University of Derby 20/4/15
The event was staged by the University in Buxton in their Dome building. A large lecture room was packed with over 120 people - again mainly middle aged and older. Only a handful of young people attended - sad as the event was aimed at engaging them. A student union official explained they had tried to persuade students to attend but had been met with responses based around the theme ‘what’s the point, they never listen to us’. A good example of a self-fulfilling prophecy which bodes ill for our democracy.
The event was very effectively chaired by Chris Hughes, Chairman of the university’s governing council. He established the tone of the event very quickly with humour and clarity. Questions had been submitted and candidates were allowed a couple of minutes to answer. We were encouraged to put our hands up if we wished to contribute to an issue and a microphone would be provided. He would allow two or three contributions before asking panellists to respond.
This was so much better than the barren affair in New Mills.
There was a strong local flavour to the questions and follow up. A knowledgeable and articulate audience contributed well and often. This meant that we only explored three actual questions in two hours. However the amount of supplementary comments and challenges from the floor widened and deepened the discussion effectively. Candidates were engaged in a dialogue rather than merely parroting party lines. One exception was the ‘Housing’ question which went on too long. The question did produce a wide range of supplementary points from the floor including ‘Right to Buy’, the Hunting with Dogs Act, Wildlife Crime and the Badger cull, Fracking and Quarrying.
The sitting MP Andrew Bingham had a better night but was still on the defensive over the coalition’s record. He was helped by having a phalanx of true-blue supporters seated directly in front of him. One of these was the infamous Edwina Currie, one time Tory Minister and paramour of John Major. Her contribution to the housing issue was spectacularly weird involving her belief that adult children should live at home with their parents in some form of Edwardian extended family arrangement.
Bingham’s principal challenger, Caitlin Bisknell (Labour) had the difficulty of also facing the same Tory phalanx with her supporters scattered in the rest of the room. The UKIP candidate was less combative; the LibDem was better in this setting, quite funny and delightfully honest even admitting that he did not like David Laws. The Green candidate struggled again despite having excellent values.