Selwyn, where the candidates metLouis Ashworth

Liberal Democrat and Brexit Party candidates met to offer dramatically different visions of the future to students on Thursday at an informal pre-election hustings event, held by Selwyn Politics Society.

Rod Cantrill, a long-term Cambridge Council member and the Lib Dem candidate appeared alongside the Brexit Party candidate, Peter Dawe, a former businessman and entrepreneur to discuss Brexit, social change, and the future of politics.

In a speech noticeably short on policies, Dawe positioned himself as the anti-politician, promising to “sweep out the people who maintain the status quo”, bring about a complete transformation of society, and “change politics for good”.

Ranging widely on topics, from the overpopulation of the planet to the failures of the health system, he attacked the “fuzzy” inaction of politicians, warning “if you’re going to reset a system, do it early”. Putting uncertainty and disruption at the centre his pitch, the former telecommunications businessman suggested that if the Brexit Party did win several Parliamentary seats, “head office” would have a difficult time managing them.

Defending the role of politicians, Cantrill described himself as a “passionate European” and urged against the “polarising effects of populism and nationalism”. When questioned if he was personally comfortable with the Liberal Democrats’ promise to revoke Article 50, Mr Cantrill insisted a majority vote would amount to a democratic mandate to remain in the European Union.

He also admitted that his party’s decision to increase tuition fees while in coalition with the Conservative Party had been “the wrong thing to do”, although he argued they had been “naïve” victims of the Conservative’s more “sophisticated” tactics.

Both candidates tried to move the debate beyond its inevitable focus on Brexit. Mr Cantrill put social equality at the core of his campaign, promising to “level the playing field” by addressing homelessness in Cambridge and introduce a Cambridge Living Wage.



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In a speech pitched at attracting those frustrated with the lack of progress on climate change, Mr Dawe argued that only his radical, disruptive brand of politics could achieve the transformation needed to address the problem. In a perhaps surprising political alliance, he urged voters uncomfortable with voting for him to vote for the Green Party.

Selwyn Politics sought to steer the debate towards issues which were of importance to the audience, releasing a poll three days before the event through which attendees could vote for the topics they most wanted to hear the candidates speak on. Of those offered, ‘environment/climate change’ easily took first place with 28 votes, while ‘the future of UK politics’ came second with 17.

The event took place against the backdrop of an increasingly uncertain timetable for leaving the European Union, following Parliament’s rejection last week of the Government’s plan to quickly pass withdrawal legislation, and a potential general election. The Prime Minister hopes to send voters to the polls on 12 December and has issued an ultimatum to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to support an election or see the Brexit deal pulled.

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