Candidates for the Corby by-election have gone head-to-head in a wide-ranging debate at Oundle School this evening (Sunday, November 4).
Christine Emmett, representing the Conservatives, Lib Dem Jill Hope, UKIP’s Margot Parker and Andy Sawford, of Labour, fielded questions from an audience which packed into the school’s Great Hall ahead of the poll on Thursday, November 15.
But one of the issues which has dominated the campaign to date – the future of Kettering General Hospital – did not merit a mention.
Mrs Emmett, who is defending the seat vacated by Louise Mensch, who resigned earlier this year for family reasons, said the constituency “needs an MP who will fight for jobs”, criticising Labour-run Corby Borough Council, as well as fellow Tories in Kettering, who opposed proposals for the Skew Bridge retail park.
But Mr Sawford insisted Mrs Emmett’s attempts to portray him as opposed to the plans were wrong. He said: “I support Skew Bridge. I don’t know how many times I have to say this.”
Mrs Hope described the Liberal Democrats as “the conscience of the coalition”, reminding voters they were not choosing a government “but the best person to be a local MP”. She also said her party had to “sup with the devil” by joining the Tories in coalition.
Mrs Parker said if she was elected she “would not be leaving this constituency in the lurch”.
The debate, hosted by Channel 4’s political editor Michael Crick, primarily focused on national issues, including the economy, employment, crime and the UK’s relationship with the EU.
In a repeat of the battle lines set out by their respective party leaders, Mrs Emmett accused Labour of having “no answers” on the economy.
“We have to cut your cloth according to our means,” she said. “There isn’t a person in this room who doesn’t know that Labour spent the budget.
“Five hundred new jobs have been brought to this area in the last couple of months.”
But Mr Sawford hit back, saying the coalition government’s policies were not working.
He said: “This government is now having to plan another round of even more severe cuts. Young people in this constituency deserve our help and support, not these savage cuts.”
Mrs Parker agreed, saying: “Speaking to people in the villages here, they are fed up. They don’t want cuts to the front line.”
Mrs Hope, whose national party is blamed by some for being part of a government implementing cuts, said questions should be asked about the way the Tory-run Northamptonshire County Council had allocated their budget.
She said: “I hope you send a message back to the Conservative county council to say you are wrong.
“They have cut the PCSOs, they have turned off half the streetlights.”
In one particularly bad-tempered exchange over jobs, Mr Sawford questioned whether Mrs Emmett’s claim that the number of apprenticeships had increased was anything to boast about because many young people worked in jobs including in fast food shops.
“This area is the worst place in the country to be a young person out of work,” he added.
But Mrs Emmett said: “There’s no job that is too humble to start on. It’s an enriching experience. Whatever job young people get it’s really important to support them.”