Left to right: Tuckwood, Zeichner, Huppert, Hayward and GarrettCaitlin Smith

The parliamentary candidates for Cambridge have participated in a hustings tonight, hosted jointly by Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin Students’ Unions.

The debate foregrounded several ‘big-issue’ topics, such as Brexit and education, which occasionally provoked terse exchanges between the candidates, in what otherwise remained a good-natured debate.

Issues more specifically pertinent to the Cambridge campaign, such as housing and homelessness, seemed to draw a greater degree of consensus from the candidates, with all five acknowledging the prohibitively high rent prices faced by residents of the city.

Keith Garrett, a candidate for Rebooting Democracy, outlined to the audience his party’s proposal for radically changing democracy. The party campaigns on an idea called “sortition”, whereby a group of people are selected at random to represent the population. The system aims to make the policy-making body of the country more representative. Public office, he said, would become similar to jury service.

Garrett, as a computer scientist who, by his own admission, “doesn’t out much”, blamed his profession for a lack of “eloquence” when compared with his fellow candidates. He admitted that his chances of winning were low, and this evening’s performance did little to improve these prospects, with his arguments (especially during his rare digressions from the sortition proposal) often falling rather flat. He had not, in transpired, sent out any campaign literature.

Education also featured heavily in the discussion. Two of the candidates, Tuckwood and Zeichner, are standing on manifestos which advocate the abolishment of tuition fees. Huppert was evidently also keen to claim the student vote, promising to push for the fees to be scrapped in the House of Commons should he be elected. He also stressed his affinity with the city’s university communities, having worked as lecturer at both Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge.

Predictably, Huppert’s remarks focussed heavily on Brexit, and the second referendum offered in his party’s manifesto. While Zeichner stressed the Labour party’s commitment to Horizon 2020, Huppert urged the audience, “If you don’t like Brexit, vote for an anti-Brexit party.” The two years spent campaigning after being ousted by Zeichner as Cambridge’s MP appeared to stand him in good stead, delivering firm and focussed messages throughout.

One of the more interesting questions to come from the floor asked the politicians to consider how they diminish the power of stereotypes in politics. All the candidates emphasised their ability and willingness for cross-party communications, with Garrett falling back once again on his party’s sortition policy.

It fell to Hayward to defend the Conservative’s manifesto and their record in government, which was not always a resounding success. After a member of the audience accused Theresa May of “asset-striping” in the NHS, he declared that he had not read the document May had discussed during the interview cited. He explained that under Conservative policy, contrary to popular belief, free school meals would continue to be available to pupils currently eligible for them. His declaration that he was “proud” to be defending Theresa May’s manifesto drew sighs of exasperation from the audience. In fact, his only apparent deviation from the party line occurred when he professed that, in Theresa May’s shoes, he would have called grammar schools “something else”. The policy was roundly criticised by Tuckwood.


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Mountain View

CUSU/ARU hustings - as it happened

The question about the NHS provided ample opportunity for Tuckwood to use his experience as a nurse to his advantage, claiming a better awareness of the grave realities facing the system. Throughout the debate, Tuckwood was keen to stress his ‘man of the people’ credentials, emphasising that he, like members of the audience, was living in private rental accommodation. His strong stance, on issues like the “disgrace” of homelessness, often drew audible support from the audience.

Zeichner, perhaps resting on the laurels of his two-year stint as Cambridge’s MP, failed to make a truly decisive impression on the debate. His message rested on his commitment to continuing to “deliver for Cambridge”. The result: he appeared somewhat stranded between Tuckwood’s strong stance on increasing taxes, and the passionately pro-EU message of Huppert

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