Battle for Clacton: By-election candidates in TV debate

The Battle for Clacton debate Image copyright EAST NEWS PRESS AGENCY
Image caption Candidates from the Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party, Labour, Conservatives and the Green Party took part in the debate

Thousands of people have the chance to vote in what could be a landmark poll on Thursday. Triggered by Douglas Carswell's defection from the Conservatives to the UK Independence Party, the by-election could see Nigel Farage's party gain its first parliamentary seat.

Eight candidates will battle it out to be elected - and the five main parties have taken part in a 40-minute debate, organised by BBC Look East and held at a golf club in Clacton.

Here's what five of the candidates had to say on three main topics:

Doctor's orders: Healthcare

Image caption From left to right: Andy Graham, Douglas Carswell, Tim Young, Giles Watling and Chris Southall

After being asked for their views on healthcare and how to attract GPs to the area, it did not take long before the candidates were clamouring to talk over each other and put forward their plans.

Liberal Democrat candidate Andy Graham said he was concerned about GPs leaving the area.

"Many of them are suffering under enormous strain. We have good GPs here, but stress is driving them to resign," he said.

"There needs to be an answer. Maybe it should be a cross-party issue."

Things got a bit heated when Labour's candidate Tim Young claimed UKIP's Douglas Carswell would "charge people to see a GP, making them haggle for appointments" - something he claimed to have read in a book written by Mr Carswell.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionA book written by Douglas Carswell provided a point of debate

Mr Young produced a copy of the quote, shouting over the other candidates to be heard when reading it out.

Mr Carswell responded by saying his book "talks about changing the way money is allocated".

"I believe NHS money needs to follow the patient. It wouldn't be about people using their own money privately," he said.

Mr Young added Labour had "put the NHS at the forefront of the political agenda".

"We put money in and created 8,000 new GPs during our time in government," he said.

"But more now need to be recruited and trained."

GP shortages

in Tendring


residents without a GP

  • 19 practices serve Tendring

  • 123,500 people served by them

  • 1,800 patients managed by each GP

  • 9 GP vacancies in the area


His words were greeted with a flurry of raised hands from members of the audience, many of whom agreed GPs were not coming to work in the area.

Green candidate Chris Southall claimed UKIP's stance on immigration would deter foreign doctors from coming to work in Clacton.

"If you were a GP, would you come to live here?" he asked.

Conservative candidate Giles Watling was asked if he could defend David Cameron's privatisation of back office health services in Clacton.

"It's all to do with efficiency," replied Mr Watling. "It's to keep frontline services going."

Image caption Clacton's seaside resort was founded by a civil engineer, Peter Bruff, in 1871

"The Conservatives have brought 800 doctors to the East of England since 2010. But we need to do more."

After the five men had responded to questions about healthcare, a video was played out of the three candidates who were not at the debate.

Dr Bruce Sizer, an independent, spoke of the importance of healthcare spending because of the area's demographic. He has previously said the issues of housing and economy went hand-in-hand with improving healthcare standards.

Another independent candidate, Charlotte Rose, talked about the need for better education around sex and relationships.

The Monster Raving Loony Party's candidate, Howling Laud Hope, spoke about his idea to turn the Clacton area into a "Disneyland-style resort" to boost tourism and the local economy.

Money talks: The economy

Image caption The candidates debated issues including housing, the economy and health

"How would you stop rising unemployment levels for people my age?" asked a youthful looking man in the audience.

Mr Young said youth unemployment was an issue coming up "time and time again."

"Young people who grow up here are leaving. We need to keep them, and incentivise companies to come and employ people here," he said.

"My party invested in Clacton, but that hasn't worked over last few years because of the coalition government."



  • Constituency created by boundary changes in 2010

  • Number of MPs in old seat from 1945-97: 3

  • Labour MP Ivan Henderson elected in 1997

  • MP Douglas Carswell resigned and defected on 28 August


The Greens' Mr Southall compared the issue of youth unemployment and a lack of new job creation to a "chicken and egg" situation.

