituency.
Present at Mr Clegg’s speech was Southampton University’s Politics Association President, Matt Evans, and Emily Eldridge – President of the Liberal Democrat society at the University. They gave us their views on all three party leaders’ visits to Southampton.
Mr Evans said: ‘Personally I was disappointed by David Cameron’s visit. I’m disappointed that students are almost an ignored demographic at the moment. He came to our University, but he didn’t seem to speak to many students.’ Miss Eldridge said that she was impressed with Mr Clegg’s speech and added: ‘he revealed that his budget plan is feasible.’
With over 40,000 students in Southampton however, did any of the party leaders do enough to secure your vote this week?
Photo’s provided by SUSU TV.