Stoke-on-Trent Central candidates lock political horns in Big Debate event

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Stoke-on-Trent General Election candidates locked horns in a Question Time style debate chaired by Staffordshire University professor of politics Mick Temple.

Hundreds packed into Staffordshire University’s new Science Building on Leek Road as audience members fired questions at the candidates on a range of major issues.

The one-long event, dubbed “The Big Debate”, included Labour MP for Stoke Central Tristram Hunt and his for the seat, Jan Zablocki (Green Party), Liam Ascough (Conservatives), Dr Zulfiqar Ali (Liberal Democrats) and Mick Harold (UKIP).

Immigration emerged as one of the major issues, which UKIP’s Mr Harold said “needs to be controlled” in Britain.

He said immigration from the European Union was “overwhelming the NHS, overwhelming doctor’s surgeries, and driving down wages”.

Jan Zablocki was quick to hit back, saying: “We need to tackle the causes of immigration – war and poverty.”

Prof Temple asked Dr Ali Zulfiqar Ali if people could trust the Liberal Democrats again after they went back on their promise to remove student fees.

Big Debate panel speakers, Dr Ali Zulfiqar

Dr Ali said they had no choice to bring in the fees.

“Tuition fees were introduced by Labour, increased by Labour and by the time they left office, the economy was in ruins and left us asking to increase tuition fees,” he added.

Liam Ascough also defended the Conservative’s student loan increase, saying “we have more people going to university now than ever before”.

He argued that the higher wage increase that results from a degree makes up for the loans.

“It does not saddle students with debt,” he added.

Tristram Hunt said the Lib Dems’ failure to remove the fees “did a lot of damage to politics”.

Tristram Hunt at the Big Debate

He believes young people feel “betrayed”.

On the NHS, cardiologist Dr Ali, who has worked in the organisation for decades, blamed privatisation for it current problems.

“We have new shiny buildings but the money has come from privatisation,” he said.

He added that managers were forced to save money every single month to pay back private finance.

The debate became heated when one audience member questioned the Labour’s proposal to introduce sex education in schools to children as young as five.

Mr Hunt said education would be “statutory and age appropriate”, saying that at five years of age it would be more about the importance of family.

The Big Debate in Stoke

“No one wants to teach five-year-olds about sex,” he added.

However, Mr Harold said it was “appalling” and even labelled the idea as “bordering on child abuse”.

The same candidates will go head to head for Stoke Central again on polling day, Thursday May 7.

(additional reporting by Richard Hilton)

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