The first political punches of what promises to be a tightly-fought Kingston election were thrown last week as students were shocked by Conservative claims that a £100,000 salary doesn’t count as ‘super rich’.
The debate featured the constituency’s current Lib Dem MP Ed Davey as well as candidates for Labour party (Lee Godfrey), the Greens (Clare Keogh) and Dr. Charles Tannock (Conservative) who deputised for his party’s candidate – James Berry.
Mr Davey has held the seat for 18 years but each election since 2001 his percentage majority has dropped significantly, with the Conservative Party looking most likely to challenge him.
The Hollyfield School debate centred on national topics and predictably the issue of university tuition fees opened the debate and lit the proverbial touch paper.
The majority of the shots were fired between Mr Davey and Mr Godfrey yet it was an argument between the Labour and candidate and Dr Tannock which left the biggest impression on the predominantly young audience.
Having been questioned on the possibility of a European referendum, the debate meandered onto the topic of the economy and a debate soon raged about whether or not those on a £100,000 p/a salary should be considered ‘super rich’.
Dr Tannock argued they didn’t, claiming every head teacher in London will receive that level of pay – much to the amazement of the watching students.
The last question related to the issue of extremism in universities before the speakers were invited to give their closing statements.
Politics student George Wise, 18, said: “I think the debate was interesting because it made the politicians more three dimensional.
“It has definitely motivated me to vote, originally I was wondering whether I agreed with any of these parties enough to vote, but it has certainly helped me make a decision.”
After the debate, four A-Level students – who will be voting for the very first time in May – spoke to SW Londoner about which candidates had impressed them.
“Performance-wise I think Ed Davey did the best,” said student George.
“I think the Conservatives destroyed their point by saying £100,000 was not a big wage – considering £26,000 is the average wage in this country it clearly is a high wage!”
Karim Makwem, 18, said: “I thought Labour and the Lib Dems were strong but what the Green Party was saying was a bit of a dream land – realistically it won’t happen – I would like it to, but I don’t see it.”
Politics student Nilash Padmaratna, 18, said: “I think Ed Davey was probably the most convincing – I didn’t agree with the Conservative representative at all, especially the comment about the £100,000 salary and the issues on freedom of speech.”
Fellow politics student Nahid Chowdhury, 18, said: “Definitely the Liberal Democrats took this debate for me, Ed Davey seemed to win over the group over quite dramatically.”
The event was a first in a series of debates taking places at schools, universities and work places across the constituency in the coming months.