Organised by the college’s Politics in Action enrichment group, this marks the fourth time local politicians have hosted such an event at the Sixth Form College, following General Election debates in 2015 and 2017, and a special Brexit hustings in 2016.
The five representatives were Emily Thornberry (Labour), Jason Charalambous (Conservative), Talia Hussain (Green), Paddy Hannam (Brexit) and Kate Pothalingam (Liberal Democrats).
The candidates each gave a three-minute exposition of their party’s policies and vision for the community before responding to pre-prepared questions from students, and finally opening the floor to the audience. Over the course of two hours, London’s brightest minds quizzed the speakers on the housing crisis, tuition fees, knife-crime, climate change and the north-south divide.
Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, was keen to address the key concerns of Islington South and Finsbury’s young people, backing voting for 16-17 year olds and examining the “intergenerational injustice” at the root of the housing crisis and education. She expressed Labour’s commitment to abolishing tuition fees and reintroducing maintenance grants, which garnered support from the audience.
Conservative candidate Jason Charalambous focused on the successes of the current government and presented clear goals for the next. The Tories plan to invest £9billion in affordable homes and to prevent unfair eviction, but Jason also looked at the successes of Stamp Duty and recent campaigns to build new homes.
Education was a contentious issue for both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, who rose course fees during the last coalition government. Both parties explored the arguments of student fees versus a universal tax increase, with the Liberal Democrats keen to reintroduce maintenance grants scrapped by the following Conservative government. Kate Pothalingham also pledged to introduce a cabinet secretary for sustainability, to invest £500million in youth services and to address the relationship of distrust with the police, starting with the legalisation of cannabis.
Brexit Party member Paddy Hannam aimed to provide a “young voice in politics”, assuring the sixth formers that party policy was, above all, focused on “affordability” and “realism”. While the audience tended not to sympathise with Hannam’s pro-Brexit views, applause was duly given for the pledge to invest in vocational apprenticeships and to create viable futures through education, steering young people away from crime.
Green Party candidate Talia Hussain aligned with Labour on a number of issues, including taking inspiration from Scottish local laws in dealing with the ongoing knife-crime epidemic. The Greens plan to abolish fees for undergraduates and wipe out existing debts, citing the “social obligation” to give the next generation proper training. Above all, the conversation moved towards climate control and the need to act with urgency and priority on environmental issues.
Although tensions between the Brexit Party candidate, Paddy Hannam, and Emily Thornberry simmered throughout the event, the student chairs were quick to steer the conversation back to politics. The candidates ultimately looked for common ground where possible. Liberal Democrat representative Kate Pothalingam backed the sustainability programmes of the other parties; the Tories and Labour agreed that education and youth work was the best way to address the knife-crime epidemic; and the Brexit party candidate acknowledged the need for a “sensible conversation” on drug legalisation.
Students made up a thoughtful and respectful audience, applauding individual policy ideas and giving all the candidates a fair hearing.
Speaking after the event, Emily Thornberry said: “My view is that you get lots of invitations to hustings when you’re in Islington; I always say yes to this one because I think it’s incredibly important to engage young people, but also it’s always really lively and it’s fun and well organised. It’s great to be here and to give support to this great college.”
Jason Charalambous added: “It was a real honour when I saw that this college was doing a hustings event, I thought that, without question, I had to go. It was an amazing audience, very dynamic… tough questions! It’s so important to see young people involved in politics and in important issues. Part of the reason I’m in politics now is that when I was at school my local MP spoke in my assembly. I had never encountered a politician before and I thought ‘one day I’d like to be like that’ – to do something meaningful and to help others… so I hope that, if anything, we can play a role in inspiring others.”
All those who registered to vote before 26 November will be able to vote in the upcoming general election on 12 December. For more information on how to vote, click here.