It was a baking Friday evening, and tensions were quickly boiling over at the Peterborough Telegraph’s election hustings last week.
Candidates for the Peterborough seat fronted up to an audience who were in no mood to give them an easy ride, with questions on terrorism and Brexit prompting a fierce reaction from spectators.
The two-hour hustings was held at Peterborough Regional College’s Park Crescent campus, and the tone of the opening hour appeared to surprise some of the watching students, with compere Mark Edwards having to ask for calm on more than one occasion so the candidates could finish their points.
Fronting up for the event were Conservative Stewart Jackson, Labour’s Fiona Onasanya, Liberal Democrat Beki Sellick and Fiona Radic of the Green Party.
Unsurprisingly the first question reflected on last week’s Manchester terror attack, and Ms Radic began by saying: “In many cases the UK has sold weapons or got involve in battles abroad that have caused distress.
“The most important thing the British government can do to stop this problems is pull back on what they are doing abroad.”
Ms Sellick said: “The main issue here is about people feeling engaged,” before Mr Jackson stepped in to hit out at Jeremy Corbyn.
Speaking in the midst of applause, booing and shouts of “lies,” Mr Jackson said the Labour leader was using tragedy for political gain. He claimed: “We have the first Leader of the Opposition who is saying in public we brought terror on ourselves. It’s sickening.”
Ms Onasanya quickly hit back, retorting: “He did not say that at all. He said we need to be conscientious and not careless. Under this government more than 20,000 officers have been cut.”
The audience then had their say. One member said: “Enough of the vigils, enough of the hashtags, enough saying ‘standing united’. What’s that doing?
“You know what will come next. There will be an attack on a vigil.”
Audience members also clashed on whether it was an Islamic terrorist attack, while one person said: “The only way you solve terrorism is by talking to terrorists. We should be talking to Isis today.”
Next came Brexit, and in particular the single market.
Ms Sellick began by saying Brexit was “already impacting on the Peterborough economy and local businesses.”
She continued: “Entrepreneurs are telling me they can’t invest.
“Fifty per cent of our trading is with the European Union. There’s nothing stopping us trading with other European countries. It’s a classic Brexit myth.”
Later on, she added: “More people voted for Leave than Remain, but the people were not clear what they voted for. Nobody voted to come out of the single market.”
Eurosceptic Mr Jackson countered that Britain will be “like 146 countries in the world. We will make our own boundaries, have our own laws and decide who comes in.”
He also accused members of the audience of being “totally out of touch with what people think on immigration.” He said: “Enough of belittling them, saying they are too stupid to understand. Accept the will of the people.”
Ms Onasanya told the audience: “We have to respect the will of the people. We need to negotiate terms that protects our ability to trade with Europe and trade outside of Europe.”
Ms Radic said: “Mr Jackson has had three terms and yet he is still moaning at the Labour Party for not putting infrastructure in place for migrant labour. I suggest someone should have done something about it before now.
“The Government has benefitted from tax, our economy has benefitted. We have got a lot of out of it but not invested.”
The candidates also tackled questions on mental health and how to generate wealth.
On the former, Mr Jackson highlighted family breakdown as an issue, with teachers having to take on parental responsibility.
The other candidates stressed the negative impact on public testing for children.
On generating wealth, railway engineer Ms Sellick promised to embrace infrastructure, Mr Jackson highlighted trade deals after Brexit, Ms Onasanya said there would be small increases of taxes for the richest, and Ms Radic said the Greens would scrap Trident and introduce a tax on financial transactions (the Robin Hood Tax).
Candidates also answered a question on Peterborough’s infrastructure challenges, before tackling a question from Niki Audsley, who said she was part of the “forgotten, ignored electorate.”
She said as a worker who is unmarried, does not have children and does not claim benefits, how would the parties benefit her?
Ms Onasanya said she was in a similar position, and that Ms Audsley should take a look at Labour’s manifesto and see what is in there.
Ms Radic said everyone would have a citizen’s income under the Green Party, meaning people would not have to go out to work.
Ms Sellick highlighted Brexit, air quality, the phasing out of diesels and fossil fuels and access to legal aid, while Mr Jackson said the Conservatives had brought in lower taxes and a higher minimum wage, with more to come on narrowing the gender pay gap, reducing carbon emissions and promising a pensions double lock.
Ms Audsley said after the meeting that the candidates still needed to do more to persuade her to vote for them.
Each candidate was given a minute to sum up at the end.
Ms Onasanya said: “For the people of Peterborough I’m saying that I would like to be a voice for you in Parliament.
“Brexit is a real issue but it’s not the only issue. We need to look at local issues as well as looking at the national picture.
“I need to make sure that you have a voice. I’m used to negotiating - I’m a practicing solicitor - and I’m asking to be your voice for change on June 8.”
Ms Sellick said: “I’m a practicing engineer and I know about negotiating within Europe - that’s what I’ve done in my job.
“This election is about people and money, so that we can afford proper funding for vital services.
“I will apply my expertise to enable a brighter future for us all.”
Mr Jackson, who slipped in the Conservative “strong and stable” line, said: “It’s been the greatest of privileges to have been MP for Peterborough for 12 years.
He added: “My record defending Peterborough, looking after the interests of the people of Peterborough and being the people’s champion in Parliament for 12 years will be enough, I hope, to get re-elected.”
Ms Radic said: “The Greens want a Brexit but the best possible deal. They want to offer a ratification referendum which, if it is okay, they are confident people can vote for it.
“We are the only party committed to electoral reform, to rolling back the cuts in NHS and education and local government which is also currently on its knees.”
The election is being held on Thursday, June 8.