Suffolk Coastal candidates address young voters - Conservative defends absence

General Election hustings event for 320 students from Woodbridge School and Farlingaye High School w

General Election hustings event for 320 students from Woodbridge School and Farlingaye High School with the following prospective candidates: (L-R) Daryll Pitcher (UKIP), Rachel Smith-Lyte (Green), James Sandbach (Liberal Democrat), Russell Whiting (Labour). Daryll Pitcher giving his introduction. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Tomorrow’s electorate grilled candidates for the Suffolk Coastal seat during the final constituency hustings before next week’s vote.

Woodbridge School sixth-formers were joined by their Farlingaye counterparts at a packed Seckford Theatre to hear the opinions and promises of Labour’s Russell Whiting, Green candidate Rachel Smith-Lyte, Lib Dem James Sandbach and UKIP’s Daryll Pitcher.

Woodbridge student Tate Turnbull opened the debate with a rallying introduction, telling her peers to use what powerful influence they had, whether old enough to vote or not.

Each candidate was given three minutes to make a first impression, before getting a minute to answer questions from the floor.

Mr Pitcher said: “The most important issue we are facing is our relationship with Europe. It’s a straight choice between four parties who support Europe and one that doesn’t.”

Ms Smith-Lyte said: “I believe we are the only party to take the issues of social justice and environmental protection seriously.”

Mr Sandbach said: “My core beliefs are of liberal democratic values of fairness.” He said coalition had been the right decision, in order to “anchor the Government in the centre ground of politics”.

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Mr Whiting, a socialist and member of Labour’s Left Platform campaign, explained that he would seek to pull his party away from the centre ground. He said: “I believe everyone has basic fundamental rights that we should be working to protect.”

Questions followed on austerity, immigration, a referendum on EU membership and the SNP’s growing influence on English politics.

On Trident, Mr Whiting – a Labour CND member – broke from his party’s commitment to renewing the UK’s nuclear subs after the general election. He said: “The consequences, if used, would be catastrophic. One of my hopes for the coming Parliament is that Trident will not be renewed.”

Mr Sandbach said the programme had been “right for its time” but that it was now time to review the overall defence strategy.

Ms Smith-Lyte said hers was the only party that would pledge to scrap Trident. “It’s a crazy waste of money,” she said. “Money that could make a huge dent in the deficit.”

After the session, Tate Turnbull and co-chairman Connor Grant agreed that Mr Whiting had received the most positive response from the audience, thanks to his ability to connect with students.

Conservative candidate Therese Coffey’s absence from hustings was met with audible disapproval from the young audience.

Labour’s Russell Whiting said he thought it “fairly disgraceful” that his rival had not shown up.

Dr Coffey defended her decision not to attend and referred to tweets sent last year by Mr Whiting – for which he later apologised – saying Remembrance Sunday was too politicised.

She said: “His refusal to not wear a poppy or commemorate the First World War is what I call a disgrace.

“I sent the school my campaign schedule and explained I had another commitment.

“I have already attended hustings in Woodbridge and have surveyed 18-year-olds in the constituency in the last six months.”

Farlingaye student Max Slater-Robins had been involved in a Twitter dispute with Dr Coffey about her absence, which he said “overshadowed the event”.