In the build up to the General Election, our Sixth Form Campus hosted two Question Time style Hustings events featuring candidates from all the political parties. Two of our Level 3 CTEC Digital Media Journalism students were there to report on them.

Portsmouth North (by Joseph Mahmud)

On Tuesday 18th June, organised by Politics lecturer Steve Fitzgerald, City of Portsmouth College hosted a hustings event featuring candidates for Portsmouth North. In attendance was the Labour candidate Amanda Martin, incumbent Conservative Penny Mordaunt, and Portsmouth City Councillor Darren Sanders, representing the Liberal Democrat candidate Simon Dodd. The students questioned the three of them on a variety of issues regarding the upcoming election.

During the event, the candidates were questioned on topics such as NHS waiting lists, illegal immigration, transgender rights, and the candidates’ loyalty to Portsmouth.

On the topic of illegal immigration, Penny Mordaunt stated that she supported the Rwanda scheme. This was dismissed by Amanda Martin, who claimed that the Rwanda scheme is “a waste of money” and should be scrapped. Darren Sanders expressed similar views, stating that the Liberal Democrats would scrap the Rwanda plan. Darren Sanders further claimed that “Rwanda is not a safe country." This led to Penny Mordaunt responding, “That’s not true,” before explaining why she believed that Rwanda remains a fair and humane country. This was followed by an emotional proclamation from Sanders that “immigrants are being treated as demons; they are not. They are human beings." This message was followed by an eruption of applause from the audience.

When quizzed on their beliefs on transgender rights, each of the candidates shared similar views. Darren Sanders stated that transitioning “needs to remain a right” and that the Liberal Democrats would vote to ban conversion therapy. Similarly, Amanda Martin stated that “trans women are women, trans men are men” and that “the government is not doing enough to protect transgender people.” Penny Mordaunt’s views were much the same as she said, “We [the Conservatives] are not different on trans rights. Trans people are a very misunderstood section of society." This was followed by the statement, “If you want to protect your own rights, you should protect everyone else's." However, there was some contention after Mordaunt stated that “the Equality Act needs updating” and that the Conservative Party “will change the Equalities Act." This statement was criticised by Amanda Martin, who admonished the idea of changing the Act before reassuring the audience that the Labour Party would never do something like it.

Near the end of the debate, the candidates were each asked, “What is more important to you, loyalty to your party or loyalty to your constituency?” Darren Sanders stated, “It is about putting residents first." Amanda Martin followed by claiming, “It would have to be this city," before Penny Mordaunt stated, “It has to be your constituency first." Mordaunt then referenced her contribution to founding and funding the Hilsea Lido Pool for the People. However, it was as Mordaunt began to describe her contribution to the HLPP Trust that spawned a spat between Mordaunt and Martin. As Mordaunt claimed, “The application for the lido was my idea," Amanda Martin began to shake her head. Amanda Martin proceeded to claim that it was Mordaunt who originally messed up the lido. She further claimed that Mordaunt “should take responsibility for everything that happens underneath you." Penny Mordaunt fought back, however, stating, “I stand by my record and my manifesto. Ask the HLPP Trust; I’ve found them and given them funding." While Martin continued to shake her head, Mordaunt brutally finished by stating, “Well done to Amanda for trashing my record.”.

I caught up with the three candidates after the event, and this is what they had to say. Penny Mordaunt started with, “I thought today was absolutely brilliant! This must be my fifth time at the City of Portsmouth College, and I absolutely love coming to these." Similar views were shared by Amanda Martin, who said, “I thought today was brilliant. It was a lot of fun." Darren Sanders expressed a different view than the two candidates, saying, “Coming in here, I was incredibly worried. I was very nervous." However, he concluded by saying, “The level of questions was exactly what I expected. The students at the college were very impressive."

To finish the day, I asked each of the politicians who they believed would win the seat at Portsmouth North. Penny Mordaunt remarked that she was unsure and that we will have to “wait until election day." Amanda Martin expressed a more optimistic view, stating, “Hopefully Labour! We’ve been working really hard recently, and we hope to win as many seats as we can." It was Sanders, however, who gave the best response. When asked who he believed would win the seat, he simply responded, “I don’t know” before walking off.

With the election just two weeks away, we won’t have to wait long to see whether Penny Mordaunt will keep her seat or whether Amanda Martin, Simon Dodd, or any other Portsmouth North candidate will steal it. But, going off of Tuesday’s hustings, it’s all to play for.

Portsmouth South (Joseph Mahmud and Hayden Smith)

It was a fantastic afternoon in the Studio Theatre on Wednesday 19th June, as COPC students quizzed politicians in the Portsmouth South Hustings - ahead of the General Election on the 4th of July.

There were six candidates at the front, all standing for different political parties with very different ideologies.

Stephen Morgan (an ex-COPC student) has held the seat for Labour since 2017, and he was joined on the desk by Signe Biddle (Conservatives), Charlie Murphy (Liberal Democrats), Elliott Lee (Green Party), Mark Zimmer (Reform) and Jacob Short (Portsmouth Independents - another ex-COPC student) - Politics teacher Steve Fitzgerald was also there to ensure nothing got out of hand!

