Published: 09:00, 30 November 2019
A church may have been the host but there was no sanctuary for candidates as they faced tough questions on Brexit, housing and the NHS.
Dartford residents gathered inside Christ Church in Cross Road last night to see what the people looking to be their next MP had to say.
The pre-elections hustings were organised by community group Dartford Churches with questions pre-selected from members.
All Parliamentary candidates standing in Dartford were at the debate: Gareth Johnson (Conservative), Sacha Gosine (Labour), Kyle Marsh (Liberal Democrat) and Mark Lindop (Green).
Would-be MPs had two minutes on each topic to persuade voters.
Audience members were then given the opportunity to follow up with the panel.
Pastor Alistair Gregory chaired the debate which touched on everything from safeguarding children's mental health to religious freedom and of course, Brexit.
First in the line of fire was Conservative candidate Gareth Johnson who opened his address by stating politics was in a "state of paralysis".
He pledged to deliver Brexit if voted in which he said was "absolutely essential".
"We must respect the will of the people," he said. "I want to implement Brexit so we can give more attention to other issues."
On the subject of mental health he conceded the government, as well as its predecessors, had "not done enough".
"We are starting to see some changes but we are playing catch up," he added. Social media was also identified as an issue.
Mr Johnson defended Dartford Council's record on housing and said the authority had built more affordable homes than other areas.
He promised to help "young people get on the housing ladder" adding "what is happening here is more positive than in other areas."
When quizzed on the NHS he said the government were providing "record levels" of investment but said it still "needed more".
He assured residents the healthcare system would not be part of any potential trade deal with the US and added he "did not trust Donald Trump".
Next up to face the audience was Kyle Marsh (Lib Dems), joint lead of the North Kent arm of the National Education Union.
The special needs teacher identified school cuts, rising knife crime and climate change as the issues he'd grapple with first if elected.
In a "post-Brexit environment" he warned it would be more difficult to get "nurses into the system".
The issue of unpaid carer's allowances was also mooted - a situation which he labelled as "just awful".
"We have to factor into our social services budgeting to allow unpaid carers the benefits and the support they need," he said.
On housing he commented politicians were not "holding up their part of the bargain" and called for a conversation on what constitutes "affordable" housing.
Labour's prospective candidate Sacha Gosine claimed "landlords are ruling the roost".
He said the party would look to extend the lengths of tenancies to give people more security and see rents aligned with local wages.
"People should not be rushed out of their homes after six months when they want to stay longer,"he said.
The mental health social worker said he had seen first hand the "devastating" consequences of staff shortages in the NHS.
He also said unpaid carers had been failed by a "broken system", which he pledged to help fix if elected by creating a "national care service".
This would include free personal care for people over 65 and an increase to the unpaid carer's allowance, among other changes.
The last candidate to address residents on the night was the Green party hopeful and Fawkham resident Mark Lindhop.
His opening remarks stressed the need to tackle climate change and the ailing healthcare system.
"We all know and love the NHS," he said. The Greens would scrap Trident and HS2 among other projects to finance it he claimed.
On housing he said they would scrap Help to Buy and look to address under occupation by encouraging people to "downsize".
More by this authorSean Delaney