Our students were invited to attend hustings for the South Thanet constituency by the hosts of the world class science campus Discovery Park. The most high profile candidate, UKIP leader Nigel Farage, was not in attendance but all the other party candidates were: Will Scobie (Labour), Craig McKinlay (Conservative), Russ Timpson (Liberal Democrats), Nigel Askew (East Kent Reality Party) and Ian Driver (Green Party). As the debate was in Discovery Park the focus was on business issues in the constituency and how each candidate believed that they could increase employment, enhance the business environment and promote South Thanet more generally.
In contrast to the negative bickering of the recent Rochester and Strood BBC debate, this discussion was very positive with all candidates focusing on their ideas for developing the economic potential of South Thanet. This was reflected in the atmosphere of the debate which did not debase into personal or party attacks but was very much on ideas and looking forward. Key issues raised were on fracking, developing Discovery Park further, the potential of the area for historic and outdoor sports tourism, and of course the future of Manston Airport. It was this issue that produced the most clashed between the candidates with some advocating it be turned into a new Discovery Park and others arguing it should be given one more chance as a functioning airport.
CCCU Politics students waded in with questions on the privitisation of local services and the exploitation of young workers through zero-hours contracts. Afterwards the candidates kindly made themselves available for a one-on-one grilling.
The obvious elephant in the room was the absence of Mr. Farage. It will be interesting to note if his focus on big national issues – immigration, Europe – will play well in a constituency with distinct local interests. Moreover, South Thanet is very much a swing seat with Labour and the Conservatives both winning here in the past three elections. This debate was very much on positive local issues, will they be enough to trouble the electoral juggernaut of Mr. Farage? The following months will tell.