April 22, 2015
Heckler disrupts Burnham election hustings during candidates debate

Over 200 residents crowded into a Burnham-On-Sea church to hear the views of four of the town's General Election candidates during a special hustings event on Tuesday (April 21st).

The event, held at Burnham Baptist Church, saw James Heappey (Conservative), Jon Cousins (Green), Chris Inchley (Labour) and Tessa Munt (Lib Dem) answer a series of questions on topical issues submitted by local people.

The proceedings were interrupted when a heckler angrily voiced his concerns that residents had not been able to voice their views during the debate. But Chairwoman Ruth Chambers, who is a Chair of Governors at Berrow CoE School, expertly kept the evening moving to schedule.

The event was exclusively live-streamed on, the first time that a Burnham event of this type has been broadcast live. Watch the video here.

The evening started with a question about how tax breaks could be funded by the parties without increasing the national debt.

James Heappey said that cutting the deficit is a priority. "Paying off the national debt is so important," he said. "If we could clear the debt we could fund the whole of the NHS in year three."

Jon Cousins said that "getting tough on tax evasion and tax avoidance and stopping tax breaks" is important for him.

And Chris Inchley said he's concerned that the "wealthiest in the land pay the least", adding: "We're told that we're all in this together - if we are, we should all contribute and share in the wealth."

Tessa Munt said she is keen to see the tax threshold lifted to help those on low pay. "There are many low earners who would benefit," she said. She went on to say that it's "ludicrous that council tax homes are being sold off - absolutely mad."

A second question followed on pensioners struggling to find employment and what the priorities should be. The panel agreed that more could be done to helping older people to find work locally while also encouraging younger people into jobs too.

The next question focussed on the UK's foreign aid budget. Chris Inchley said: "I support 0.7% of our GDP being spent on foreign development aid - all nations should do the same."

Tessa Munt said it is "absolutely right", adding that "we should make sure people have food, water and shelter" because we are "world leaders and should lead the way."

James Heappey disagreed, saying: "I feel funding for foreign aid could be more dynamic," explaining that the level should not be ring-fenced but be more flexible to meet the needs of foreign policy.

Jon Cousins said he "applauds the Lib Dems" on their foreign aid policy and added that "we should be leading the world on this - it is part of our foreign commitment to the world."

The next question focussed on education and asked whether more trust and respect should be placed on local school headteachers.

Tessa Munt said she had "every sympathy" with teachers, conceding that an "extra burden" had been placed on them in recent years by the government even though "extra millions had been invested in schools in the area" and that free school meals had been a great Lib Dem initiative.

James Heappey answered: "Education should be focussed on pupils," and he added: "I don't accept that we need to reform education back to teachers in schools." He also added: "I struggle with the ever increasing importance placed on academic grades... when education is about creating opportunities for all."

Jon Cousins said he was "amazed" by Mr Heappey's response: "Education is not a means to an end - it's not about creating economic units who go out to work". He added that the Greens policy is to support education locally and that he also wants to see smaller class sizes.

Chris Inchley said: "Teachers are the most important people - I believe we should give total respect to them." He said that he would support removing free schools and reducing class sizes.

Chairman Ruth Chambers posed the next questions to the candidates on the NHS, and then on to fracking when all four candidates were opposed to the process being considered for the Mendips.

The debate then saw a lively discussion about whether the Human Rights Act should be repealed and replaced by a Bill Of Rights. A further question followed on whether suicide and euthanasia should be legalised when the panel members shared some of their own emotional family experiences with the audience.

The hustings concluded with a light-hearted question about which cake best represents them and why.

James Heappey said he'd choose a either Rocky Road that "may not be good to look at, but which leaves the eater satisified" or a Victoria Sponge that is "quintessentially British."

Jon Cousins said he'd pick a Wedding Cake "to show the perfect marriage between the economy and a sustainable future." Chris Inchley said he'd choose an Apple Turnover with its sweet coating and fruit inside.

Tessa Munt added that she'd pick an Apple Cheesecake "since apples and cheese are so well known from Somerset."

Pictures; the candidates at Tuesday's debate (Photos; Steve Ayers and

Click here for the full list of local candidates standing in the General Election


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