Many topics were discussed, including immigration and how to tackle the conflict in Gaza.

The first topic saw a largely unanimous agreement - on the Conservatives’ controversial new National Service scheme. The candidates were asked, “do you believe that the plan for national service will work?”. Everyone at the table, except Ms Biddle, came to a formative agreement that it would not work. Mark Zimmer began by stating, “where did they get that idea from? They [the Conservatives] are scraping the bottom of the barrel. It is a definite nope from me.”  Elliot Lee followed by stating, “God no! You know it’s wrong when Reform are against it! This is clear desperation from the Conservative party.” Jacob Short stated, “I really don’t agree with it”. Stephen Morgan responded with a simple “No”, while Charlie Murphy stated, “I wouldn’t like to do it. No one should be forced to do it”.

However, the Conservative representative, Signe Biddle, remarked how it was not just about the army and how “there’s a whole lot of opportunities to volunteer… and there’s plenty of evidence that volunteering is one of the best things that you can do.” Despite this, the entire audience was clearly against the idea. This was best shown when Steve asked for a show of hands on who liked the idea which led to an eerie silence from the audience.

Next on the agenda was the issue of illegal immigration. When asked, “how will you tackle illegal immigration?” Mr Zimmer’s response was ‘turn them back [towards France]… the French are going to kick off, but what do you expect? We must take control of our own borders.” He further added, “all the other parties are too scared to talk about it”. He concluded by saying that he believes that Britain should “leave the ECHR”. Understandably, this response sent shockwaves through the theatre and loud booing could be heard from the crowd. Mr Morgan restored some order by criticising the use of the “divisive language we see in our politics”, referring to Mr Zimmer consistently referring to asylum seekers as “them.”

The minimum wage for 16 and 17 year-olds was next to be discussed, and Mr Short was happy to “increase it in line with the cost of living for young people.” Mr Lee made a bold promise, saying that the Green Party would offer a £15 minimum wage to suit young people. That was met by gasps from the audience with Ms Biddle replying that a £15 minimum wage would be “completely unaffordable for everybody.” Ms Biddle was then put on the spot about what the minimum wage should be for 16 to 18 year olds but never actually gave a concrete answer, instead stating that there has already been a “generous increase”.

Next up on the agenda was the conflict in Gaza. The candidates were asked, “what is the solution to the problem in Gaza?” Mr Lee started by calling for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages. A two-state solution was what Mr Murphy also put forward, as well as looking to end the arms trade with Israel. Mr Zimmer was very frank with his answer. Zimmer said, “it’s horrendous!”. He further said that, “there is no straightforward answer to it. We need an adult in the room as no one can tell us the answer”. He concluded by saying, “we must stop the killing.” Ms Biddle stated, “it’s a really difficult issue”. But, Ms Biddle also called for a ceasefire. However, she soon got into a heated exchange with members of the audience. Ms Biddle was asked by a student in the audience whether she believed that Israel were committing a genocide. She denied this claim by stating, “Israel are not committing genocide. It’s a war not a genocide”. Mr Morgan then also stated his own personal story, explaining how he was on the West Bank a week before the Hamas attacks on Israel, visiting local refugee camps and local health services, stating that that has “formed the work that [I] have been doing in Parliament as the local MP.” Morgan stated that there must be an end to the fighting, the hostages must be released, and we should recognise Palestine as a state.

The final question of the Hustings was much more peaceful and simple: “What is more important to you, loyalty to your party or your constituency?” Each of the candidates answered that their constituency matters more to them.

Student Joseph Mahmud caught up with each of the candidates after the hustings and this is what they had to say. Signe Biddle said that the hustings was “both exciting, and scary.” Stephen Morgan said, “I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I was very impressed with the quality of the questions in the debate”. Jacob Short told me coming into it he was, “excited but definitely nervous”. Charlie Murphy said that coming into the hustings was very “daunting”. He further added that the questions were “tough but fair”. Elliot Lee claimed that it was “very exciting. I thought it was very good”. Mark Zimmer had a different experience stating, “This was the first time I’ve ever done something like this. It was really scary. I came in expecting the audience to think ‘who’s this old fart coming here?”. However, he claimed that the event turned out to be “really interesting” and the college was “absolutely brilliant”.

To end the day, our COPC reporters asked each of the candidates who they believed would win the seat for Portsmouth South. Signe Biddle stated, “I don’t know. But, I’m going to try my best”. Jacob Short stated, “I believe it will be Stephen Morgan. But, what I want is to be a credible alternative”. Elliot Lee also guessed Labour but “with a reduced majority”. Charlie Murphy stated, “I believe that it will be close between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.” Sitting MP Stephen Morgan said, “I hope to be returned to the city I love”. But, it was Mark Zimmer who had the most confidence as, when asked, he jubilantly responded, “Me!”

Thanks very much to Mr Short, Mr Lee, Ms Biddle, Mr Morgan, Mr Murphy and Mr Zimmer for coming along, and to Steve Fitzgerald for organising.


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