ELECTION candidates for the Newbury constituency were questioned by members of the public on climate change and Brexit at a hustings in Thatcham. 

The four potential next MPs faced questions in a debate at the Thatcham Baptist Church on December 2, in front of an audience of 150 people. 

One candidate, Ben Holden-Crowther (independent) did not attend the hustings due to a ‘family situation’. 

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They were first asked about their local credentials

Lee Dillon (Lib Dem) and James Wilder (Lab) said they were both born and raised in Thatcham. Steve Masters (Green) said he moved to the area in 2005, where his children grew up and he has lived ever since. 

Laura Farris (Con) grew up in Bucklebury then moved to Winterbourne before going to university at Oxford. She doesn’t live in the constituency, but said she is looking to buy a house in the area ‘whether I win or lose’. 

Ms Farris said: “I haven’t been a local councillor and I don’t have that record.” But her career as a barrister gives her experience of the same issues that ‘are right at the heart of what matters to people here’. 

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Mr Masters said: “It’s incredibly important to be a local person. To represent a community you need to have that connection and those roots. You’ve got to know the people of the community and what makes them tick.” 

Mr Dillon said as he has been a councillor for 12 years, he knows ‘how to get stuff done in the political world’. Mr Wilder said he teaches and coaches football in the community, and has first-hand experience seeing what young people go through. 

Next, the candidates were asked about Brexit

Ms Farris voted to remain in 2016, but said she is the ‘only candidate that would honour the referendum result’. She said there was a ‘democratic imperative’ to do so, and the Liberal Democratic position was ‘deeply undemocratic’. She added: “I’m the candidate to finally move us on.” 

Reading Chronicle: James Wilder and Lee DillonJames Wilder and Lee Dillon

Mr Dillon said his party is ‘unashamedly pro-Europe’. A majority Liberal Democratic result in the election would give the party a democratic mandate to revoke article 50 — but without a majority they plan to work with other parties on getting a second referendum. 

Mr Wilder said the Tories’ Brexit deal would put jobs and workers’ rights under threat. Mr Masters said the Green party wants to listen and bring leave voters back into the conversation. 

The third question was about the climate and plans to get the UK to be carbon neutral. 

Mr Master said: “Saving the planet seems to be the new rock ‘n’ roll.” He said we need to invest in public transport and end fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks. 

Reading Chronicle: Steve Masters and Laura FarrisSteve Masters and Laura Farris

Mr Wilder said Labour’s carbon neutral target was 2030, but he was heckled by the audience who pointed out the party has backtracked from that target, following trade union pressure. He also spoke about plans for 10 new national parks and planting 2 billion trees.  

Ms Farris said the UK was the only G7 country to commit to carbon neutral by 2050, and was ahead of the EU. “That target was set by the climate scientists advising international community [in 2015]. To go faster is against the advice from climate scientists.” 

The Paris accords she referred to aim to keep global warming below 2 degrees. Since then, the IPCC report last year said warming should be kept below 1.5 degrees to prevent the risks of extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The report said we have until 2030 to meet that target. 

Mr Dillon spoke about the green investment bank created by the Liberal Democrats during the coalition, which was later scrapped by the Tories. The party is now aiming for carbon neutral by 2045, and would introduce a frequent flyer levy. As a councillor, he said the council has put solar panels on buildings and ‘bought an electric car’. 

Reading Chronicle: Candidates getting readyCandidates getting ready

The candidates were asked about lowering the voting age to 16, and increasing political education in schools. 

Ms Farris said if we lowered the voting age to 16, then we would also have to lower it to 15, and then 14. She said 18-years-old is the age of adulthood. Mr Masters said: “I left home at 16 and joined the air force, and was on the front line six months later. People know what they’re doing.” 

Mr Dillon said the quality of questions from students at local school hustings were ‘no different from these tonight’. Mr Wilder described Ms Farris’ point as a ‘slippery slope argument’, a logical fallacy.  

Mr Dillon, Mr Masters and Mr Wilder all called for more political education in schools, while Ms Farris instead suggested young people should get on Twitter. 

Mr Dillon said “Unless you understand how decisions are being made, then you can’t hold people accountable. Knowledge gives you the power to hold people accountable.”