Daventry Methodist Church was packed on Monday night to hear what the five general election candidates had to say on a range of issues.
The candidates were faced with questions on inequality in the UK, the NHS, the accountability of MPs, and immigration. Key issues for the Daventry area were also raised – the standard of education in local schools, and the expansion of Daventry and building of new estates in villages.
Labour’s Abigail Campbell opened by saying the Daventry had seen ‘too many things being taken away, and not enough being given back’.
She went on to say on housing that she had attended a march in London against the housing crisis, but had also campaigned locally against the Mickle Well Park proposal for Daventry. She said: “How can I do both these things at once? Well, I accept there’s a housing crisis, but also ‘localism’ isn’t working for people. Developers seem to rule the roost and have more sway than local people and local opinion.
“Labour want to build more houses, but to work more meaningfully with local communities to determine the type of housing and where it goes, and empower the local councils and housing associations to build more homes.”
The Liberal Democrats’ Callum Delhoy said infrastructure was an important factor in new developments, including roads and broadband. He added: “We have got to build 300,000 homes per year but I believe it can be done. We will prioritise brown field sites and we will protect the green belt.”
I am not a fan of the national debates on the TV – they look a bit like a knock-off version of The Weakest Link, or Pointless – which might be appropriate I guess.Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative
Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative, said: “The Localism Act is beginning to work – we now get Section 106 money Community Infrastructure Levy money from developers, and some developers are promising to do more on top of that.
“Abigail and I worked together against the Mickle Well Park application.
Michael Graham for UKIP said his party would look at ways to remove barriers to building on brownfield sites and provide incentives to first time buyers for them as well.
Asked if the housing crisis was partly due to immigration.
Answering first, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “There’s a problem with the perception of immigration. We need to make sure people don’t come here for benefits, but I’m sure we welcome those that come here to do jobs that need filling.”
Mrs Campbell said: “I agree with Chris; immigrants enrich our community.”
Mr Whiffen said: “The fact is previous governments haven’t built enough homes, there hasn’t been significant investment in the NHS – the problem of a lack of social housing is the problem of government not of the people that live in them.”
Mr Gerard said: “If you are going to allow X-number of people to come to this country, should that be 50,000 or 500,000, we need to know the numbers so we can plan. For UKIP it’s about controlling the numbers and the quality as well. But I agree that immigration over the last 30/40 yeas has enriched our country and we’re better for it.”
Asked about the quality of local schools and improving education, Mr Delhoy said: “Apprenticeships are a fantastic system, and over the last five years we’ve contributed to an extra five million apprentice places.”
Mr Heaton-Harris said: “We know the children, the raw material, going into our primary schools is of the same calibre across the constituency, so something must be going wrong if in places nearly a third leave school without qualifications. There has been huge investment in Daventry’s education – we’ve got the UTC, we’ve got Northampton College investing in Daventry. We know both Daventry’s secondary schools have had significant dips in recent years, but both seem to be coming out of it now with huge improvements being made.”
Mrs Campbell said: “Labour’s policy is to support teachers and ensure they are qualified. We need to get behind our schools. We shouldn’t see them as an add-on but at the heart of our communities. I think the UTC is a good thing, but the different types of education need to work together more.”
Mr Whiffen said: Not everyone is academic. We should work towards ensuring everyone gets the tools and skills they need.”
Mr Graham said it was UKIP’s policy to have a grammar school in every district, but to also invest in vocational and technical college as well for those who do not want to follow an academic path.
The event was chaired by the Rev Msg Sean Healey on behalf of Churches Together In Daventry, who put unseen questions submitted by the audience to the candidates.
The five candidates all know each other by this stage, whether it is from the campaign itself, or from working together locally in the past.
Labour’s Abigail Campbell praised the work of the constituency’s Conservative MP for the past five years Chris Heaton-Harris.
At some point all the candidates agreed with one or more of their opponents on an issue. And throughout the public listened to each candidate’s comments with equal fairness.
In their final statements all the candidates thanked the large audience for turning out and said it showed the very best of local democracy.
Mr Heaton-Harris summed up the evening, saying: “I am not a fan of the national debates on the TV – they look a bit like a knock-off version of The Weakest Link, or Pointless – which might be appropriate I guess. They take away from the fact that we in this country elect an individual to represent us and the community, as well as to represent the party they stand for.
“I want to help my constituents, as I’m sure the rest of the panel do as well. But most of the people in this room will make their mind up on national issues.”
The Daventry constituency boundary remains unchanged from the 2010 general election, and consists of the Daventry district plus Milton Malsor, Kislingbury, Gayton, Harpole and Rothersthorpe, Bugbrooke, Nether Heyford and Upper Heyford, which are in South Northamptonshire District, and Sywell and Mears Ashby in the Borough of Wellingborough.
The seat existed from 1918 to 1950 and was recreated in 1974. It is considered one of the safest Tory seats in the region, having always returned a Conservative MP – or been held by a previously Tory Speaker of the House – since 1918.
In 2010 the Conservative’s Chris Heaton-Harris secured 56.5 per cent of the vote, with the Lib Dems taking second with 19.4 per cent. The 2005 general election was fought over a constituency with a different boundary, but the Tories polled 51.6 per cent with Labour coming in second with 27.3 per cent.