Saddleworth Independent Editor Aimee Howarth went along to an Election Forum held in Uppermill and organised by Churches Together in Saddleworth. The five candidates for the seat of MP in Oldham East and Saddleworth went head to head on questions put to them by Saddleworth residents.
Here is a summary of their answers on each question, along with the opening and closing statements.
Chairman Bernard Bickers starts the event by welcoming the five candidates. Each will speak for three minutes before taking questions from the public.
Labour candidate Debbie Abrahams speaks first, saying it has been an honour to be MP for the area for the last four years. After working in the NHS she got involved in politics to ‘make a positive difference’. Over her term she has focused on beating late payments, building a Dementia Friendly Oldham and Parliament and reducing inequalities.
Sajjad Hussain – the Conservative candidate – speaks next. He has brought up his family in Oldham and says he is a local candidate. His priorities as MP would be to encourage investment to create more jobs and better pensions in the area. And he wants an EU referendum. He says he wants to champion affordable housing for the young, who are often overlooked. He wants a ‘firm but fair’ approach to immigration.
UKIP candidate Peter Klonowski takes his turn. He believes the other parties have ‘out of touch’ politicians who haven’t had real jobs. He points to policies including extra funding for the NHS, immigration laws, removing inheritance tax. Locally he looks at protecting green spaces. UKIP gained their first two councillors at the last local elections and are looking to build on that he says.
Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Marbrow speaks – he has chosen to live in the area and insist he will stay here if elected to work for the people. He says the Lib Dems ‘really do believe in the communities’ and are the only party with candidates in all the election positions for Saddleworth. ‘Saddleworth needs a future as great as its past’ Marbrow says as they look at affordable housing, train station improvements and land grabs.
Green Party candidate Miranda Meadowcroft admits she is ‘quite nervous’ at her first event. She says the greens are an unknown quantity in Sadldeworth but she wants to change that. She has worked in the voluntary sector and wants to sort things out ‘like a dog with a bone’. She says she isn’t a politician and ‘knows the problems ordinary people have’ and will fight for those.
1st question comes from Neil Allsopp: why should we believe and trust you, your party and your manifesto?
Mr Hussain says he has lived with honesty and integrity all his life. He practices what he preaches and wants to lead by example. He says the behaviour of some politicians is a ‘sad state of affairs’ but he wants to change that.
Mr Klonowski says his party doesn’t hide or condone bad behaviour so they can be trusted to be honest.
Mr Marbrow says the tuitions fees promise was an ‘utter hash’ but it is a better system now for younger people. He adds they have learned from their mistakes and helped build a stronger government. He says voting Lib Dem can have a big difference here.
Ms Meadowcroft says the Green Party really focuses on policies that effect communities, like speeding, health and jobs.
Mrs Abrahams says she got involved to ‘make a difference’ and left her job with the NHS to be a politician.
Next question from Roger Bolton: are elitism and privilege too important and how will you help build a fairer society?
Mr Klonowksi wants to get people from different backgrounds involved in politics to represent the country and improve the school system.
Mr Marbrow says ‘unearned privilege’ in society is a massive problem and closes off routes for others. It’s why he became a politician. He says it’s shocking there are more people who went to Eton than there are women in the Cabinet at the moment.
Ms Meadowcroft says she was the first person in her family to go into higher education. She wants to improve social mobility and education and believes there should be no tuition fees so all can have access to higher education.
Mrs Abrahams says there is a big gap between rich and poor. Oldham families with wealth are expected to live for 11 years longer on average than poorer families in the borough.
Mr Hussain says those from poorer backgrounds should be helped to achieve the same as others, through investment in education and apprenticeships to offer opportunities. He wants a system that doesn’t just give them benefits to rely on as that is ‘doomed to fail’. He wants a ‘fair and level playing field’.
Next question from Kathy Brooks: All parties say they want to improve the NHS. Who should we believe and why and how will you do it?
Mr Marbrow says ‘weaponising the NHS is abhorrent’. It should be agreed on by everyone. Lib Dems want to find £8 billion to invest, including introducing a mansion tax.
Ms Meadowcroft says the NHS is not safe and it’s being privatised ‘by stealth’. She has worked in the sector and is worried by what she’s seen. The Greens have an NHS reinstatement bill they are pushing – view more on their website.
Ms Abrahams says Labour ‘didn’t get it all right’ but improvements were made to waiting and operation times. They put ‘patients before profits’. She says Labour will use mansion tax and stamp down on tax avoidance to cover costs of NHS – will provide better services and more GPs.
Mr Hussain says there have been improvements in services over last five years. It is vital to have strong economy to back it.
Mr Klonowksi says money going to EU could go to NHS. UKIP want to stop ‘health tourism’ as UK ‘doesn’t need to support rest of the world’
Next question from Alan Belmore: Will candidates condemn councillors for voting against a fully costed plan to continue youth services at Satellite Centre?
Ms Meadowcroft says ‘obviously!’ She says Mahdlo is fantastic but she wouldn’t expect Saddleworth young people to travel to use it. She says ‘we are doing them a disservice’ by not offering them local services in the evenings.
Mrs Abrahams reveals she was once a community & youth worker. She has sympathy with the current predicament of Oldham Council with cuts. She offered a summer school for youth last summer and wants more groups to help and do something about it.
