IMMIGRATION, cost of living and healthcare were the main topics of debate at the last hustings before the General Election.

An almost full Romsey Abbey hosted five of the six candidates for Romsey and Southampton North on Tuesday, July 2. 

In attendance were Caroline Nokes (Conservative), Geoff Cooper (Liberal Democrat), Christie Lambert (Labour), Connor Shaw (Green) and Paul Barrett (Reform UK). Independent candidate Fennie Yap was unable to attend due to a prior engagement. 

The event was chaired by Chris Riley from the abbey. The Conservatives will be looking to hang on to the majority of 10,872 as voters go to the polls on Thursday, July 4.

On immigration, Ms Nokes said: “This is not an issue that can be solved with sound bites. The stark reality is that many of our businesses are reliant on people coming into the UK in order to work. We have to detoxify the whole debate. This can't be about saying that migrants deserve to be shot, and we've heard that language used at this election. We have to work out how we can talk about immigration in a calm and measured way.”

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Ms Lambert said: “A good immigration policy brings the best and the brightest from all over the world which is good for Britain.”

Mr Barrett added: “I used to work at the Home Office and one of its core values is to keep our borders secure. We must encourage our own home grown people and make work pay.”

Romsey Abbey hustings (Image: Newsquest)

The candidates were also also about their policies on health care. Mr Cooper said: “The ambulances are queuing outside the A&E because the A&E beds are full, the A&E beds are full because the hospital beds are full, the hospital beds are full because they can't be transferred homes because there is no social care to look after them. If we fix social care, it would make this country a better place.”

Mr Shaw added: “People aren't incentivised to stay with the NHS. We have chronic underfunding because we're not paying the doctors and nurses their fair share.”

Sim Dendy, of Freedom Church in Romsey, asked how the candidates would tackle the cost of living crisis. The church hosts Romsey Food Bank. 

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Mr Cooper said: “People are actually unable to afford to live. There are people in this constituency who are struggling to feed themselves, to clothe themselves and shelter themselves. That is a disgrace in a country that is this rich. That is the legacy of this government, to allow the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.”

Ms Nokes said: “I've been to visit the food bank and it's always an incredibly humbling experience. I don't pretend there is not a challenge around cost of living and I recognise we are paying higher tax than before. I applaud the food banks for their Christian charity.”

From left: Caroline Nokes, Connor Shaw, Geoff Cooper, Christie Lambert and Paul Barrett (Image: Newsquest)

At the end of the event, each candidate was given the opportunity to give a closing speech. 

Mr Barrett said: “The Conservatives have broken the country and most of us would agree it's time for a change. Labour is not telling you the truth about immigration and taxes, that much is certain. The British people now have the common sense choice of Reform UK.”

Ms Lambert said: “Our country is in desperate need of robust policies and economic stability. I appreciate many of you are thinking we have never had a Labour MP in this constituency, but I think this election is unlike any other.”

Mr Cooper said: “We have, for many years now, been let down by a generation of politicians. This government has been a shambles with all the self-privileged leaders it has put in place. I hope on July 4 you will choose me as your MP.”

Mr Shaw said: “If you want to see real hope and real change, put a cross in the box next to the Green Party.”

Ms Nokes said: “I think I have a pretty solid track record in this constituency. I hope you have enjoyed tonight and that you have enjoyed the election. You know I have always put Romsey and Southampton North first.”