The final candidate to face the students was Liberal Democrat’s Steve Bradley, who hopes to keep the city liberal when Bath’s current MP Don Foster stands down in May after 23 years. Smartly dressed, complete with golden tie, Steve showed himself to be a strong contender and a likeable character, even in front of a demographic hostile to his party.
Steve predictably opened with tales from his student days in Bath, where he studied BBA, resided in Conygre 3 and, of course, was the Jordan Kenny of the early nineties, as SU president two years running. This led nicely on to his political “journey”, from his first (tactical) vote for the Lib Dems, in 1992 when Don won his seat, to his political awakening from his “utter dismay” at the Iraq war. Next, he helpfully explained the mechanics of a coalition, applauding his party for firmly “anchoring the government in the centre ground” after years of “lurching from Left to Right”.
Steve remained confident and full of answers during the prepared questions. The only solution to affordable housing in Bath was to “build more”, a proposed 300 000 a year from publically-owned land. For the man who “personally designed the U18” when he was SU president, cheaper buses and segregated cycling routes were the answer to Bath’s transport problem, and a new business district called ‘Innovation Quay’ would incite Bath graduates to stay in the city. A question on the youth voter turnout allowed him to brand the current voting system as “archaic, out of date and totally broken” and he even brought out a framed cover story he wrote for an earlier version of bathimpact on student apathy, which now adorns his office wall, perhaps next to his SU president manifesto?
Then came the wrath of the student voice, beginning with a fierce attack on the unsolicited email Bath students received on 7 February from Steve himself. Although “genuinely apologetic”, Steve was more keen to highlight how it was done (peoplefinder apparently) than why. Questions followed on less controversial topics: alcohol and drugs (“the Lib-Dems have the most grown-up approach of all the major parties”), the armed forces (“I’m absolutely against the use of trident”) and the EU (“it would be difficult not to have a referendum”).
However, it wasn’t long before “the elephant in the room” reared its ugly head. Steve managed to keep his head above water when defending his party’s broken pledge on tuition fees, stating that they would have delivered it in an all Lib Dem government. He even turned the issue on its head by evoking the fact that it was the Lib Dems who secured a cap on the £9000 figure. He was subsequently called up on his earlier claim that his party had delivered the other 80 percent of its pledges by being asked to name three (he chose no taxation for those earning under £10,500, extra support for the poorest and the rise in state pension).
Overall, Steve Bradley gave a charismatic and assured performance, avoiding too many awkward questions. “I’m not a gambling man”, he said, but the odds are on the Lib-Dems keeping their seat at 3/1, with “the only other party that can win”, the Conservatives, narrowly behind at 4/1. As Don Foster’s most likely successor, Steve was asked if he could match the former’s personality. Complementing Don on his “fantastic” work, he also reminded us that he was his “own person”. And did I mention he was SU president (twice)?