Mr Hussain says services are ‘crucial’ for local children. Con Club in Greenfield is offering facilities until alternatives are found.
Mr Klonowski says the council ‘has to make tough decisions’ and it was made as part of a larger review.
Mr Marbrow condemns other councillors for their decision. He says Lib Dems put forward alternative funding ideas which were ignored. He says Oldham Council see Saddleworth as a separate, rich area – but this leaves it isolated and means children suffer as they don’t always have a voice.
Next question from David Taylor: Due to indecision over siting of Saddleworth School, will the panel agree to a local referendum?
Mrs Abrahams says she has done research and backs a new school in Diggle to get a new school for children. She says preserving the heritage on the Diggle site is key but the current school is not suitable any longer. But she adds there is a lot more to be done and she is pushing the council and EFA over this.
Mr Hussain says he would have preferred the school to be at Uppermill – but now they must address issues like traffic to get best solution.
Mr Klonowski says UKIP want to hold referendums on local issues like this to give people a voice.
Mr Marbrow, once a teacher, said teaching while building at Uppermill would not have been fair on pupils. Diggle is the ‘least worse’ option. He says the most important thing is the education of children for decades to come. But adds more honesty was needed from EFA and council right from the start.
Ms Meadowcroft says schools are part of community. She says consultation hasn’t been provided in Saddleworth and decision was made already.
Next question from Peter Rudd: To what extent do religious teachings and preservation of human life affect the candidates’ decisions?
Mr Hussain talks about abortion which he sees as an individual’s choice but should be more controlled.
Mr Klonowski says society needs to look deeply at euthanasia and see what the best solution is. He treasures people’s lives at all ages.
Mr Marbrow says abortion should be legal but rare – helped with sex and relationship education at school. He adds assisted dying should be safe, legal but rare with protection for patients, doctors and relatives.
Ms Meadowcroft backs women’s rights but says ‘every child should be a wanted child’ and too many live in poverty. She adds ‘we are all going to die but are we going to die with dignity?’
Mrs Abrahams says peace, love and tolerance are common to all faiths and that must be remembered. She says she is ‘pro choice’ and protections need to be in place for informed choice. Ruling parties have refused bills on sex education.
Next question from Luke Lancaster: How important is deficit reduction in comparison to other policies?
Mr Klonowski says it has to be a priority so money isn’t squandered every year. Spending has to be focused here not on other countries.
Mr Marbrow says there was irresponsible behaviour from banks, businesses and the government to rack up debts and they kept borrowing. He says Lib Dems want to find a balance to borrowing and paying back so there isn’t a transfer of debt to the next generation.
Ms Meadowcroft says it is not a priority for the Green Party. They want to end austerity measures causing suffering and invest in jobs. They are arguing for a living wage by 2020 and a fairer distribution of wealth.
Mrs Abrahams says Labour reduced percentage of debt to GDP to 33% – which is now up to 99%. Labour want to cut debt in a fair way. She says labour will offer some free child care and look at train and traveling prices to help people everyday.
Mr Hussain says people have to live within their means and not build up credit card debts.
Jenny Day asks her question: Given the recent upsurge of food banks, what would candidates do to address situation?
Mr Marbrow says strides have been made in last five years. He says country needs to get rid of inequalities so food banks aren’t needed.
Ms Meadowcroft blames incomes making families struggle and resort to food banks and benefits have been unfairly sanctioned.
Mrs Abrahams says recipients of food parcels was over 1million last year – up 40% from the yearbefore. 45% of people in Oldham paid below living wage. She says Labour are encouraging businesses to support living wag.
Mr Hussain says people are being encouraged and helped back into work and Conservatives have taken steps to raise personal allowance. He admits there is work to be done but says this government has come out well compared to others across the world.
Mr Klonowski says UKIP want to scrap tax below £13,000 to help families. Population has increased and so must number and quality of jobs.
Final question from Declan O’Neil: With a hung parliament looking likely, which parties would you go into coalition with?
Ms Meadowcroft says Greens won’t work with UKIP or Conservatives. They don’t want to comprise their ideas and perspective.
Mrs Abrahams says Labour are working to have a majority government and manifesto is set on that basis. No alliances they are considering.
Mr Hussain says on this occasion he agrees with Mrs Abrahams!
Mr Klonowski says if any parties offer compromises they can work as a coalition government to get the best of all values.
Mr Marbrow wants to get the most Lib Dem policies into government but would join a coalition to get a stable government.
Candidates will all get up to two minutes to sum up
Ms Meadowcroft says politics in the future doesn’t have to be like politics of the past as Greens are offering something different.
Mr Marbrow believes Oldham East and Saddleworth will be a straight fight between Lib Dems and Labour. He says Lib Dems are fair and local. He promises to work hard for constituents every day and speak up for the people of Saddleworth.
Mr Klonowski says elections should be about helping local people, through tax and housing changes, and controlling immigration.
Mr Hussain says this is the most important election in a generation and the Conservatives have a proven track record.
Mrs Abrahams concluded by thanking the Churches Together in Saddleworth for organising the event. She adds this is a clear choice to make the country a fairer place with their costed plans to reduce the debt and improve growth.