Julian Deverell, UKIP’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Bath, attracted an unsurprisingly high turnout to kick-start the first of Bath’s weekly election hustings events in the run up to May’s general election. Speaking in front of a packed lecture hall, Deverell answered questions on the cost of living, graduate employability, and student political engagement before the floor was opened to questions from the audience.
Deverell, a self-described maverick, was keen to highlight his libertarian roots and passion for democracy as he explained that the UK’s three party system was crumbling and that UKIP was the only party to “offer people a real choice”. If elected, Deverell vowed to campaign for small government and to strengthen democracy by reducing the number of unelected policy makers and allowing constituents to recall their MP at any time. Playing on the audience’s heartstrings, he stressed that unlike the other ‘legacy parties’, he would not be making any promises he could not keep, a reference to Nick Clegg’s decision to increase university tuition fees even after pledging not to.
The parliamentary candidate was grilled on UKIP’s ‘Policies for People’ election manifesto which includes a controversial policy of scrapping tuition fees exclusively for STEM students provided that they work in the UK for five years after graduation. Such a two tier system of subjects would see arts and humanities students leaving university with high amounts of crippling debt and a lower level of self-esteem. Wearing UKIP’s pound logo brooch, Deverell defended the policy by affirming the economic value of STEM subjects and stating that such a policy was the right step towards eventually entirely removing tuition fees for everyone. Ed Miliband on the other hand recently announced Labour’s intention to cap fees at £6000 for all students.
For a debate centred on student issues, Deverell, who left school at age 14, appeared to be uninformed about some vital issues such as the fluctuation of international student fees. This might not be surprising for a party which sources 70% of their support from people over the age of 50. Whilst claiming to not have any ‘silver bullets’, it seemed that Deverell did not even have any bronze bullets as he was unable to provide any details on specific policies that would positively affect students.
Despite projecting an anti-establishment and ordinary guy image, he often beat around the bush and failed to provide a concrete response on how to increase student voter turnout but also stressed that government was not the answer to all problems. He reminisced about his childhood days during which neighbour disputes in Oldfield Park between rowdy students and disgruntled pensioners were settled without council intervention.
To increase graduate employment prospects, Deverell argued that the government must create a suitable environment for business to flourish. As a small business owner himself, Deverell argued for a cut in taxes to consumers and corporations alike as well as a cutback in regulation.
Much to the horror of the audience, Deverell divulged his scepticism towards the idea of man-made climate change and argued for scrapping business unfriendly CO2 caps such as the 2008 Climate Change Act. He stated that air quality in Bath was actually decreasing and that environmental regulation only serves to make the environment worse.
There were however some issues on which common ground could be found. As a libertarian, Deverell voiced his concern over government interference in the private sphere and expressed his support for same-sex marriage legislation. He also said that he was not in favour of proposed changes which would see landlords being to pay council tax for student homes, citing fears that the cost would simply be passed on to student tenants.
As expected, the majority of people went into the debate anti-UKIP and came out anti-UKIP. Some of the questions asked by the witty audience were met with applause and laughter but Deverell remained friendly, calm, and collected throughout. University campuses are not know to be a haven for right-wing parties, but a lack of clear policies targeted at students and graduates made it impossible for Deverell and his party to gather any kind of support.