Sedbergh School pupils put their questions to a local MP Tim Farron and four other local candidates and representatives of the political parties on Friday 20th March in the school’s first-ever Hustings.

More than 150 pupils aged 15 to 18 attended the event. Conservative candidate Dr Ann Myatt joined former Mayor of Kendal John Bateson (Labour), Mo Dunning, representing the Green Party, and newly appointed UKIP candidate Alan Piper.

Head of School Tom Robinson organised the Hustings and arranged for pupils to put forward nine questions in advance. There was also a brief open floor question and answer session.

Headmaster Andrew Fleck welcomed the panel and pupils, quoting Pericles’ funeral oration – a reminder of the responsibility everyone has to stand up and take part if they wish to be free. He said: “For our democracy to continue, which we take for granted, we have to be active within it.”

Tim Farron MP Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale said after the event: “This was the most Question-Time-like debate I’ve been part of other than on BBC Question Time. We had really good, intelligent questions and covered a good range of issues. It was a great venue and I think we all enjoyed a very lively debate. I have to thank the school for the opportunity to participate in this.”

Tom Robinson (P) was chairman. He said: “We had an incredible response – pupils who went in not really thinking about politics couldn’t take their eyes and ears off the panel. Hopefully the School can build on this in the future. We already have some plans to follow up on this, ahead of our Mock Election on May 7th.”

The question put by Johnny McPhillips (W), an aspiring Economist, capped twice for England in the Six Nations U20 squad, asked candidates to address the issue of increased waiting times in NHS hospitals. A lively debate about the nature of privatisation followed, with Dr Ann Myatt, a consultant dermatologist, asserting that doctors had never signed up to be employees of the state, and that it is impossible to compare like for like between State and Private because private hospitals are able to spend money on areas of specialism.

Alex Porter’s (R) question to the Green Party and to Labour about immigration control fuelled discussion about the impact on the quality of Higher Education in this country, if a quota system were to be introduced.

UKIP candidate Alan Piper said we must accept that ‘the services are creaking’ under the weight of increased immigration but Tim Farron MP dismissed the idea of floodgates being opened as scaremongering, reminding pupils that whilst there may be 2.9milion EU citizens living here in the United Kingdom, 2.8m British Citizens are now living elsewhere in Europe – making the point that this offers opportunities to British citizens.

Alex, Deputy Head of School, said: “The debate left me feeling far more informed about the important issues. I’d like to hope that this encourages my peers to consider policies more than personalities – it certainly will do for me. Being young, we are still easily influenced and so the politicians must be on tiptoes when delivering their arguments to young people – they all know the language to use and the ways in which to convince us, and so it’s important that we really listen to the messages, not the delivery.”

Headmaster Andrew Fleck said: “We are extremely grateful to all the candidates for coming to Sedbergh School. Pupils posed thoughtful and important questions which matched the political issues which will dominate this election; health, education, security and economics. Above all, our pupils have been engaged in the democratic process and we hope that they will remain engaged throughout their lives.”

Alistair Crossdale (P) posed a question about the success of the coalition and Koffi Kouadio (S) asked the UKIP candidate to clarify what his party leader meant when he talked about discrimination laws being abolished. Sebastian Hemmings (E) asked the Green Party candidate whether his Party believes that an independent education is defensible, and Lawrence Wallace (H) brought up the issue of repealing the Hunting Act of 2004 and challenged the Labour candidate on this issue.

Steph Gardner (L) asked about tax for higher earners, Olga Khabuktanova (C) raised the issue of increasing tuition fees and Will Player (SH) asked the Conservative candidate if the Party would be happy to go into a coalition with UKIP in the event that they do not secure a Commons majority.

The Hustings will be followed by a Mock Election on 7th May.  

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