Representatives of the five largest parties in the UK clashed over issues concerning the NHS, the economy and immigration in Granada Reports’ live election debate at St George’s Hall in Liverpool.
The panel of five North West politicians took questions from an audience as the programme was broadcast live for regional viewers ahead of the General Election next month.
The representatives consisted of Tom Crone (Green Party), Nigel Evans (Conservatives), Luciana Berger (Labour), Tim Farron (Liberal Democrats) and Steven Woolfe (UKIP).
An ITV poll suggested that the three issues which will decide how people will vote on May 7 would be the NHS, the economy and immigration.
The first question cut right to the heart of people’s concerns about the NHS as it tackled the idea of profit within the organisation standing in the way of good care for patients.
The party lines were immediately brought out as Ribble Valley candidate Nigel Evans claimed Labour were weaponising the National Health Service, whilst Wavertree representative Luciana Berger responded: “Labour were the party who created the NHS, and they will be the party who saves it.”
As the debate hosts Lucy Meacock and Tony Morris wrestled to ensure the panellists stuck to addressing the questions, the Green Party’s Tom Crone was succinct in his damning of the political class, claiming the failure of public services lay firmly at the feet of politicians.
The discussion moved swiftly on to the economy and the coalition members found themselves being attacked on zero-hour contracts and food banks. The two questions brought a round of applause from an audience who clearly sympathised with their situations.
A young lady asked: “I’m trying to raise a family and I’ve had four different zero-contracts in the past year. Where am I going to find job security?”
Ronan Machin from Manchester Central Food Bank followed: “The UK is the sixth richest country in the world. Are you proud of the fact that last year over 900,000 people had to use food banks to feed themselves and their families?”
Mr Evans responded by suggesting 1,000 new jobs were being created every day under this government whilst Tim Farron defended the Liberal Democrats’ record by claiming to have brought the lowest paid workers out of tax.
However, these responses did not satisfy some members of the audience and calls of “answer the questions” echoed through the Concert Hall.
The other three panellists were in agreement that Britain had become a low-wage economy, with UKIP’s Steven Woolfe suggesting that workers were being undercut by cheap labour, which led onto the final issue of the debate.
The concluding question from the audience was the most hotly-debated on the night as a man asked why politicians seemed to be racing to voice their concerns about the issue of immigration.
Farron, the Lib Dem candidate for Westmorland and Lonsdale, agreed, saying: “There are too many politicians in the gutter looking for anti-immigration votes.”
UKIP have enjoyed an extraordinary rise in popularity within British politics over recent years mainly due to their position on the European Union and immigration.
UKIP’s North West MEP Woolfe said: “Governments aren’t tackling the issues of increased roads, schools and hospitals and all of that is just about numbers and the size of the population growing too quickly.”
Local Green Party councillor Tom Crone pointed to research that had been conducted to suggest that immigrants coming to Britain had been net contributors.
Ms Berger stated that although she was proud of the history of immigrants coming to work in Britain, she agreed with the Labour leader Ed Miliband that the party had got elements of their policy wrong during their time in government.
The short nature of the debate left audience members wanting more and discussions between the public and politicians continued off-air.