Published: 00:01, 01 May 2015
| Updated: 08:57, 01 May 2015
Creating jobs, helping children get into the school of their choice and getting people to vote in the first place were just some of the topics tackled by those hoping to become Dartford’s next MP.
Candidates met at Dartford Grammar School for Girls on Tuesday evening to persuade voters why they should put a cross in their box and to answer a series of questions devised by audience members.
The would-be MPs were quizzed on how they would tackle voter apathy among young people, the decline of the town centre, unemployment rates and the lack of school places in the area, among other topics.
All parliamentary candidates standing in Dartford were at the debate: Gareth Johnson (Conservative), Simon Thomson (Labour), Elizabeth Jones (Ukip), Steve Uncles (English Democrats), Andy Blatchford (Green), and Simon Beard (Liberal Democrats).
History teacher Warren Valentine chaired the Question Time-style hustings debate, the first the school has hosted.
The proceedings kicked off with opening statements from each of the candidates before moving on to the pre-written questions.
Gareth Johnson, Dartford’s most recent MP standing for the Conservatives, reminded the audience of his local roots while warning them of the risks he believes a Labour government would pose for Dartford and the UK.
He said: “I am a local man. I grew up in the area and went to Dartford Grammar School.
“We have begun to turn the economy around but we aren’t there yet. This coalition has taken this country back from brink.
“It would be a huge mistake to give the keys back to those who crashed the car in the first place.
“It would be a huge mistake to give the keys back to those who crashed the car in the first place." - Gareth Johnson (Con)
“Every single Labour government that has ever been put up unemployment and it has always taken a Conservative government to clear up the mess.”
Mr Johnson also responded to news announced that day that economic growth had slowed to 0.3%.
He said: “Yes, we have growth figures that are a little disappointing today if I’m honest. But, we have to make sure we stick to our long term economic plan.”
Simon Thomson, a former BBC reporter for Dartford standing for Labour, put forward his key priorities for the town, top of the list of which was restoring the town centre followed by protecting the NHS.
He said: “People are struggling in Dartford, despite what Gareth might have you think.
“This last five years has been a complete waste of time [for the government]. A Labour government would bring back fairness across the board.
“We will freeze energy bills, we will increase the top rate of tax by five pence, we will crack down on non-doms.
“We will help the younger generation by providing more job opportunities, banning zero-hour contracts, and reducing university fees to £6,000.
“You have got ask yourself: do you want a government that believes in cuts for cuts’ sake? Or one that does it in a fair and balanced way while investing in infrastructure?”
Elizabeth Jones, a lawyer standing for Ukip, praised Dartford’s apparently Eurosceptic outlook and condemned Labour for not allowing a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
She said: “May 7 will be our very own battle for Britain. This nation was once a very proud and capable nation but this has slipped away.
“Ukip achieved 41% in the May 2014 [European Parliament] elections in Dartford. The Conservatives 24%. This is a very Eurosceptic Kent town and I ask you to stay true to that and vote Ukip.
"This is a very Eurosceptic Kent town and I ask you to stay true to that and vote Ukip." - Elizabeth Jones (Ukip)
“We’ve heard much from Labour saying they’re going to spend, spend, spend, but where, when, and how?
“They absolutely committed to full EU integration. They are denying you a referendum.”
Steve Uncles, a project manager who has worked for the MoD and BBC among other companies, is standing for the English Democrats.
He spoke of his commitment to the devolution of English powers, and his desire to see his party ignite a nationalist movement just as the SNP has done for Scotland.
Mr Uncles, who has lived in Dartford for more than half his life, said: “We are the fourth most important nation in the United Kingdom.
"I want to put England first. Our country suffers from all sorts of inequalities compared with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"The other parties have all agreed not to talk about it and it is disgusting that they don’t debate this.”
Mr Uncles added that he wanted to see the foreign aid budget cut and a crack down on radical Islam in the UK.
He also said that he thought it was “obvious that Gareth [Johnson] was going to win”.
Simon Beard, a teacher standing for the Lib Dems, said he would improve the town centre by making business rates fairer for local companies and that the coalition had helped both jobs and schools be delivered to Dartford.
He said: “We do need to get the books balanced but in a way that puts ordinary people and frontline needs first.
“I think most people around the country think that we can have both economic stability and fairness. This what the Liberal Democrats want to bring to the next parliament.”
Andy Blatchford, standing as Dartford’s first ever Green Party candidate, was keen to advocate his party’s policies on a national level, but did not have much to add when it came down to local issues.
He said: “You’re going to hear things tonight like we have run out of money but that is impossible so long as we have our own currency.
“I don’t believe the economic system we have now is sustainable. We would change this by investing social housing and renewable energy in order to protect the future.”