The final BBC Radio Berkshire Election Roadshow debate came from Peach Street this morning and gave members of the public a chance to ask questions of the candidates.
Annabel Mullin (Advance Together) and Kizzi Johannessen (Green party) did not attend the event, which was broadcast live from 9am, just as they didn’t take part in the Wokingham hustings that was held in Wokingham Baptist Church last Friday. Sir John Redwood didn’t take part in that event as he said it would have been an unfair discussion.
The first question saw Dr Phillip Lee being asked about his decision to leave the Conservatives to join the Liberal Democrats.
Dr Lee said he was really pleased to stand in Wokingham and that Bracknell voters had contacted him to say that they were sad not to be voting for him, that Brexit was not what was promised and that the public needed to have a second referendum.
The host then asked how voters can trust him? Dr Lee said that the current Conservatives were far from the party’s traditional views.
Sir John Redwood ‘s decision not to vote for Theresa May’s deal was questioned, but he said that he stuck to the letter of the Conservatives 2017 manifesto, saying that Mrs May had backslid on her decision.
“She gave up on trying to persuade Conservative MP that she was trying to stick to the manifesto,” he added.
Sir John also said that he was “very happy” with the manifesto and that he always sticks to the promises made by the Conservatives during an election.
Sir John criticised Dr Lee, saying he was no longer a Conservative or a Lib Dem, but Dr Lee hit back at this. “I’m standing against someone who is an architect of Brexit … I don’t think that’s what the people of Wokingham want, I don’t think that’s what the people of Britain want,” he added.
Dr Lee was challenged by the host that said he wouldn’t leave the Conservatives in the summer, but Dr Lee came back criticising the party’s choice to elect Boris Johnson as leader.
Dr Annette Medhurst, standing for Labour, then had a chance to talk about her Brexit views.
“We’re in a position where we’ve had three-and-a-half years of this … there needs to be a change,” she said.
Wokingham voted to Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, and Sir John’s Brexit stance was then questioned.
“West Berkshire voted [Remain] by a lesser margin than Wokingham,” he said, adding that he would push for a leave deal that wouldn’t cause economic damage and that Johnson’s new proposal would allow us to “invest more, spend more and have tax cuts … we can have more growth”.
He also said that in 2017 he said that he pushed for prosperity and that the party needed to “get on with a growth strategy which is why [the country] needs a majority government”.
Dr Medhurst also said that austerity needed to come to an end and that she was not afraid to raise taxes to invest in the country.
Dr Lee pointed out that research had shown that the Labour and Conservative manifestos were not creditable, before adding that Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke are not supporting a Conservative candidate, but him as the Lib Dem candidate for Wokingham.
Sir John said that he had been pushing for more money for Wokingham schools and social care, but also needed tax cuts “so people have more money to spend”.
Nick asked the first question from a member of the public. He said that there was a lot of social need in Wokingham, how could the MPs make the seat better for people in this situation.
Dr Medhurst said: “I see poverty on our doorsteps every day”, and that Wokingham’s charities such as First Days and the Salvation Army had seen an increase in demand.
Dr Lee said that in 2010 the party had to make some difficult decisions to make, but pointed out to the new policies from the Lib Dems that would help, saying that the economy needed to work for all.
Sir John said that the Conservatives had taken people out of tax, and the party’s manifesto would see people taking out of National Insurance. He also said the party needed to do more to help people with special needs and disabilities, but public spending has to be targeted and that “the ultimate solution for everyone” was to “have a well-paid job paid for by customer revenue”.
Amanda asked what parties would do about legal immigration, citing her personal circumstances, adding that citizens from the Commonwealth were having trouble living and working within the UK.
Sir John said that “we do want to impose controls on people coming in speculatively to take well-paid jobs when they have no connection with the country” and pledged to take up Amanda’s case if he was elected.
Dr Lee said that immigration was the biggest cause of casework over the past 10 years. “This culture of anti-migrant has been created in last few years,” he said, adding that people were “economically contributing”.
Sir John disputed that there was an anti-migrant culture in Wokingham.
Dr Medhurst disagreed with Sir John, citing a friend who had a similar issue to Amanda. “Where are they going to live?” she asked. “Their families should be supported when they’re living here.”
Janet was a nurse who was trained in the 1970s, and said that all nurses were employed by hospitals. “I don’t know how [modern trainees] cope,” she said, adding that they don’t get paid for the training.
Dr Medhurst emphasised Labour’s policy of wanting to train and retain nurses in a career they feel passionate about, adding that they wanted to be supportive of them.
Sir John was asked he was comfortable with the pledge to employ 50,000 new nurses when it turns out that some of them are already employed, and also the proposed new hospitals, which includes the Royal Berkshire Hospital which had been rebuilt in 2006.
