South Suffolk candidates clash at General Election hustings in Sudbury

2017 South Suffolk general election hustings at St Peter's Church in Sudbury. From left: Nigel Bennett (Lib Dem), Emma Bishton (Labour), James Cartlidge (Conservative), moderator David Lamming, Robert Lindsay (Green), Aidan Powlesland (UKIP). Photo by Thomas Malina.
2017 South Suffolk general election hustings at St Peter's Church in Sudbury. From left: Nigel Bennett (Lib Dem), Emma Bishton (Labour), James Cartlidge (Conservative), moderator David Lamming, Robert Lindsay (Green), Aidan Powlesland (UKIP). Photo by Thomas Malina.

Candidates seeking to become the next MP for South Suffolk clashed on Brexit, social care, housing and other issues in a spirited hustings event in Sudbury on Tuesday.

Representatives from the five main parties of England were grilled on their policies in front of a packed St Peter’s, where the audience was not afraid to voice their approval or disapproval at the answers given.

Organised by Churches Together and moderated by David Lamming, the hustings opened with a question on the possibility of a second referendum once the Brexit negotiations are completed.

Conservative incumbent James Cartlidge, who opposed a second vote, said: “In my view, we now have to make the best of it. I do have faith that common sense and mutual interest will prevail.”

Labour’s Emma Bishton, who backed Remain, said it was “regrettable” that a complex issue had been reduced to a simple ‘yes or no question’ and many people felt let down by the outcome, but added: “We won’t win anyone’s trust if we don’t honour the result.”

However, a second vote was backed by the Green Party’s Robert Lindsay, and Sudbury councillor Nigel Bennett, standing in for the Liberal Democrat candidate Andrew Aalders-Dunthorne.

A straw poll of the audience showed a slight majority of people favoured a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

On health and social care, the Labour, Green and Lib Dem candidates all attacked the Conservative government’s record and called for greater investment funded by ‘progressive taxes’, with Ms Bishton saying a cross-party consensus should be sought.

But Mr Cartlidge defended the Tory election manifesto, and Aidan Powlesland, the UKIP candidate, said: “The increasing demands on health and social care requires some painful decisions.”

On housing, Mr Lindsay said there had to be “the right sort of houses”, stating: “We need social housing. We don’t need profit-lead homes.”

Mr Bennett echoed this by advocating for infrastructure development to come with new homes.

Candidates also discussed voting against party lines in the interests of the constituency. Mr Cartlidge argued that “speaking out” against an issue was more important than just the vote, while the Green and UKIP candidates had a rare case of agreement, voicing opposition to whips.

A more sombre tone was struck for a discussion about abortion and assisted suicide, while other matters included foreign policy and rejuvenating democracy, such as voting age and voting system policy, with Ms Bishton concluding: “The current system is not serving our needs. Whatever we do, we need to change it.”