Cambridge parliamentary candidates clashed over the bedroom tax last night as the General Election campaign entered its final week.
The King’s Politics hustings event, the biggest of its kind to take place during the Cambridge campaign, saw all five parties contesting the tight marginal tackle issues spanning the case for a third runway at Heathrow to immigration policy.
One of the Liberal Democrat MPs to oppose the Coalition’s decision to triple tuition fees, Julian Huppert used his opening remarks to highlight recent praise from the NUS who commended him this week as “a great friend to the student movement”, citing his campaign to protect the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
Dr Huppert again emphasised his opposition to tuition fees, though also took the opportunity to dismiss Labour’s pledge to cut fees by one third as “a regressive thing to do”, suggesting it would benefit only rich graduates.
Mental health also featured as a focal point with both Labour’s Daniel Zeichner and Julian Huppert pledging that this would be a priority for their parties in government.
The more heated exchanges of the evening came, however, when Huppert was challenged over his controversial decision to support the ‘bedroom tax’.
The Green Party’s Rupert Read was the first to prompt audience applause by attacking the Lib Dem’s support for the policy, while Labour’s Daniel Zeichner argued that council houses were not simply “pawns to be moved around on a chessboard”, with UKIP’s Patrick O’Flynn also denouncing the measure.
Huppert claimed to have received a guarantee from Ian Duncan Smith on the floor of the House of Commons (itself a legally binding commitment) that the policy would not apply to occupants lacking a feasible alternative home.
He appeared to become irate at the coordinated attacks from his opponents as hand written notes were shared across the panel.
However, the debate failed to offer clarity for some. Afterwards, one student told The Cambridge Student: “I’m still none the wiser. I like Huppert, he knows his stuff but I’m worried that voting for him would support another Conservative government.”
“Zeichner scored some cheap points tonight and it’s still a vote for one of the big two. Read is sparky but if I vote Green I’d be splitting the left-wing vote and I’d never trust them in government anyway.”
This sentiment seems to echo that of the many undecided student voters who will ultimately decide the election race here in Cambridge.
Recent polling by TCS suggests a decent Labour lead among the student body. The key questions remain the ability of the Lib Dems to retain support with a strong local candidate and Labour’s best efforts to avoid shedding support to the Greens.