General Election candidates face a grilling at Question Time style debate in Northampton

The St James Question the Candidate event at Franklin Gardens saw heated exchanges between the Northampton South parliamentary candidates.
The St James Question the Candidate event at Franklin Gardens saw heated exchanges between the Northampton South parliamentary candidates.

Parliamentary candidates for Northampton South faced a grilling in St James last night, as a hustings event saw the Westminster hopefuls quizzed on everything form the NHS to immigration.

More than 140 people attended the sell-out event at Franklin Gardens hosted by the St James residents’ Association.

The panel of parliamentary hopefuls consisted of Liberal Democrats candidate Sadik Chaudhury, UKIP’s Rose Gibbins, Julie Hawkins for the Green Party, Conservative candidate David Mackintosh, Labour’s Kevin McKeever and independent Kevin Willsher.

Some impassioned opening speeches saw the candidates outline why they would be the best for the job, before taking questions from the audience.

It was a night in which the NHS, arguably the national hot topic in the 2015 elections, featured heavily and in particular the debate over whether Northampton needs a new hospital.

An opening question asked how population growth had affected the town’s health services.

Sadik Chaudhury

I care about you and I love you and you can trust me.

UKIP’s Rose Gibbins said it had placed a strain on services saying, her “main pledge is to have a brand new hospital for the town.”

“I believe I can deliver that.”

Labour’s Kevin McKeever said waiting times to see a GP and to receive cancer test results had become too long.

“As the town has grown, the hospital has not grown with it,” he added.

David Mackintosh, while not making any claims to bring a new hospital to the town, echoed the Conservative line that a strong NHS would come from a ‘strong economy’ and said his party would pledge £8 billion towards the health service, an amount the Lib Dems are also offering.

Julie Hawkins (Green Party) called the decision to sell off parts of the NHS ‘a scandal’.

But the gloves came off when David Mackintosh was asked about the decision to depedestrianise Abington Street in his role as leader of the borough council.

Kevin McKeever (Labour) called it a ‘rushed vanity project’ done with little consultation, which would ultimately cost the borough’s taxpayers £6 million after interest repayments.

Sadik Chaudhury (Lib Dem) said the Abington Street money could have been spent better elsewhere and Julie Hawkins (Green Party) agreed.

Rose Gibbins (UKIP) said her party lodged a complaint about the depedestrianisation plan at the time and said ‘I believe it was wrong’.

But Conservative candidate Councillor Mackintosh defended the plan.

He said: “Abington Street really was in decline and shops were closing down, people weren’t able to access it.”

He added: “When you look at it now you see life, people, cars and activity and an increase in business in that area.”

Questions from the audience covered mandatory voting, the lack of social housing, the environment, immigration, and the shortage of education provision in a booming population.

But only one question drew a unanimous answer from all the candidates.

All the parliamentary hopefuls, when pressed to give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, agreed Northampton Borough Council should become a unitary authority.

But it was the final question of the night which prompted the most emotive responses from the candidates.

Asked simply ‘how can we trust you?’ Sadik Chaudhury (Lib Dem) said: “I’m one of you, I don’t live in a million pound mansion. I care about you and I love you and you can trust me.”

Rose Gibbins, said: “I have two passions in life - the first is people, the second is politics. All I can do is ask for you to trust me and I will deliver.”

David Mackintosh said he had delivered on his election promises during his time on the borough council.

“Just ask the people I have helped,” he said, while independent John Willsher said he would set up a charity to give money to worthy causes in the area.

Kevin McKeever (Labour) said: “I cannot promise not to let you down.

“In a population of more than 100,000 people some people will disagree with what I do. What I can pledge to do is to try my best.”

Chairing the meeting on the night was chairman of the St James Residents Association John Connolly, who said he was thrilled at the strong turnout at the event.

“I think it went well,” he said, “I think the candidates conducted themselves in an excellent manner.

“I think the St James residents asked a lot of poignant questions that put our candidates on the spot.”