Voters grill politicians in Arundel

Lib-dem stand-in, Dr James Walsh, left, with UKIP's Peter Grace, Nick Herbert (Conservative), Isabel Thurston (Green Party) and Christopher Wellbelove (Labour), right. SUS-150424-092639001
Lib-dem stand-in, Dr James Walsh, left, with UKIP's Peter Grace, Nick Herbert (Conservative), Isabel Thurston (Green Party) and Christopher Wellbelove (Labour), right. SUS-150424-092639001

POLITICAL parties went head-to-head in Arundel over local and national concerns.

Members vying to be the next MP for Arundel and South Downs took to the stage during the first election hustings.

Held last Wednesday (April 15) at St Nicholas’ Church, in London Road, Arundel, the night saw politicians debating a range of issues from immigration, foreign policy and the future of the Trident weapons programme, to contentious local plans like the Arundel bypass and a scheme to build more than 70 holiday chalets in Houghton Woods.

The night kicked-off with audience member Derek Waller grilling the panel about their parties’ planned austerity measures, quizzing them on how they could ‘reduce the deficit and balance the books’.

While fellow audience member Miles Ockwell asked whether the country was ‘really in this together’ with the planned welfare cuts.

Responding, Labour candidate Christopher Wellbelove said: “I don’t think we’re all in this together.”

He backed cutting winter fuel payments to the richest five per cent of pensioners, as well as freezing ministerial pay ‘until the books are balanced’. He also wanted to see greater investment in rural businesses and communities.

Dr James Walsh, who was standing in for Liberal Democrat candidate Shweta Kapadia, said the Lib-Dems would borrow £70billion less than Labour and £50billion less than the Tories.

He outlined plans to cut the deficit by making savings in Government, increasing tax rates for some and coming down hard on those avoiding paying tax.

Isabel Thurston (Green Party) agreed with cracking down on tax dodgers but opposed further cuts to public services. She championed an investment scheme in the ‘green economy’, creating thousands of new jobs.

Nick Herbert (Conservatives) said ‘difficult decisions’ had been made in the last parliament. He added further cuts would be made, with possible savings still to be found in central Government.

However, he pledged to ‘protect big budgets’ like the NHS from cuts. He also stressed that welfare savings would not ‘attack pensioners’.

Peter Grace, of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), said UKIP would ‘reprioritise’ Government spending, and invest more in the NHS, while cutting spending on the costly HS2 rail route between London and the West Midlands. He would also seek to cut down various Government departments and added UKIP would treat vulnerable people with ‘compassion and dignity’.

Parties were divided over the Arundel bypass. Mr Herbert and Dr Walsh backed the plans, while Mr Wellbelove felt more time was needed to fully assess all the options.

Mr Grace didn’t believe ‘decimating Arundel’s wetland with a £40million-wide ‘race track’ was the way forward, and said UKIP would invest in ‘a 21st century road network’.

Likewise, the Green Party was totally against the bypass but backed investment on public transport.

Other questions saw the panel debating the NHS, with all parties agreeing it was vital to invest in the service, not cut it.

Parties were also largely in agreement over maintaining a free press.