Commentators, journalists, and pollsters alike have concluded that the outcome of the 2015 general election is just too close to call. Even the formidable Jeremy Paxman has stated that only a ‘complete fool’ would try to predict the result.
The Scoop has been having a campaign of our own in trying to track down all political candidates who’re standing in the constituency where Queen’s University resides, Belfast South.
Last Tuesday, the Great Hall at Queen’s played host to the South Belfast candidates, as the School of Politics, International Studies, and Philosophy organised a hustings event, giving students and residents of the area ample opportunity to grill the politicians on whatever issues they liked. (Or at least most of the candidates anyway. The DUP’s Jonathan Bell didn’t attend. The incumbent SDLP MP, Alasdair McDonnell, was replaced by SDLP MLA Fearghal McKinney, and the Workers Party candidate Lily Kerr was replaced by colleague Paddy Lynn).
The evening, which lasted well over two hours, provided copious amounts of robust debate, but by the end of the evening I think most people were glad to head home. We didn’t let the candidates escape just so easily. I wanted to talk to the Alliance Party candidate Paula Bradshaw specifically about tuition fees, because the Alliance Party hold the Department of Employment and Learning Ministry (DEL), which, in the future would be responsible for any rise in tuition fees.
I felt that, during the hustings, when Paula Bradshaw was asked about tuition fees, her answer wasn’t initially all that clear and it almost seemed like at one point she was attempting to offload the topic to Minister Farry.
But Paula explained, “the reason I referenced Dr Farry is because, this is his portfolio and he’s privy to information that I’m not as a Councillor. So it was more not to undermine anything that he may bring forward in the Assembly at another stage”.
Paula Bradshaw went on to add that her personal preference would be “to keep them [tuition fees] just where they are.”
With Paula seemingly being a staunch advocate of keeping tuition fees at their current level in Northern Ireland, I asked her how much sway she could have as a Member of Parliament, over her own Minister.
“I think that the problem is that, if we value our education system, we are going to have to ensure that it has enough money to deliver, and I think that that’s where it is. And that’s my point; that Dr Farry is going to have to look at options about how he can fund the system.”
She also said that if there were issues she wanted to raise with Dr Farry, he would certainly make time for her.
In a campaign that has lacked any real spark, one notable feature has been the distinct lack of women candidates standing in Northern Ireland’s 18 constituencies. At the South Belfast hustings this became part of the discussion for a short period of time, as Paula Bradshaw claimed that one reason for her leaving the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) was because she came face to face within sexism. Not long after this occurred, she left the UUP and joined the Alliance Party.
I asked Paula what she had meant. She told me that during her selection process in the UUP, “I was asked questions about childcare, and when somebody raised it with the Party Council and said that it’s not right that the other candidates – who have children of the same age – were not asked the same question, they said there’s no case to answer there.”
You can hear Paul’s full interview with Paula here.