Watch the video of the event above.

ELECTION hopefuls clashed over Immigration, Wycombe Hospital, the economy and Europe at The Bucks Free Press Wycombe hustings last night.

Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UK Independence Parties took part in the 90 minute debate which saw candidates challenged by Free Press readers.

Doctor Who star Colin Baker chaired the debate, at Bucks New University in High Wycombe.

Scroll down for a full report of the debate. Click here to listen to the event in full.

It was kicked off with a question about the future of Wycombe Hospital with candidates blaming targets, bureaucracy and a lack of funding for the removal of A&E and maternity services.

Labour’s Andrew Lomas hit back and said having such services in all hospitals was ‘physically impossible’.

Yet he said Labour was guilty of failings on immigration as UKIP candidate John Wiseman warned that a surge in migrants was causing ‘schisms and splits’.

Lib Dem Steve Guy attacked the county’s Tory-run grammar school system when asked about gaps in exam results and said: “It doesn’t do what it says on the tin.”

Clear dividing lines opened up over public debt with the blame laid between bankers and the failure of Government regulation and Europe, with angry questioners demanding a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

Bucks Free Press: audience

Perhaps the most extraordinary moment of the evening came when Mr Baker angrily confronted Mr Guy after candidates were asked how they would restore faith in Parliament (see video).

Mr Guy said the Tory ‘is obviously very confident he is going to win, he has moved into Wycombe’ even though he ‘shouldn’t feel that safe’. Voting reform to a proportional representation system would remedy this, he said.

Mr Baker said it was a ‘caricature’ that he took the seat for granted and, pointing to his career in the RAF as a software engineer, he said: “Our life has been characterised, our service to our country has been characterised by moving home every two years or less.”

A clearly angry Mr Baker said he moved to Walters Ash in 2007 and said: “I’ve got friends right around, right through this area and it is my delight and honour and privilege to have been selected here against all the odds and at last be able to provide my wife with a home after all we’ve travelled.”

He said: “And you seek to exploit me providing my wife.” His words were cut off by laughter and applause.

Mr Guy said: “I seem to have ruffled Steve’s feathers there”. He said: “It is not a personal attack on Steve Baker, it an attack on the system’.

Wycombe Hospital:

Candidates were first asked what they would do to improve maternity and A&E services at Wycombe Hospital after doctor-led births were removed in October 2009 and major trauma cases in 2005. Patients now go to hospitals include Stoke Mandeville in Aylesbury.

Mr Guy said Labour’s focus on targets had produced ‘skewed’ results along with the demand for ‘big super hospitals covering a large area’.

Calling for elected health boards and more doctor involvement, he said: “I don’t believe for a moment that local people would have decided that doctor led births or major trauma should be as far away as Stoke Mandeville.”

Mr Lomas said: “We can all say we would like to have every service in every location but in terms of cost and the quality of the service that can actually be provided, it’s physically not possible.”

Mr Lomas said services ‘haven’t gone completely’ and the NHS has overall ‘improved massively’ with spending doubled, more doctors and nurses and reduced waiting times.

Pointing to a maximum two week waiting time for cancer diagnosis, he said: “People might rail against targets as much as they like but that target is saving lives.”

Mr Baker said: “I’m afraid Labour poured money into the health service whilst simultaneously bureaucratising it and, locally, it has not given us the service that people demand.”

Bucks Free Press: steve baker

Conservative Steve Baker:

He said he will ‘strive’ to improve maternity and A&E and said the ‘heart of the problem’ is NHS under-funding in Bucks.

This would be raised, he said, and backed giving Buckinghamshire Hospitals NHS Trust foundation status – a key Labour reform – so managers and patients can have ‘local control’. He also backed letting GPs decide where cash is spent and more freedom for staff.

Mr Wiseman said UKIP would not cut NHS funding but would save cash by ‘cutting bureaucracy’. Doctors would be put ‘back in charge of the hospitals rather than civil servants and bureaucrats’ and health boards would be elected so failing trusts can be sacked.


Labour activist Rafiq Raja asked what parties would do to tackle the exam gap between Pakistani and non-Pakistani pupils.

