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Lancashire Telegraph readers quiz Blackburn candidates
CANDIDATES in Blackburn were given a grilling by Lancashire Telegraph readers in our first ever online election webchat.
Labour’s Jack Straw, Conservative Michael Law-Riding and Liberal Democrat Paul English were each given 30 minutes to answer questions from voters.
Readers submitted the questions in advance and live online and the three candidates typed their responses out on our website.
Mr Straw was put on the spot about the Iraq war, Iran and law and order.
Mr Law-Riding was quizzed about the anti-soldiers leaflet delivered to homes inside a Conservative mailshot.
The most lively discussion for Mr English was over Lib Dem plans to give an amnesty to 600,000 illegal immigrants.
More than 250 readers took part in the webchat.
Here is a transcript of the debate.
Question from Tony Parker: What do you propose to do with regard to small business and particularly support of small manufacturing industry in the town?. Unless the banks are allowed to lend us back some of the cash which we gifted them, local manufacturing companies are facing crisis. Small firms are the lifeblood of this country. Do you agree that this country cannot survive as a service economy, and that someone has to be the wealth creators? If so, what are you going to do to really help small firms through these very tough times?
Jack Straw: Good morning. We have helped small businesses, not least by getting the revenue to defer VAT and PAYE payments, and I have helped many businesses to secure this. The regional development agency is supporting a lot of small businesses in the area, and that will continue under us, but I am afraid the Conservatives have pledged to abolish the RDA. I agree with you about the banks. We are setting up quickly a banking ombudsman who will have the power to force banks to provide credit to small businesses where it has been unreasonably refused. My experience of helping a lot of small businesses with banks is that local managers have become "burnt and risk averse". And often I have been able to secure credit once I have taken the matter up with the chief executive. But the system should not work like this. We are maintaining tax relief for manufacturing under corporation tax, the Conservatives would scrap it.
Question from Maryam Batan: What will you do if elected to retain and attract more employers into Blackburn and create jobs for our young people? I am aware of the courses being offered through FE and schools and also the transport links that have been improved and planned.
Jack Straw: Good morning Maryam: 1. Expand the University Centre and the College generally. This is crucial because more than ever the jobs that will be there will be ones requiring skills.
2. Guarantee as we are doing that every young person under 25 out of work for 6 months will get a job, or training, under the Future Jobs Fund. 3. Ensure that many more of the jobs based in Blackburn go to people from the Borough. It's odd at present but so many people working in the Borough especially at a higher skilled level come from outside. I'm sure that with better links many of those jobs could go to local youngsters.
Question from moggy: Will anything improve in the "justice" system?
Jack Straw: Good morning Moggy! Yes. Key is putting victims right at the heart of the system. We've done a great deal ovwer the last thirteen years on this, but there's lots more to do. So we are aetting up a National Victims' Service for all victims. It's already started for bereaved victims of homicide, and is being rolled out for all victims. I know people get frigged off with the justice system, but don't forget that it is working much better now. Crime is down, as the Chief Constable has pointed out; and we are locking up 40% more criminals, and for much longer. Thanks Jack Straw.
Question from Chas: How are you going to narrow the gap between the rich and poor in this country? To workers like me and others its obscene what bankerts etc get paid, no one is worth such inflated wages. We work hard too and deserve a fair wage.
Jack Straw: Good morning Chas: We have already to some degree as the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has said in a recent report. That's through measures like the minimum wage, tax credits of all kinds, the pensioners' minimum income guarantee, and winter fuel allowance etc. But there's a great deal to do, and it's wrong that people like bankers and others are paid in telephone numbers. Tax on highest earners has been raised to 50% as well. The way not to narrow the gap is to cut tax credits as the Tories and Lib Dems are proposing, and certainlyn not to give the rich even more by cutting inheritance tax on the richest estates. Thanks Jack.
Question from Murray Kahn: Why should I vote for you, you suppoutred the Iraq war, you might do the same for Iran. Look what's happened to Iraq, it is a destabilised country, there is no law and order. What hope can you offer, and assurances?
Jack Straw: Good morning Murray. I did support the war in Iraq. Interestingly Iraqis now British citizens in this town have come out in my vocal support. They are sunni muslims. They say - hang on. We know about Iraq. Our families are still there. It was terrible under Saddam. Despite what has happened since iit's now much better, and starting to be a democracy. So it is worth listening tp the majority of Iraqis. On Iran. I have consistently opposed any idea of military action to resolve the outstanding problems with Iran - indeed some say I was moved from being Foriegn Secretary because of my views. It can only be resolved through the UN peacefully. Thanks Jack.
Question from Rodrigo Sousa: What measures should the government take to tackle the issue of climate change, if any?
Jack Straw: Good morning Rodrigo: The 2008 Climate Change Act made Britian the first country in the world to put its carbon targets into law. We are beuilind up power generation from renewables, and making the UK the centre for the offshore turbine industry. We are also providing help with home insulation, and are working for an international binding climate change agreement to limit tempereature rises to 2 degress C.
