Star debate: Nick Clegg and rivals clash

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There was a lively debate on Thursday afternoon between the candidates standing for the Sheffield Hallam seat in the forthcoming general election.

Current MP Nick Clegg, who is also deputy prime minister, was joined by Labour’s Oliver Coppard, Green candidate Peter Garbutt, UKIP’s Joe Jenkins and independent Carlton Reeve. Conservative Ian Walker couldn’t attend so Stephen Castens represented him.

The full debate will be shown tonight from 7pm on The Star’s website.

Below is a flavour of the debate from a selection of questions submitted by readers.

Question to Nick Clegg: Four years ago you were riding high on Cleggmania. In recent weeks it has been predicted that will lose your roles as Deputy Prime Minister, party leader, even your seat as MP - the latest Lord Ashcroft poll showed the Lib Dems were three points behind Labour in Hallam. Many have long said you have failed to stand up for Sheffield over austerity, the Forgemasters loan and tuition fees to name but a few.

Isn’t this the death of your political career and what are your biggest regrets?

Mr Clegg replied: “The last thing you should ask politicians to do is to start predicting their own future, that’s for the voters to decide on May 7 but let’s just take Sheffield. What we care about is our city, where was it in 2010 and how are things now.

“And the facts are that there are now fewer young people who are not in education, employment or training, since records began. Youth unemployment’s lower than before, we’ve got 24,000 more people in work, than in 2010.”

Question to Oliver Coppard: The Labour-run council has made bad and controversial decisions - closing Don Valley, cutting gritting, then U-turning on it, giving away public libraries and not collecting £31m at the last count in uncollected council tax. Why should voters trust Labour in Hallam, especially as Ed Miliband has admitted he would continue the cuts he has criticised?

Mr Coppard replied: “Okay well let’s address this £31million issue first, there’s £31million of tax arrears and it is a long-standing problem. I’m not here to defend Sheffield Council, Sheffield Council isn’t perfect, I live here in Sheffield so I understand public services and I understand the cuts to Sheffield libraries and everything else, I grew up using Sheffield’s libraries, I drive on Sheffield’s roads and I suffer those cuts too.”

Question to Carlton Reeve: The last independent candidate to stand in Sheffield Hallam, Martin Fitzpatrick, got 429 votes in 2010.

Are you prepared to lose your deposit and if so few people want an independent candidate, why bother standing?

Mr Reeve replied: “I care too much about Sheffield to simply let the parties kick it around like a political football. It’s interesting when I hear Westminster politicians talk about the fact of how Sheffield is recovering. On Monday I met with a local GP whose surgery is facing hundreds of thousands of pounds in cuts to funding. That’s going to cost doctors and coverage for patient care.”

Question to Peter Garbutt: In an interview with the New Statesman you were quoted as saying that the ‘best educated people vote Green’. What does this say about the rest of Sheffield, given that the Greens only have four councillors and no MPs? That we are a thick city?

Mr Garbutt replied: “No of course I’m not. I have a great respect for absolutely everybody. I think what I was referring to there was a report made by an independent research organisation that suggested that the average IQ of members of parties was as follows etcetera, and Green was at the top.”

Question to Stephen Castens: Given that Sheffield has been hit drastically by this Conservative Government’s cuts to local councils, especially compared to southern councils, how do you expect any Sheffielder who no longer has a local publicly funded library or weekly bin collections to vote Tory?

Mr Castens replied: “We have to remember where we are as a country. We have to remember that every year before we can even deliver a single service, we have to pay off the equivalent of the defence budget, the education budget and the overseas aids budget before we can deliver anything to anybody. It is a massive, massive weight around our neck and the problem is that the coalition government would love to have done a lot more.”

Question to Joe Jenkins: “You don’t live in Sheffield so may not know it is a City of Sanctuary, pledging support to refugees and asylum seekers in need.

What do you think of the City of Sanctuary and how would you work alongside it given Ukip policies - which were described as ‘divisive and backwards looking’ by Oliver Coppard in a national newspaper?

Mr Jenkins replied: “We are an inclusive society and immigration has actually worked up until now, but it doesn’t anymore. What we have to do is readdress the problems that multiculturalism is causing this country, which is dividing it.

“We’re in Yorkshire which is the perfect example of how this has divided the country. We have a real problem because there is no over-riding idea of Britishness. We are not divisive in any way.”

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