Mr Baker said the Tories are ‘committed’ to helping under-performing pupils to ‘stop giving the poorest in society the worst education’. Yet he warned about ‘how we draw these boxes around people’.

Mr Lomas pointed to Labour’s investment in schools including more teachers and the biggest school building programme since the Second World War. “We are heading in the right direction but I think you are right to highlight it, it is a real problem.”

Mr Wiseman said: “We need to put the schools back into the hands of teachers.”

He called for more grammar schools as these are ‘doing more good for those that are not performing so well than the other forms of school’.

Mr Guy pointed to the county’s selection education system, overseen and supported by Tory-run Buckinghamshire County Council.

He said of Mr Baker: “Steve talks about not wanting to leave children behind. Well, I think you currently are.”

The system is ‘open to abuse’ as parents pay for private tutoring, he said. “It doesn’t do what it says on the tin in terms of giving children all an equal start.” Funding would be reformed by the Lib Dems based on pupils’ backgrounds, he said.

Asked whether they would abolish SAT testing for 11-year-olds, Mr Baker said the Conservatives would not and would keep school league tables. He said he wanted to see SAT testing reduced and thought “children are horribly over tested”.

My Guy said: “Teachers, you tell me, are these tests useful to you or are they a drain on your time? I think we are getting the message from the teachers loud and clear.”

Mr Lomas said parents had to have a way of choosing between good and bad schools. “On a personal level, I wouldn’t keep them,” he said.

Bucks Free Press: lomas

Labour's Andrew Lomas:

Teachers should set the tests, said Mr Wiseman. “They know their pupils, they know what they are teaching them,” he said.


Eric Pearson asked how a future Government could manage immigration when checks on the number of people leaving the UK were scrapped and their wider policies.

Mr Lomas said: “I think something’s gone wrong with immigration and I put my hand up there as a Labour representative.”

Yet he drew cries from the audience after saying the Tories abolished the exit checks. They should have been re-introduced sooner, he said.

Un-skilled migrants had been stopped as these were ‘pushing down wages in certain areas’ and only skilled workers would be brought in to do specific jobs, he said. More British people needed those skills to take the jobs, he said.

Mr Guy backed exit checks. “We are a melting pot in this country and we do need some immigration in some sectors,” he said. He backed a points-based system similar to Australia and Canada and restricted to a set UK area.

Conservative Mr Baker said: “Immigration is a good thing. I love the fact that this country is diverse and it has a wide variety of people from a wide variety of places.”

Residents ‘all get along very well’ in Wycombe, he said, but said comparing the UK to Australia and Canada is ‘facile’. The Tories would put a cap on immigration from outside the EU, he said.

Mr Wiseman said immigration has previously been in ‘much smaller numbers’ that allowed newcomers to ‘assimilate’ to create a ‘diverse and rich culture of which we are all proud’. Yet this had not happened with a recent ‘huge increase’ which has led to ‘schisms and splits’. UKIP pledges a five years freeze, he said.


Asked about the benefits culture by a teacher, Mr Baker said: “The best route out of poverty is work.” He said: The current system of welfare does create an incentive to have a life on social security.”

Mr Wiseman said the minimum tax threshold should be raised to £11,500 to encourage claimants to get better deal by working and not take benefits as a ‘career choice’. Someone who turned down three jobs would lose their benefits, he said.

Bucks Free Press: john wiseman

UKIP's John Wiseman:

Mr Guy said the Lib Dems would raise the threshold to £10,000. This would make claimants ‘significantly better off and that gives people more of an incentive’.

Mr Lomas said: “Education is the best route out of poverty.” Labour moves to raise the school leaving age to 18 would tackle this, he said.

Yet he brought cries and applause from the audience when he said of long-term claimants: “That comes back down to the legacy of communities that have been living that way since the 80s.”

Votes on moral grounds:

Ken Kingston asked if candidates would vote against their party on moral grounds and, if so, what those grounds would be.

Mr Guy said he would but agreed with everything in his party’s manifesto. He said he was ‘disappointed’ Labour MPs were whipped by party chiefs so they had to back the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Mr Lomas said he would vote against the party line but could not think of specific examples yet backed whipping as free votes in the Commons would lead to ‘absolute anarchy’ in getting laws passed.

