Diss students put South Norfolk MP candidates through their paces

General Election Hustings at Diss High School, with Jacky Howe (Lib Dems - in yellow), Deborah Sacks (Labour - pink jacket) and Richard Bacon (Con).

General Election Hustings at Diss High School, with Jacky Howe (Lib Dems - in yellow), Deborah Sacks (Labour - pink jacket) and Richard Bacon (Con).

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A trio of candidates bidding to become the next MP for South Norfolk delivered their pitch on the impending General Election’s key issues to Diss students this week.

Conservative Party candidate Richard Bacon, Labour’s Deborah Sacks and Liberal Democrats representative Jacky Howe were grilled by sixth formers at Diss High School on Wednesday, in a hustings-style debate which saw questions on tuition fees, the state of the NHS, growth of local businesses and the UK’s voting system.

With some in the audience eligible to vote for the first time at this year’s election and others just missing out on the age threshold, the issue of whether the voting age should be reduced to 16 was brought up, with Ms Sacks and Ms Howe in favour, and Mr Bacon against.

Ms Sacks, who is standing in the constituency for the first time, told the students: “I think it’s really important that we get young people engaged.

“Policy decisions shouldn’t be aimed at people in their 70s and 80s. They should be aimed at kids. Student politics and school politics is where the action is.”

But Mr Bacon, who is looking to retain the South Norfolk seat for his fourth consecutive parliamentary term, responded: “I don’t think it’s essential to lower the age to engage people in politics.

“We all know that becoming an adult is not an event, it’s a process, but I think there has to be a legal line drawn somewhere.”

One pupil also questioned the value of his vote in what is considered a safe seat constituency, with the area having been represented by Conservatives since the 1950s, but Mr Bacon stated the seat had to be earned through hard work each time, while his competitors both committed to fighting their corner.

Lib Dem candidate Ms Howe, who is vying for the seat again after coming second in the votes during the 2010 election, said: “I don’t accept the result is a forgone conclusion.

“I will fight as hard as I can to make sure that all five parties are taken seriously. I don’t want people thinking it’s just pointless.

“My message to people is to get involved in local politics and to vote for what they truly believe and not feel pushed into a decision. If you don’t, you lose the right to complain about the way you want society to be.”

On other issues, the candidates agreed on the need for greater investment in local business apprenticeships and training for more doctors and nurses, as well as the need for more evidence in the debate surrounding the de-criminalisation of Class C drugs.

However, they disagreed in their views on what is the most effective voting system, with Mr Bacon advocating for First Past The Post against calls for voting reform, while there were also differing opinions on the impact of the tuition fees increase on young people opting to attend university.

The three will be competing for the South Norfolk seat, along with UKIP representative Barry Cameron and Green Party candidate Catherine Rowett, when polling stations open up on Thursday, May 7.

n Pick up next week’s edition of the Diss Express, out on Friday, May 1, for our full feature spread profiling all five candidates in the South Norfolk constituency.