Political heavyweights size up in first head-to-head debate

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election
Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

Four of the five who have declared their intention to fight for the Berwick seat in the 2015 General Election took part in a Question Time-style debate in Chatton. Reporter Michael Pearson gives his view on proceedings.

Parish councillor and local auctioneer Jim Railton steered the two-hour session through an interesting discussion looking at issues ranging from wind farms to which Viz character they think their party’s leader represents.

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

The latter was fitting as Viz founder, cartoonist and comedian Chris Donald was on the panel.

For many in the audience, it was their first chance to meet their prospective representative in the Commons.

Speaking before the event, Conservative candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said such debates were important as ‘for the first time in years people were genuinely questioning who to vote for’ as Sir Alan Beith steps down.

The night opened with a very real issue for all parties and constituents – wind power.

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

It was clear that many residents feel that stunning views in places like Chatton and Hepburn are constantly under siege from wind farm applications and the question posed was about the worry of financial incentives clouding the area’s beauty.

Green Party candidate Rachael Roberts was quick off the mark to respond. She very clearly explained the need for wind power and was very concise in explaining her party’s message on sustainable energy.

The second question was closer to home for the Labour candidate Scott Dickinson, who received a very vocal backlash from the audience for the county council’s plans to move its County Hall HQ from Morpeth to Ashington.

Mrs Trevelyan said that ‘Morpeth is firmly central for the county’.

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

She was followed by Liberal Democrat candidate Julie PÖrksen and Mrs Roberts who stated that Ashington had less accessible public transport connections than the current site.

Chris Donald was also asked what he thought on the situation and he referred to his time at the comic book, saying ‘if you build a house and get bored, you don’t move, you maintain it’.

As the candidates gained confidence, the debate quicklygathered pace with some very hard hitting questions being asked, from fracking to the EU, and all candidates spoke well.

After speaking to memebers of the audience at the end of the debate, it seemed to have made the decision on who to vote for even harder.

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

Julie PÖrksen came across as a very strong figure; Anne-Marie Trevelyan, dressed all in red for Red Nose Day, was very focused and calm; Scott Dickinson came out very strong and Rachael Roberts, was also very level-headed and firm in reinforcing what her party stands for.

But the man with no set agenda, Chris Donald, triumphed as the voice of reason.

The cartoonist made some great points, even giving a very informed response to a discussion over whether Prime Minister David Cameron should have stayed silent over Jeremy Clarkson’s suspension from the BBC.

He likened it to when the actor that played Basil Brush was replaced, the Prime Minister at the time stayed quiet. Mr Cameron should have followed his example, he argued.

Candidates will be taking part in an Environmental Question Time is being held on March 31, at 7.30pm in St James Centre, Pottergate, Alnwick.

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election

Political debate at Chatton Village Hall in the run up to the Berwick General Election