Mr Wiseman too said he would but again could not name an example and said whipping does ‘a lot of harm’. A hung Parliament ‘could do a lot of good’ he said and won applause for saying it would lead to ‘sensible debate’.

Mr Baker said ‘ethical issues’ are not whipped in Parliament. He said he would not vote for ‘aggressive war’ and won applause for saying ‘I am not going to condemn those brave men and women who did what they were told’.

A hung Parliament would create ‘conflict’ and arguments for it creating balance are ‘naïve’ he said.

Mr Lomas said of a hung Parliament: “Whatever happens, you are going to be look at politicians gearing up for a second election, not taking any choices that actually need to be made.”

He slammed proportional representation as it takes away voters’ rights to ‘actually pick your MP’ and puts them into the hands of party bosses who select candidates. He backed Labour’s ‘alternative vote’ plan.

The debt:

Peter Steward asked who was to blame for the Government’s debt. Mr Wiseman blamed Government over-spending and said it had failed to prevent it.

Mr Baker said: “The crisis happened because interest rates were too low for too long.”

This created borrowing and new money, leading to a ‘false boom’ which led to ‘wild’ Government spending.

Lib Dem Mr Guy said: “The failure of regulation is the big problem’. This led to irresponsible lending, he said. “That was a recipe for disaster and no wonder they got into trouble,” he said.

Bucks Free Press: steve guy hustings

Lib Dem Steve Guy

The Government had also run into debt by building projects such as hospitals using the private finance initiative, where firms pay for the work upfront and ‘mortgage’ it back to the Government, with interest, he said.

Mr Lomas said: “This crisis started on Wall Street.” He said: “Unlike the other guys here, the bankers do have to take a huge amount of culpability for this.”

Mr Lomas said: “We grow the economy now through supporting it now through Government spending and then cutting the deficit when it is safe to do so.”


Phil Alexander asked if drugs should be legalised. Mr Lomas said he would not and said: “Where drugs policy has failed is it doesn’t address harm.” An inquiry was needed into the costs and benefits of drugs laws, he said.

Mr Wiseman said drugs have a ‘shocking affect on society’ and said people needed to be stopped getting addicted in the first place. “A good way of doing this is to start by getting control of our borders,” he said.

Mr Baker said he had never taken drugs and said: “It’s about helping people who have harmed themselves to get off drugs through abstinence.”

“What we’ve done hasn’t worked,” said Mr Guy, and said he had ‘a lot of sympathy’ for prescribing heroin addicts the drug, gradually weaning them off.


Candidates were asked whether UK should get its rebate back from the EU.

Mr Guy said: “We are better off being in Europe and influencing it from within than any silly talk of pulling out and trying to influence it from the sidelines. We won’t – Europe will carry on with or without us.”

Mr Wiseman said: “I do not believe we should be in Europe at all because the total cost to us of Europe is horrendous.”

Mr Baker said the Conservatives wanted to reduce the number MEPs and Britain should pay ‘very much less’ to the EU.

Mr Lomas said he was ‘totally EU’ and ‘we benefit more than we put in’. Yet the questioner, from the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group, said ‘that is simply not true’ to laugher and applause.

Mr Lomas said the group is ‘not an independent pressure group’ and is funded by the Midlands Industrial Council ‘the same group of wealthy businessmen who give money to the Tory party’.

A businessman asked why parties would not give a referendum on membership of Europe.

Mr Lomas clashed with him and said: “If you don’t like Europe then vote for a party here that will get you out of Europe.”

Mr Baker said the ‘straw that broke this camel’s back’ was that the UK ‘threw away democratic control’. He said: “The most important political right is to be able to dismiss your Government at the ballot box.”

He said: “I don’t believe the Conservatives let you down on this. The pledge was referendum up to the point that the Lisbon Treaty was ratified and then after that the new policy would be announced.”

Mr Guy said: “Let’s not have a referendum on a treaty, let’s have a referendum on whether we are in or whether we are out.”

Mr Wiseman pledged a referendum. “This economic union has grown into a mega-state which has infiltrated into every aspect of our lives.”