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General Election 2019: South Cambridgeshire hustings was sometimes 'heated'

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The Homerton Union of Students and Queen Edith’s Community Forum hosted the second South Cambridgeshire hustings on Thursday of last week.

Held in Homerton College’s Mary Allan Building, the evening was attended by all three candidates: Conservative Anthony Browne, Labour’s Dan Greef and Liberal Democrat Ian Sollom.

The candidates answered questions and made statements over two hours, discussing Brexit, NHS funding, nationalisation and privatisation, protecting the area’s rural character, microbial drug resistance and more.

From left: Election candidates; Ian Sollom, Anthony Browne and Dan Greef
From left: Election candidates; Ian Sollom, Anthony Browne and Dan Greef

The format saw each candidate asked an individual 'targeted question' on an issue specifically for them and their party.

Liberal Democrat Ian Sollom was asked what kind of referendum question should be on offer if his party does not win a majority and revoke Article 50.

Mr Sollom replied “personally rather than as party policy” and said it is a “reasonable” assumption his party will not win a majority. In that case, he said, he would want his party to work with anyone looking to put forward another referendum, and said under those circumstances “I think we need to have a referendum on a deal that has been agreed, with Remain as an option”. He said he would campaign to “stop Brexit”.

Labour’s Dan Greef was asked to defend his party over criticisms of antisemitism and describe how he would help “root it out”.

He described it as an “existential” question for his party, and said antisemitism and racism are “disgraceful”.

“In terms of the Labour Party, if there is a case of antisemitism it should be dealt with as soon as possible,” he said, pointing to the Chakrabarti report as an example of action being taken.

He said: “We have to all personally take responsibility for what we say, and if we do get it wrong, say sorry. And where I have got it wrong in the past I say sorry too.”

Conservative Anthony Browne was asked his question by a student in the audience who described some of his past comments as “racist,” and while noting he had expressed regret since, questioned if he would stand up “to the hostile environment policies of the Conservative governments”.

Mr Browne responded saying the articles referrenced were “17 years ago” and said he had apologised for them.

He said “racism is completely and utterly unacceptable in all its forms” and said his party will have an inquiry into Islamophobia and other forms of racism. He said he was in favour of “controlled immigration” and said it is “critical” people “don’t feel hostility” and feel welcome.

Justifying his previous comments made in articles while working as a journalist, he said: “The function of journalism is to provoke debate, as an MP the function is to bring people together and make people lead better lives,” which he said he would do “for people who are born here or not born here”.

The local democracy reporting service asked the candidates on their stance on the possibility of limiting Cambridge city centre to ultra-low emission and electric vehicles.

Mr Browne said “That is outside the constituency. I don’t have a settled view on it. Clearly you do need to tackle pollution in a city, and congestion in Cambridge, but on those particular policies I don’t have a view.”

Mr Greef said: “It’s outside the constituency but we are linked.”

He said “what we have to do is have a unitary authority” for the city and surrounding area, which he said would address “confusion” about the politics and strategy of the area.

“The people coming in each day come from South Cambs, so of course it affects us, it affects everyone,” he said.

“I think we should be moving towards a city where we don’t have pollution in the air from cars,” and added “so yes, I completely support that”.

Mr Sollom said: “I’m supportive of the proposals, they have been thought through and considered by the citizens’ assembly.

“I do have a concern about how we go forward with them, because there is a question of inequality on ultra-low emissions vehicles,” he added, citing the cost.

“I want to see us proceed with a degree of care about how this is implemented in a just way and over a period of time”.

He said “underlying it all is how you fund a much-improved public transport network” saying people need an alternative to cars.

“Until we join up all aspects of this thing, I just think we need to proceed with caution. I’m very supportive in principle,” he said, adding it needs to be “well evidence-based”.

Each candidate closed with a key message. Mr Browne said the choice is between a Conservative majority or a hung parliament, Mr Greef said the choice is between more of the same or change, and Mr Sollom said South Cambridgeshire is no longer a Conservative safe seat and it’s between them and his own party.

The Homerton Union of Students’ vice president external, who helped organise the event, Henry Wright, said: “I think it’s been a really successful evening and everyone has gotten to hear from our candidates.

“Heated at times, but everyone’s had the opportunity to ask their questions and get answers from their candidates. And I hope everyone votes in this election – it’s really important.”

Chairman of the Queen Edith’s Community Forum, Sam Davies, who chaired the event, said afterwards: “I thought that was a very positive and wide-ranging discussion, and unlike some of the city council hustings I have done in the past, there was a lot of difference between the candidates this time. And I think we covered a lot of content and it should give people a good basis for making their decisions and that’s the important thing.”