Question from 'Germanbite': In view of postal vote fraud, why do we persist in allowing a postal voting system that is obviously not fit for purpose?
Jack Straw: Dear "Germanbite" [ what's that name about?!]. The current system on postal votes was put in place in 2000 following all-party agreement. The system was tightened again in 2006.
But I accept that serious problems with it remain. So I want to see a full review of postal voting. A first step could be to ensure that the list of postal voters is not made publicly available.
But I think we may well have to go much wider than this, and look closely at what other countries do. I'll be suggesting this to the Electoral Commission. Thanks Jack.
Question from Peter Worden: Page 18 of the Lib Dem manifesto clearly pledges to meet the government's obligations to Equitable Life victims. Why haven't you signed the pledge invitation sent to you by the Victim Group?
Paul English: I have not seen the request. I will look at it later and sign up - be minded I have received over 2000 emails in the past weeks.
Question from wilson: Will you restore civil liberties?
Paul English: I am very passionate about civil liberties and believe the state interferes too much in allour lives. Banning everything is not the answer.
Question from Nigel Lewis: I would consider voting Lib Dem, but don't believe they stand for the poor in the same way as Labour, who have this enshrined in their constitution. How can you assure me otherwise?
Paul English: We stand for fairness for all.....especially the poor. Labour have abandoned the poor and working class in an attempt to take the middle class vote they so desperately need.
Question from Stuart Bradley: How would things be different under yourselves than Labour?
Paul English: We believe in a new approach to everything, rather than doing the same old failed things. A radical overhaul of the tax system, a radical overhaul of the voting system are just two major changes we would quickly establish.
Question from Moggy: Will anything be done to speed up the process of extraditing illegal immigrants?
Paul English: We need to secure our borders and ensure exit checks are re-established. The other parties got rid of them and have had plenty of opportunity to reinstate them. We also need to identify who is here who should not be. We are not frightened to discuss this topic. Labour and Tories want to ignore it and hope it will go away.
Question from Segried: How would you improve social care for adults?
Paul English: Segried - see page 41 and 53 in our manifesto.....there is a link to it on my website - www.paulenglish.net.
Question from Tom Mack: How on Earth can a Lib Dem candidate comment on immigration in a way which demeans the main two parties? You are suggesting an amnesty which would only further hurt Blackburn's large working class. People can see through your parties wafer thin policies.
Paul English: Tom....we have an amnesty now. Anyone who has been here for 14 years can apply for permanent status. Other parties have not proposed any change to this.
Question from Councillor Michael Johnson: Members of the full council in Blackburn voted against the N/Boards because we know they are not doing what they were suppose to be doing, Liberal councillors voted against them also. This being the case will you remove them for something better?
Paul English: This is a Blackburn Council issue. It was a new idea originally supported by 3 parties in Blackburn. It may be a case that it needs fine tuning.
Question from Shona: How can you help families who are willing to be helped?
Paul English: Shona...all depends on what help is required. Everyone has a different problem. But I have a track record of getting results, whatever the problem. I am a great friend to have on your side ;-)
Question from stuart: Why do even the lib dems feel they have to ramp up hysteria on immgiration to appease little englanders. some of us would vote for a candidate showing a little more campassion, rather than trying to talk tougher than the other two?
Paul English: Stuart...we are not fuelling hysteria. It is an issue that many people are raising...including now on this site. We are not scared to talk about it.
Question from jonno: is there any measures in place to curb immigration?
Paul English: jonno.....we have suggested point system and a regional quota.
Question from l m h jones: Have you signed the Every Disabled Matters pledge? If not, why not? Why should disabled young people and the carers of disabled children trust you to improve access to health, education and a social life for disabled kids? What will you do to make sure that participation doesn't remain a tick on a box of local Blackburn statutory bodies? How will you make sure our voices are heard and needs protected in the next five years?
Paul English: I have done a lot of work with disabled children and adults. Once upon a time I used to transport disabled children to and from school. I will do all I can to ensure that they are afforded every opportunity they deserve.
Question from John: Over the last three years the Liberal Democrats have been in a coalition with the Tory and For Darwen Parties running Blackburn Council and during that time there have been cuts in popular events like Arts in the Park, cuts in subsidised bus routs and scrapping of community groups. Given the experience we have seen locally of constant bickering and falling out between the coalition parties, why should we vote Liberal Democrat when you are standing on unpopular policies such as an immigration amnesty and scrapping baby bonds whilst promising a coalition with others nationally who fundamentally disagree with you?
Paul English: John....we have not promised any coallition yet but obviously the media have taken great interest. Why do Labour and Tories not form a coallition? At least we are adult enough to be prepared to work together. Council has brought in initiatives such as weekly bin collections which were scrapped by former administration.
Question from Stuart Bradley: What are your personal thoughts/ideas for Blackburn?
Paul English: Stuart - Blackburn has so much potential. it is a case of getting ALL to work together. Again time prevents me from going into a massive response. Leave a comment on my site.
Question from wilson: If you have to deal with one of the other parties will you make the freedom bill paramount as well as proportional representation?
