Four of the five parliamentary candidates for Pudsey took questions from the public on Tuesday evening at Pudsey Parish Church.
Jane Aitchison (Labour), Stuart Andrew (Conservative), Quinn Daley (Green) and Ian Dowling (Liberal Democrat) faced questions from the public on a wide range of national issues including Brexit, the climate crisis, food banks and Universal Credit, as well as local issues such as policing and the proposed expansion to Leeds Bradford Airport.
Richard Dimery, the church’s vicar and one of the organisers of the event, said that it was important for constituents to be able to question the candidates in the run-up to the election.
“I think it’s really important that we have opportunities like this so that people are able to hear all views,” he said.
Bob Buxton, the Yorkshire Party candidate, could not be present but provided an opening statement laying out his manifesto, including pledges to raise spending on schools and transport in Yorkshire to match London’s.
Each of the other candidates then gave their own opening statements before being given between 30 and 90 seconds each to answer a number of questions submitted by the public, beginning with one on understaffing in the NHS.
This proved to be an early point of contention as Ms Aitchison, Mx Daley and Mr Dowling all pledged that their respective parties would re-introduce nursing bursaries, while Mr Andrew – who has been the MP for Pudsey for the past nine years – cited flaws which led to the bursaries being scrapped in 2016, saying that a Conservative government would instead introduce maintenance grants.
Brexit also sparked disagreement – Mr Andrew reiterated the Conservative Party’s promise to push through the current deal negotiated by Boris Johnson, while Ms Aitchison said that the best way forward was to negotiate a new deal and put it to a second referendum against the option of remaining.
Mx Daley also proposed a second referendum, but based on the current deal; and Mr Dowling appeared to back a ‘People’s Vote’ as well – an apparent break from the official Liberal Democrat policy of cancelling Brexit outright.
The need to resolve Brexit in order to move forward was agreed on by all, however.
“We cannot keep on as a divided society,” said Ms Aitchison.
Mr Dowling, meanwhile, said: “For the last three and a half years this country has stagnated.”
Mr Andrew agreed: “Everything that can be said has been said, but not everybody in the chamber has yet said it.”
Despite numerous disagreements between the candidates on policy, they each remarked on the respectful nature of the event compared to national debates, which have often been marked by confrontation and controversy.