Sheffield’s young voters channelled their inner Andrew Neil as they asked a series of tough questions of those hoping to be MPs come June 9.
A politically-savvy audience challenged candidates on the EU, terrorism, voter engagement, education and other issues at Purdah on the Dancefloor, a hustings aimed young and first-time voters held at The Leadmill this afternoon.
On the panel for the event, which was run jointly by BBC Radio Sheffield and The Star, were Shaffaq Mohammed, Natalie Bennet and Steph Roe, all running to be Sheffield Central MP, alongside Louise Haigh, running for Sheffield Heeley, and John Booker, campaigning in Penistone and Stocksbridge.
BBC Look North’s Harry Gration chaired the debate, but it was those in the audience that forced the candidates to provide thorough answers to their questions.
Abdullah Okud asked how the candidates would better support minority and disadvantaged students.
Labour’s Louise Haigh said people had been told if they went to university they would have jobs with good salaries waiting for them, but under the coalition and Conservative governments they were instead being saddled with debt.
She said Labour would abolish tuition fees and pay for it by increasing income and corporate taxes.
The Green Party has also pledged to get rid of tuition fees, and their candidate Natalie Bennett said they would also bring back the education maintenance allowance to help young people stay at school post 16.
“Schools are being castigated because students from poorer backgrounds are getting worse results, but with things like the bedroom tax it’s really tough out there,” she said.
Liberal Democrat Shaffaq Mohammed said his party supported tuition fees - a change of heart since 2010 - but said it was more important to help with students costs while studying in order to encourage people from poorer backgrounds. He said if money was tight it should be targeted.
John Booker of the UK Independence Party said education was ‘the most important thing going’ and said he would introduce more student discounts and bring back grants. He also said big companies should fund degree courses.
And Conservative candidate Steph Roe said it was important to have lower rents so students could afford to live while at university - although she rejected the idea of abolishing tuition fees.
“We have a certain amount of money available to help people to fulfil their potential and to get work,” she said.
On the best way to tackle terrorism, Ms Roe said it was more important to put money in intelligence services than police officers, while Ms Bennett said having law enforcement within communities and talking to people was the best way to find those at risk of radicalisation.
On the EU, Mr Mohammed and Ms Bennett said there should be another referendum when a deal to leave was confirmed.
Ms Haigh said Labour had strict tests that would have to be met before the party voted in favour of a deal.
But Mr Booker and Ms Roe said people should back the original vote to leave.
Several audience members asked the panel how they would better engage young voters - and voters in general.
Every candidate bar Ms Roe said the vote should be extended to 16-year-olds. Mr Mohammed, Ms Bennett and Mr Booker were in support of an alternative to first past the post.
Ms Haigh said young people had been ‘screwed over’ by the Conservatives because they were less likely to vote. Mr Booker said people shouldn't always trust politicians because they put their ‘party before the people’.
And Ms Bennett said it was important for anyone wanted to get into politics to care about ‘people and the planet’.
'We are all politically active and interested'
Candidates were not allowed to get away with incomplete answers by an audience that challenged every point.
The most heated debate was around voter engagement and how best to get young people in particular involved in politics.
One audience member said they found it tough to engage with candidates because they would often recite what was in their party’s manifesto.
They added: “It’s important for candidates to put more personality behind what they are saying to get people engaged.”
Another said people did not really feel like they had a say - and that needed to change.
The president of Sheffield College’s student union called for votes for 16-year-olds. She pointed out that at 16, people could marry,have sex with, or go to war for any member of the panel - but could not vote for them.
“So many say they want to vote but aren’t old enough,” she added.
One audience member said politics was not accessible for young people. He said: “I have chased my interest in politics, it’s never come to me through school.”
Another said 16 and 17 year olds were concerned about plenty of issues and wanted to be heard.
“Decisions made by Parliament still affect us,” they said.
Another added: “During the referendum it was really difficult for people who couldn’t vote, because it’s our futures being affected.”
And one audience member said there was no reason why a 40-year-old with little knowledge of politics should have more of a right to vote than a 16-year-old who was engaged in democracy.
“We are all politically active and interested,” he said.
One audience member said she self-defined as disabled and that was why she knew about politics - but at 17 she was too young to vote.
“How do we make it more accessible?” she asked.
And another said politics should be a compulsary subject a school.
“I feel like my views are not respected by older people,” they said.
Other questions focused on the EU referendum. One audience member said there was no chance of a ‘win-win’ situation, and asked how politicians would ensure everyone was happy with the outcome.
Another focused on cuts to police, and asked how reducing the number of officers and the budget of intelligence services would fight terrorism.