Friday, 12 March 2010

Plymouth Sutton and Devonport Debate

Last Friday we attended a debate at the University of Plymouth between the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport parliamentary candidates. It was the first time they had all been in the same room as each other so it was set to be an insightful event for all involved. The team at were very interested in the debate because not only could we reconsider our prediction, these are the candidates we'll be choosing between come May 6th. The debate was chaired by Professor Colin Rallings, who can certainly be described as Plymouth's answer to David Dimbleby! The debate covered tuition fees, trident, electoral reform, climate change and touched on the banking crisis. The range of topics was hardly surprising given the audience and I'm sure the candidates will face tougher questions on major policy issues as the campaign develops.

As it stands Plymouth S & D will be contested by five candidates; Linda Gilroy MP (LAB), Oliver Colvile (CON), Dr. Judy Evans (LD), Andrew Leigh (UKIP) and Tony Brown (GRN). Of course there are still many weeks for other challengers to put their names forward but as far as political parties go this is likely to be it. I am trying to find out if the Socialist Labour Party or Respect will be running candidates, as they have done in past Plymouth Elections, but the BNP are unlikely to contest this seat. So here are my impressions of the Plymouth S + D candidates from the debate.


Linda Gilroy (LAB): Gilroy came across as composed and informed throughout the debate. She was on message and displayed deep knowledge of the trident issue. But as she has been a MP for 13 years, and spent the last five on the Defence Select Committee, her strong performance did not come as much of a surprise. Unfortunately she's battling for an unpopular Government and the question most voters will be asking is not whether they want 5 more years of her as their MP, but five more years of Labour. If the answer is no then being a very capable MP won't make much difference to her fortunes.

Oliver Colvile (CON): Colvile received mixed reviews from those at the debate. Some thought he came across as a highly competent challenger to Gilroy yet others have described him as 'Boris Lite'! I sway towards the former description but despite the fact Colvile's contesting this seat for the third General Election he did have the aura of a stock Conservative Candidate. I imagine he could run anywhere in the country and it wouldn't make a lot of difference to his vote total. However, I'm sure his local credentials would be a lot more visible to an audience where they would matter. University students clearly aren't that audience and I suspect that was a factor in the way he presented himself.

Dr Judy Evans (LD): Evans was solid on the 'traditional' Liberal Democrat issues of university fees and electoral reform but came unstuck when discussing trident. Linda Gilroy seemed to correct her on her own party's policy suggesting that the Lib Dems were conducting a review of their position on trident. Evans has since been in touch to clarify that the Lib Dems are against the nuclear deterrent and she seems to appreciate that she'll need to be tighter on an issue that is sure to be on the minds of a few voters in Plymouth considering the city's naval history. However, given her background as a surgeon, if Evans is elected in May she is unlikely to follow her predecessor onto the defence select committee and I'm sure health issues are going to play a far bigger role in this election than nuclear deterrent.

Andrew Leigh (UKIP): Much to everyone's amusement Leigh appears to have held every job under the sun! His experience ranges from nuclear engineer to financial planner and he spoke confidently on trident and banking. In fact, he was safe covering all the issues debated and did not look out of place on a panel of experienced politicians. Plymouth is high on UKIP's target list and Leigh could have a role to play in this seat. When Leigh answered a few questions of he stated his belief that UKIP will attract cross-party support, however I think at a general election a strong showing from the Euro-sceptic party will harm the Conservative's hopes. In that respect I was surprised that Colvile didn't attack Leigh on his party's sceptical view of man made climate change and their desire to return manufacturing to the centre of Britain's economy.

Tony Brown (GRN): Brown had the easiest job out of the five considering his party's policy on most issues would be obvious to an audience of mostly politics students. I was most surprised that he also didn't take Leigh on over climate change but he did provide the sound-bite of the evening when discussing trident: "The deterrent isn't deterring!" I get the feeling Brown knows his role and is going to enjoy campaigning for the next couple of months on an issue that he cares about and his goal is to spread the message as opposed to win the seat.


All in all, as enjoyable as the debate was it didn't tempt me to change my prediction or my vote. None of the candidates looked likely to follow in the footsteps of previous Plymouth representatives Michael Foot, David Owen or Alan Clark and become nationally renowned politicians of their generation but equally none seemed set to destroy their parties' chances in this seat. Plymouth Sutton and Devonport will be won and lost on a national level, which is a point Colvile himself acknowledged. And of the two frontrunners, he'll be a lot happy than Gilroy with that situation.


  1. Interesting. However, how many of the students attending the event will actually be registered to vote in Plymouth? Shame highlights weren't broadcasted on the local news...

  2. Neil:

    Sorry, I missed this comment. I think about half the audience raised their hand when asked if the could vote in Plymouth S + D.