The eight candidates hoping to be Horsham’s next MP were questioned on a number of issues affecting the Christian community on Wednesday April 22.
An estimated 300 people turned up to the pre-election hustings which was hosted by Kingdom Faith Church in Foundry Lane, organised by Horsham Churches Together, and chaired by Canon Guy Bridgewater, vicar of Horsham.
The candidates present were Roger Arthur (UKIP), Martyn Davis (Labour), Jim Duggan (Peace Party), Darrin Green (Green Party), Morwen Millson (Lib Dems), Jeremy Quin (Conservatives), Jim Rae (independent), and James Smith (Something New).
They were asked questions on poverty and the gap between rich and poor, resources for care in the community, climate change, legal aid, tuition fees and education, and religious freedom and persecution.
However one of the most hotly debated issue was the Conservatives’ ‘Right to Buy’ scheme and the topic of affordable housing.
Mr Quin admitted it was a controversial policy and said he ‘appreciated there was a problem with affordable housing’ but thought there was benefit to allowing people to buy their council houses.
But other candidates strongly disagreed. Mr Rae called it ‘one of the craziest policies I have every seen anybody actually do this close to a general election’, and said they were already having to build on greenfields to deliver a decent amount of affordable housing.
Meanwhile Mr Arthur told the audience that the private sector would never build enough affordable housing and if they took any stock away councils would never be able to make up the difference.
Asked what measures they thought could be introduced to combat poverty in the country Mr Green suggested they change the minimum wage to the living wage, introduce a wealth tax, and increase the number of tax officers at HMRC.
Mrs Millson said it was an ‘absolute disgrace that British people had to resort to foodbanks’, and agreed that they should be moving towards a living wage, and thought a mansion tax was a way of asking people who were better off to pay a little bit more.
Meanwhile Mr Quin felt the best way was to encourage the creation of more jobs, but Mr Smith said the share of wealth at the top was getting bigger and bigger and argued in favour of a citizens wage and land tax, branding austerity an ‘ideological deconstruction of the British state’.
Lastly Mr Rae felt in the short term they could increase the minimum wage, and in the longer term improve education levels ‘to make sure every child and every adult comes out of school ready and prepared for work’.
On tuition fees Mrs Millson said she did not think anyone was in favour of them, but under the new system repayments were required only when people started earning £21,000 a year or more, adding: “It’s not ideal but that’s where we are and we have to go with it for the moment.”
Mr Davis felt many young people were leaving university and would ‘never get a job on the back of their degree and that’s a disgrace and it’s immoral’, and criticised cuts in the adult education budget.
But Mr Quin replied: “You had 13 years to sort it out. I think it’s a huge benefit to have a degree and be a graduate in the jobs market. The reality is more people are going to university than ever before. More people are going to university from underprivileged backgrounds and that is a good thing.”
Candidates were also asked how they would ensure Christians had the freedom of conscience and expression at home and abroad.
Mr Smith explained the question followed the conviction of a Christian street preacher of delivering sermons that were deemed to be homophobic in a Taunton high street. Referencing the Bible verse in question Leviticus 20:13 he said that by quoting the second part of the verse the man had ‘crossed the line into hate speech’.
On the same question Mr Quin said the law required Christians ‘to be extremely tolerant at times but it’s that tolerance that makes Christianity such a great religion’, Mr Green said ‘freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and should be protected’, while Mr Davis felt it a difficult issue but added that the law was there to protect people’s life styles as well as their beliefs.
Another question asked candidates how they would propose to adequately fund care in the community. Mr Duggan asked why promises on health care spending were coming out just weeks before an election, and felt the general election campaign had become extremely negative and said they should be talking about equality, compassion and love.
Mr Rae pointed out that the rates paid to care workers were extremely low, Mr Arthur said by abolishing Quangos and cracking down on tax avoidance they would not even have to raise taxes to free up money for vital public services.
Mr Davis criticised cuts in care budges across the board, Mrs Millson said they had to integrate social care and health care, and while Mr Quin conceded that people living longer was presenting them with challenges, he pointed towards a new model in Manchester where health and social care was being pulled together with one body responsible for both.
Another hustings event is being planned by West Sussex Humanists on Friday May 1 at Lavinia House in Dukes Square, Horsham from 7pm. The main themes will be science and evidence based policy, human rights, and religion and belief.
Questions can be asked on the night but questions can also be sent prior to the hustings to Andrew Edmondson: 4 Stumblemead, Balcombe, West Sussex, RH17 6LR, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 01444 811413 or 07934508671.
For more information see their website.