PAYING OFF THE DEBT

Asked by one student where any new government should begin to look for cuts in the public sector, Labour's Andy Slaughter said it was important not to cut too early, making sure the economy is truly out of recession first, but that all departments would face cuts.

"I would say this is a template for how you get through recession with the minimum pain so far," he said.

Higher taxes on top earners would help refill the coffers, he said, adding: "If you have to make cuts, let's make them on the people who can afford it most."

Green Party candidate Rollo Miles said: "Whoever wins the next election, there are going to be massive cuts across the board," adding that he did not understand why the Tories had fixed a time scale of four years in which to halve the deficit.

Liberal Democrat Merlene Emerson said the timing of the cuts is as critical as the cuts themselves, pledging that the Lib Dems would save money by getting rid of quangos, needless bureaucracy and the Government's tendency to recruit costly management consultants.

Conservative hopeful Shaun Bailey pointed out that the Government spends more now on servicing the nation's vast debt than it does on education, which is a 'serious problem'.

He said: "Anyone who's ever been in debt will know that the longer you stay in debt, the worse it becomes."

Wealth generation would help pay off the debt, he said, as well as ensuring that the UK remained an attractive place in which to invest.

He added: "There's no such thing as government debt, there's only national debt. The people of this country understand what needs to be done, it's only the Labour Party who don't."

HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING

A subject close to many students' hearts, cuts to funding for physics institutes and other research centres have caused an outcry, and the politicians were divided on ways to ensure top-class talent is nurtured in our universities.

Shaun Bailey said cash from the Government could only go so far, with the rest having to come from the private sector.

"We only have one pot of money for the country and everything must come out of that pot," he said. "We have a party that's much more business-like and we see that our future lies in private business."

Merlene Emerson said she 'couldn't disagree more' and that greater state investment in universities is critical.

"My husband is a physicist and my second son is going to study physics, hopefully," she said. "I couldn't be more passionate about the fact that we need to develop our science and technology and make Great Britain great again."

Rollo Miles went further, saying that the only way to solve the problems created by climate change was through technology and innovation.

"We believe in grants and funding – the future will be solved by the students of today," he said.

Andy Slaughter admitted funding is tight, but said Labour had already built up the quality of higher education significantly since 1997, when 'the university sector was in an absolutely terrible state'.

"We're building from a very high base," he said, adding: "It's important to combine private investment with public sector investment."

REBEL MP?

If elected to Parliament, would each candidates always toe their party line, or would they be willing rebel on a subject they felt passionate about?

Merlene Emerson at first said she was happy with all Liberal Democrat policies, then remembered she is against with the idea of disconnecting people from the internet if they are found to be downloading and sharing data illegally.

Rollo Miles said the Greens were often perceived as the 'hippy-style vegetarian party', which is not the way he sees it. He also does not share the party's opposition to the 'testing of animals for the good of humanity'.

Shaun Bailey said his good friend, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, believed prisoners should be given the vote, adding that he didn't and would be prepared to make his feelings known.

Andy Slaughter said politicians are elected because of their party's policies, not their own beliefs, and should only rebel on issues about which they or their constituents feel particularly strongly. He had done so by resigning from Government after Labour announced it would support a third runway at Heathrow.

"For 20 years I was opposed to the expansion of Heathrow, and it's a very strong issue in the constituency," he said.


 

SHOULD THOSE WITH 'NON-DOM' TAX STATUS PLAY A ROLE IN GOVERNMENT?

The controversy over large amounts of cash given to the Conservative Party by its deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, who pays very little tax in the UK, sparked some of the most heated debate.

Andy Slaughter said he believes it shows 'a corruption in the political process when someone like Ashcroft is allowed to take over a political party', claiming that local Tories in Hammersmith had been able to produce lavish campaign material using cash 'laundered' through Conservative HQ.

Shaun Bailey countered that the majority of his campaign funds had come from Tory donors who are not classed as 'non-doms', adding: "My biggest fundraiser has been Andy Slaughter.

"Most people who support me in any way at all do so because they want to get rid of Andy Slaughter. I've had an army of volunteers turn out for me and he's been one of the driving forces."

Rollo Miles said people with non-domiciled tax status should not be allowed into politics, regardless of their political party, and Merlene Emerson agreed that it was 'not acceptable', and that the UK struggled on such issues by having no written constitution.

ANDY SLAUGHTER AND SHAUN BAILEY ARE NOT FRIENDS

Capping off a lively session, one student asked whether the above headline in a recent Guardian blog was true.

Shaun Bailey immediately said 'they got that right', adding: "I naively thought that politics was going to be about policy. Andy tried to drag it down and make it about personality.

"I said what I meant and meant what I said."

Merlene Emerson called for an end to the 'Punch and Judy' show of modern politics, and Rollo Miles urged people to vote Green to let politicians know they are fed up with petty arguments between the two main parties.

Andy Slaughter said: "I don't like or dislike Shaun Bailey, I don't really know Shaun.

"He might be the nicest guy in the world – he probably is – but we're probably not going to be friends because we disagree very firmly on policy."

He added that 'Shaun may well make a very good MP in the future' if he is able to 'step of the shadow' of the Conservative Party in Hammersmith.