All heated at the hustings

Reporter: Alex Carey
Date published: 25 November 2015

TEMPERS continued to flare between Labour’s Jim McMahon and UKIP’s John Bickley yesterday when five by-election candidates locked horns in a debate.

Schools and colleges from across Oldham filled Oldham College’s Grange Theatre as candidates Councillor McMahon, Mr Bickley, James Daly (Conservative), Jane Brophy (Liberal Democrat) and Simeon Hart (Green Party) took part in a hustings event hosted by BBC’s “North West Tonight” presenter Annabel Tiffin.

The only candidate not present was Monster Raving Loony Party’s Sir Oink-A-Lot — who was invited.

The heat was turned up when Mr Bickley answered a question about the number of jobs in the region by having a swipe at Oldham Council leader McMahon.

Beth Holt, an Oldham College student, asked: “How does it help us to get jobs in Greater Manchester if the funding which pays for our education at college is being cut so dramatically?”

As part of his answer Mr Bickley said: “Get a job at Oldham Council. People there seem to do very nicely. Jim McMahon earns £80,000 in allowances. The chief executive earns £160,000 a year.”

Mr Bickley’s comments were met by a few heckles from the audience and Councillor McMahon did not appear to be impressed either.

Councillor McMahon said: “Is that really your answer to a question about a genuine concern in this town? — a response which was met by applause from the audience.

Mr Bickley and Councillor McMahon clashed again later in the debate over comments the UKIP candidate made about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Bickley said: “Jeremy Corbyn does not think Osama Bin Laden should have been killed. They would not shoot to kill terrorists. They want to disband MI5. Labour is a clear and present danger.”

Councillor McMahon said: “On December 4 you will trot back off to Cheshire. My interest is in this town and the issues in Oldham. If you want to keep making your petty points then continue to do so.”

The hustings opened with a question from Oldham College student Kyle Chatburn who asked the candidates about cuts to education funding.

Conservative Mr Daly answered by highlighting the Government’s work to promote and provide more apprenticeships and added: “If I am elected I will be knocking on the door of the education secretary to make sure this town has the funding it needs to support its young people.”

Liberal Democrat Mrs Brophy said: “We are the party of education. We believe everyone should get the same chances. No matter what background you are from and we very much believe in funding apprenticeships.”

Mr Hart highlighted what impact a lack of funding can have on the mental health of people down the line.

Mr Bickley said the country must start living within its means but says UKIP wants to invest more money in higher education.

Councillor McMahon highlighted the impacts of government cuts, claiming some colleges in Greater Manchester are on the verge of going bust due to lack of funding.

Luke Lancaster, a Hulme Grammar student, really put the candidates to the test when he asked them if they would vote in favour of military strikes on ISIS in Syria.

Mr Daly said: “Yes. My answer is simple, yes I would.”

Councillor McMahon said: “The Iraq war is an example of not having a clear idea of what you are there to do — we need to make sure that we don’t repeat that.

“If I was MP for this constituency I won’t rule out voting for it (airstrikes) but I would need to make sure it was for the right reasons and that we would be in a better place at the end of it.”

Mr Bickley said: “Clearly ISIS is a major threat to us — but we need to know that we have learnt the lessons from Iraq, we need an end game plan.”

Mrs Brophy said: “We are an evidence based party. For us it would have to be an international approach.

“We need to make sure we do more on prevention and cutting off funds to the organisations.”

Mr Hart said: “It’s not right that civilians are caught up.

“We cannot make a quick decision, it is not an easy one to make.”

The final, and perhaps most important, question came from Oldham College student Stevie Howard who asked why the candidates should get her vote.

Councillor McMahon said: “I’m the Oldham candidate and if you live in Oldham it is important that you have somebody from the community who knows the issues that affect us and who will fight for them in parliament.

“I am in Oldham to make it a better place.”

Mr Bickley said: “If I’m elected my first priority is the residents in Oldham, not my party. Other parties will be whipped, I won’t do that, I will be here to represent Oldham.

“I’m passionate about my country. We want Parliament to make our laws and our MPs.”

Mr Daly said: “I have a three-point plan to deliver to Oldham West and Royton. It is more investment in public transport, cleaning up the streets and tackling anti-social behaviour. A three-point plan to deliver on issues that matter to local people.”

Mrs Brophy said: “I’m passionate about the environment. I know the area, I have worked here for the health service. I’m passionate about mental health service for young people. We are the only party that actually completely stands against tax credit cuts. Labour only voted to delay them.”

Mr Hart said: “It is time for change and for that the Green Party will be the best party. Caroline Lucas is an MP for the Green Party in Brighton — our only MP — and she has done an amazing job for Brighton.

“It is time for change and I think you should vote for the Green Party.”