“I’m very comfortable with idea we need new nurses,” Sir John said, adding that “I don’t want to get hung up on the numbers.”
He also said he would argue for more grants and bursaries for nurses “it is an essential thing to do”.
Dr Lee, who is still a practising GP, said that it was a tough working environment where people had to work hard, with increased demand and burdens. “This is not an attractive prospect” for potential employees.
“We all agree that nurses need more support,” he said.
Peter wanted to know why the candidates didn’t attend hustings – specifically, Sir John who had declined an invitation to attend the Wokingham hustings last week because the Green and Advance Together candidates didn’t come along.
Sir John said he had been very keen to have a debate with all five candidates. “Even today when I have given in to a partial debate we can’t get all five candidates together”.
He added that he had visited every corner of the constituency during the campaign and he did this throughout the parliamentary term.
“I live here, I work here, I shop here,” he added, repeating what he told The Wokingham Paper last month.
Dr Medhurst said that a hustings planned by the University was aimed at both Reading East and Wokingham constituencies – the campus sits within both parliamentary seats – and that the organisers were looking for one representative from each party to attend.
She added that although she had broken her ankle, the party had been out knocking on doors across the constituency.
Dr Lee said that the team has been working ‘extremely hard’ to meet as many people across the constituency and had knocked on 14,000 doors over the past 16 days.
“It was the most civil hustings I’ve ever been at,” he said of last week’s event, which was recorded by The Wokingham Paper and is available to view here.
“What I’ve picked up … it is basically between me and Mr Redwood. If Wokingham wants a change in a member of parliament … the decent thing here … is to vote for the Liberal Democrats.”
Dr Medhurst disagreed, stating that people told her they didn’t want to vote for the Lib Dems or Conservatives.
Sir John said that he was pleased the Brexit party weren’t standing in Wokingham and stood down elsewhere: “It’s made things easier,” he said.
Dr Lee was challenged over his assertion that Sir John was a climate change denier, something that the veteran Conservative disagreed with.
Sir John said he had set out a very positive agenda for Wokingham and the wider country which had been getting a lot of support. These policies included fuel efficiency and changing the way we heat and insulate homes, and wanted solar panels and cutting energy use at “a sensible pace”.
“We can only do it at a pace that people are willing to go and can afford to go,” he said, adding that it wasn’t feasible for most people to buy an electric car.
Dr Medhurst said that the country needed to make big bold decisions, but Sir John said that we needed to work internationally and the problem basically existed in places like China.
Dr Lee said that Sir John didn’t see the issue as an urgent one for the country, and that we used and bought goods made in China.
Anne asked about the misinformation during the campaign, especially from the Conservatives, citing the fake Fact Checking account and tweets share false.
Sir John said that he was responsible for the Wokingham campaign and that it had been a “positive” campaign that had talked about what he had wanted to do next.
“I am very much against fake news,” he said adding that held himself to high standards. He was unaware of what was happening with the national campaign.
“I don’t know the details of that as I’ve been concentrating on my campaign here, I don’t stand all my time watching television.
“I’ve seen a lot of misinformation from local parties. I don’t even think it’s wise to go into a conversation about fake news when I haven’t even seen the things you are worried about.”
Dr Medhurst said that the situation saddened her, citing research by The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising, which revealed that 88% of Conservative-promoted ads on social media featured disputed claims, while the Lib Dems graphs were potentially misleading. Labour’s ads had not been found to be misleading.
Dr Lee said that he had been really concerned over the issue, caused by “the people who had taken over the Conservative party”, saying it was damaging for democracy across the country. “There are people in Conservative party now who have no bounds,” he said.
“I think the Lib Dems had some questions to answer on that,” Sir John replied saying that the party had been “spending a fortune” on the local campaign and “some of the literature going round look very odd to me”.
Dr Lee said, “We all have the same spending limits. Don’t start flinging mud around just because the national Conservative campaign has been awful”.
Peter had a question about the third runway for Heathrow.
Dr Lee said that the Lib Dem position was to be against it, and said that there would be issues with noise pollution, and said that he would take a decision based on what would be the best decision for Wokingham and that he wanted to see what would be proposed before making a final decision.
Dr Medhurst said that she was totally against it, raising concerns about carbon emissions and would vote against it under all circumstances.
Sir John said that there as a noise issue and wanted to see what would be offered on air pollution.
The final question was on whether the public was fed up with elections.
Dr Medhurst said that there was a lot of disillusion with politics, Dr Lee said that the dark nights weren’t helping “but there is a genuine feeling on the streets that it is time for a change and for better representation”.
Sir John said he was looking forward to Friday and that there was much more awareness of politics than a few years ago. He was expecting a good turnout tomorrow “people really want this election to be a good one”.