PERINS School hall was just about full on a hot summer’s evening of debate at the Alresford hustings.

Questions from the floor ranged from the integrity and character of MPs, through protection of local health services, security and defence to the question of how to address national debt, at the event on Thursday, June 27. 

Questions on climate change and the environment included one from Perins School’s own eco committee, who asked how the candidates would “get people out of their cars, walking more and using public transport".

Two of the independent candidates attended, with Kevin D’Cruze’s question about political influence in schools being raised to the panel. The audience collection at the end of the evening raised more than £200 towards the school’s outdoor covered seating project.

Hustings chair Andy Sprott told the audience that the motivation for organising the debate together with his son Alex, a politics student at Peter Symonds, was three-fold. 

Alresford hustings (Image: Aura O'Brien)

Primarily to let the community hear the candidates speak directly and answer questions from the audience, so they could make up their minds who to vote for. But also to remind the candidate who makes it to Westminster that Alresford is an engaged and significant part of their constituency that should not be taken for granted. 

The debate was also intended to encourage less polarised and more tolerant political discussion through the example of the candidates, who had all agreed to respect the Jo Cox Foundation’s Civility Pledge. They all lived up to it, Hannah Dawson, Labour, going as far as to advocate it on behalf of a rival candidate who had been heckled.

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Hannah Dawson said: “Why me? I am driven, I am passionate as I hope you have realised from my speeches tonight. But also I am experienced. I spent years working in the centre of government. I know how government works. I know how to get things done. I know how to deliver. It is time for change. Winchester deserves a Labour MP who can undo the damage of the last 14 years of Tory and Lib Dem government and deliver change and a brighter future that people are desperately crying out for. A vote for me is a vote for a passionate MP, who will do their best to listen to their community and deliver.”

Danny Chambers, Liberal Democrat, said: “I believe that this country can be a place where we care for the natural environment, where we tackle climate change and we end the scandal of sewage being poured into our beautiful chalk streams. If I am fortunate enough to have the honour and the privilege of serving as your next MP, I will always put Alresford and Winchester and Hampshire first. I will look after you, I will look out for you and will help you in any way that I can. I will fight to keep our local NHS services, I will fight to get improved funding for our schools, but at the end of the day, whether you vote for me or not, I will help you wherever I can, I will have your back and I will not let you down.”

Alresford hustings (Image: Aura O'Brien)

Lorraine Estelle, Green, said: “I was really pleased to hear the questions about our environment and the climate. So it’s great to hear that the people here in Alresford are talking about, and thinking about, those issues. Elections are very focused on the short term, but we are really facing a long term problem. The scientists are telling us this is an emergency and this is about political choice and it is about making those choices that will protect our planet and that will protect our environment.

“A Green vote is not a wasted vote. Those successful parties look behind their shoulders and they see where the support is on green issues and that will encourage them to be boulder and braver in their decisions.”

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Flick Drummond, Conservative, said: “If the polls are right and the Labour party is going to be the new government, do you want an MP who is part of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and can provide effective scrutiny from day one or a Lib Dem who will be part of a minority party, who will not get more than one question at PMQs every month and no chairs of select committees, which play a major part in scrutinising the next government? I have successfully worked across political divides to deliver legislation, whether it’s on education, defence and Palestine. Locally I have delivered on my promises and will continue to do so.”

Sean Whelan, Reform UK, said: “So now the time is for reform. It has to change. Everybody is screaming out for reform. How many times have you heard the other candidates mention the word ‘reform’? It keeps coming up and we will reform. We will change the way we communicate with the country. We won’t lie, we will tell you the truth. You might not like the truth, but we will not tell you any lies. If, in the unlikely event that I do become the MP for this constituency, I will work every hour God sends to represent you and take your voice to Parliament.”

At the end of the evening, an exit poll was taken to gauge the impact of the debate. Although not all the audience took part, of the 133 people who did, 58.6 per cent of them had their preference confirmed, but a significant 17.4 per cent of the audience decided who they would vote for as a result of what they had seen and heard from the candidates on the night.