"Which is which?" shouted a passionate audience member.

Mr Southall said: "The current government has announced jobseekers' allowance cuts for young people, and housing benefits cuts.

"How will anyone be able to look for jobs? There aren't the jobs here."

Mr Carswell said during his time as an MP, he had regularly offered advice and support to young people.

He said he believed the number of local apprenticeships needed to be increased.

Image caption The debate was hosted by BBC Look East presenter Stewart White

But he described the policy of removing benefits for young apprentices as "ridiculous".

Mr Graham, of the Liberal Democrats, said Westminster "needed to recognise this region needs support and investment".

"I'm talking long term," he said. "No one's been addressing the problem."

Mr Watling said his party had been investing in the area: "We've created 3,500 more jobs since we were elected in 2010.

"Here, we've put £50m into the district, with a huge new sea defence project, and the redevelopment of Jaywick," he said.

No place like home: Housing

Image caption In the last year, houses in Clacton-on-Sea were priced at an average of £154,308

The issue of housing was the last to be tackled during the at times fractious debate. And it was one that seemed to strike a chord with the audience, who were told 12,000 homes may be built in their area over the coming decades.

"Who will the houses be for? Local people, or London overspill?" someone asked.

Mr Carswell's answer was: "London overspill."

He went on: "Tending District Council had made a brilliant housing plan. I supported it, but a government official now says we need an extra 12,000 homes.

"I believe this should be a local decision."

Tendring District Council

including the Clacton constituency

  • 1 in 3 people is a pensioner

  • 1 in 7 people live in a deprived area

  • 1 in 5 children live in poverty


Mr Young said during his campaigning, he had heard many people express concern about where their children or grandchildren might live in the years to come, if houses were not built.

But when asked about local opposition to the planned homes, Mr Young replied: "People can't have it both ways".

"A housing plan needs to be properly planned and consulted," he added.

"The council's original plan didn't work, and wasn't sound."

When Mr Watling was asked for his opinion on the housing plans, he claimed Mr Carswell was using "UKIP scare tactics" in his response.

Image caption In Jaywick, near Clacton, house hunters can buy a two-bedroom detached bungalow for £44,995

"People need these 12,000 new homes," said Mr Watling.

"We need to bring people here to stimulate growth" - a claim that was greeted with ironic laughter by the audience members.

The suggestion of Green Party candidate Mr Southall was to build more on brownfield sites, and reduce the number of supermarkets being built in the area.

Mr Graham focused his argument on affordable housing, claiming there was not enough in the district.

"That's my number one priority," he added. "Let's not put loads of houses where there's no need."

The three candidates not on the panel have also previously highlighted the importance of housing.

Image caption From left to right: Douglas Carswell, Howling Laud Hope, Tim Young, Dr Bruce Sizer, Charlotte Rose, Giles Watling, Chris Southall and Andy Graham are the by-election candidates

Independent candidate Charlotte Rose said: "Clacton Council should ask for grants to convert private rented properties back to council-funded to help families."

Monster Raving Loony Party candidate Howling Laud Hope said if he won the seat, "new houses would be built, with realistic rents, for all people who need housing and are working".

Dr Bruce Sizer, another independent candidate, believed access to good quality housing would help to improve the health of the local population.

At the end of the proceedings, BBC Look East presenter and debate host Stewart White asked the candidates how many of them supported the plans for 12,000 new houses.

Image caption The debate was pre-recorded ahead of broadcast on BBC One in the east on Monday night

Two - Labour's Tim Young and Conservative Giles Watling - said yes.

When the 58-strong invited audience was asked the same question, six people indicated they were in favour.

Clacton's polling stations open on 9 October at 07:00 BST.

Join the debate on Twitter, by searching for #battleforclacton, or via the BBC Look East Facebook page.

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