Paul English: Wilson - voting reform is very important. Opinion polls and the possible share of seats shows how dated the 1st past the post system is. PR is very important to us a Lib Dems and would prob be instrumental in any coallition being formed. Recent opinion polls and the possible allocation of seats shows how out dated the 1st past the post system is. Most other parties are now agreeing with us
Question from John: What would you do to improve the holes in roads around Blackburn?
Michael Law-Riding: We do appreciate there's under-funding in this area, although the council's already spent £50,000 extra, clearly I will be urging central government to look at the funding streams.
Question from Tom Mack: Michael, why should a working class town who Labour have been very good to in the past, vote conservative? Why specifically in Blackburn?
Michael Law-Riding: Blackburn has always been a labour town. If you look at recent facts and figures, this supports a real need for change. Example - Blackburn's been quoted to be the 17th most deprived borough in the U.K. dropping from 34th in the last survey. The recent report from Ted Cantle has also shown the town is hugely divided in terms of social economic division, health and ethnicity.
Question from Stuart Bradley: What do you know of Blackburn? The lib candidate didn't seem to know much and what are your plans/ideas for the area.
Michael Law-Riding: I was born in Blackburn, lived here all my life. I've worked as a councillor for the last eleven years, holding different posts and now am the Executive member for culture, leisure and sport. This has provided me with a real insight into what this town needs, where labour have failed to deliver. I propose, when elected MP for Blackburn, my job will to listen to the people of the town. I feel the town has suffered in terms of employment, poor health and crime. I would work to attract industry and nurture new small businesses, encouraging new business development, leading to employment in Blackburn.
Question from Neil R: Large manufacturing companies have deserted the town, how can you help attract business and employment to the area?
Michael Law-Riding: 100,000 minimum apprenticeship schemes are already part of our manifesto. To tackle Labour's job crisis, the Conservatives have detailed plans to get Britain working by boosting enterprise, stopping labour's job tax, which risks the recovery, supporting entrepreneurs by cutting corporation tax rates and abolishing taxes on the first ten jobs being created by businesses. Give SME's a £2,000 bonus for every apprentice they hire. We will support would-be entrepreneurs by a new programme called 'Work For Yourself'' which will give unemployed people direct access to substantial loans.
Question from Tom Mack: I live in the 3rd highest ward in Britain for unemployment, what could you do for me that Labour haven't already done? Why should people like me vote Conservative?
Michael Law-Riding: The Conservative view is to encourage people such as yourself to work and stay off benefits. This allows a strategy where we can reward such as you for working.
Question from wilson: A lot more people would support conservative if they stopped trying to end the ban on fox hunting the ban should be strengthened. your opinion please?
Michael Law-Riding: The Hunting Act has proved unworkable. The Conservative government will give parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.
Question from michael: Michael, you keep saying how you are born in blackburn, we live in a multicultural town, why do you keep pointing this out? as a huge amount of people are not from blackburn.
Michael Law-Riding: Under this government, Britain's become more divided and segregated. A lack of integration and social cohesion lies at the root of the problem. There are several contributing factors. Labours failed policies of state driven multiculturalism, education under achievement etc. etc. As pointed out earlier, Blackburn's a multi-cultural town but sadly is divided.
My focus would be to bring communities together under Conservative plans for a big society to nurture social cohesion.
Question from Dave: As a serving magistrate for the past 12 years it is not the case that more criminals are being locked up. we have seen in Lancashire and the North West some horrific murders...summary justice has been ovetaken by cautions and fixed penalties...which don't get paid.
Michael Law-Riding: Conservatives have pledged to tackle violent crime and anti-social behaviour that's present in our neighbourhoods, but crime will not be reduced unless we break the cycle of offending. The focus would be to achieve a prison system that has a purpose to reduce the rates of reoffending.
Question from Mrs Conchie: I have a two year old son with celebral palsy. He attends nursery 3 mornings a week. His place was arranged by the complex needs team from childrens services,and is free. His support nurse has been cut by the conservative run council, so he makes little progress now. If we end up conservative government ,what will happen to childrens services and centres?
Will I have to pay for my sons nursery place?
Michael Law-Riding: I'm sorry to hear you feel this way and I can assure you, when elected as your MP, I will fight to retain all the support the people of this town needs. We're committed to Sure Start and have no plans to close any childrens centres but we think the scheme could and should be better by involving parents and community groups who will take Sure Start from strength to strength. We've pledged to provide 4,200 extra health visitors, giving parents expert advise and support.
Comment from James: keep bleating on about cohesion and communities. Coming together is a two-way street.
Michael Law-Riding: James - I agree, it's a two-way street. I feel everybody in this town needs to work together so that we can have a successful and prosperous future.
Question from John Ainsworth: Please could you ask the Conservative why he has not condemned the leaflet put out in his name attacking our brave soldiers?
Michael Law-Riding: We are not responsible for this leaflet and I and the Conservatives have condemned this literature and its contents. I have FULL support for the armed services. Indeed, members of my family have been and are serving soldiers abroad and have served both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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