Eastern Eye held its first-ever political debate last week, with representatives of the three main parties appealing for votes from the Asian community.
The hustings saw Michael Gove, Conservative party candidate for Surrey Heath and former education secretary; Ivan Lewis, Labour candidate for Bury South; and Baroness Susan Kramer, minister of state for transport and former Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, set out their party’s policy ideas in the run up to the general election on May 7.
EE’s Reena Kumar and Imran Choudhury joined around 200 guests, including businessmen, retailers, activists and politicians at the May Fair Hotel in central London last Wednesday (15). BBC Asian Network presenter DJ Nihal chaired the debate and grilled the politici-ans on issues ranging from immigration and diversity in boardrooms to the economy and skills shortages in the restaurant industry.
Baroness Susan Kramer: “The Asian community, which is a very broad term, contributes so much to the UK. I think very often our public services are very business orientated. Part of that backbone of business is entrepreneurship that is absolutely vital to the future of the UK.
“Nick Clegg recently introduced our manifesto. We all recognise that it’s pretty certain there is going to be a hung parliament at the general election. The underlying point he made is that our role, if we had the chance to go back into coalition, if there is a basis for proper negotiation with whatever party the British public choose to be the one with the most seats or votes, then we are in a situation where we bring heart to the Conservative party and frankly, brain power to the Labour party.
“We stand for the sane centre and that is crucial. When people think of the possibility where you can have the Conservatives working in some sort of alliance with UKIP or the Labour party working in some sort of alliance with the SNP, I think that pull to the extremes is not what anyone is looking for.
“The economy continues to be a priority. We will bring down the structural deficit by 2017/18 but after that, we have the flexibility to do things differently and make sure as we continue to reduce debt, we are not slashing away at welfare which is the Conservative position and not overburdening with tax or borrowing, which is the Labour position.”
Ivan Lewis: “This election is the highest stakes election in a generation. The choice is stark – a Labour government managing the nation’s finances in a responsible way while introducing radical changes so our country once again works for working people. Or the Tories who will continue to run the country in the interest of a few and are, frankly, being reckless by offering over £20 billion of spending and tax pledges which are unfunded and undeliverable.
“We will create the jobs of the future and invest in skills by devolving funding to support partnerships between business and cities and city regions. We’ll increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2019, introduce a 10p starting rate of tax and offer tax breaks to employers paying the living wage. While the Tory priority is a millionaire’s tax cut.
“We’ll end the wholesale privatisation of the NHS, recruiting thousands of nurses, care workers and doctors, funded on a mansion tax and taxes on tobacco companies. The Tories will finish their project of turning our national health service into a market where hospitals are treated like competing supermarkets.
“We’ll restore the age-old covenant that every generation should do better than the last by backing the younger generation, protecting education funding, cutting tuition fees and guaranteeing apprenticeships to every young person who gets the grades .
“We’ll clamp down on unfair rates on tenants in the private rented sector and build an extra 200,000 new affordable houses per year by the end of the parliament.
“In foreign policy, we will stand up for human rights, in-cluding demanding truth and justice for Sri Lankan Tamil victims. The choice couldn’t be clearer in this groundbreaking historic election.”
Michael Gove: “It’s an old comment that you can normally tell when a politician is lying because you can see their lips moving. But I want to commend one politician for telling the truth, and it was Labour’s Liam Byrne, who was the treasury minister. When he left office in 2010, he left a note for his successor saying simply, ‘there is no money left’.
“When this government was formed in 2010, we were deep in debt and our deficit was spiralling out of control, but as a result of the decisions taken by David Cameron and George Osborne over the last five years, we have restored our economy to health.
“It’s now the case that we have the fastest-growing economy in the developed world. Thanks to the hard work and enterprise of people in this country, we have created 1.9 million new jobs, more jobs in this country than the whole of the EU combined, more jobs in Yorkshire than the whole of France combined.
“Over the next five years, we want to build on that shared success. We want the economic recovery to work for everyone in our country. That’s why we want to lower taxation for working people, invest in getting more people on the housing ladder and why we also want to make sure our NHS has its funding protected and our schools are better than ever. There’s an optimistic vision of the future which we have won as a result of the sacrifices of the past.
“We can secure that vision if we secure a Conservative majority at the next election.”