Yarmouth a key area says leading Tory

PUBLISHED: 15:10 23 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:24 30 June 2010

John Owens

A HIGH-POWERED politician told students if the Conservatives did not win Great Yarmouth at the next election then David Cameron would not be prime minister.

A HIGH-POWERED politician told students if the Conservatives did not win Great Yarmouth at the next election then David Cameron would not be prime minister.

Chairman of the party Eric Pickles was joined by prospective Tory candidate Brandon Lewis in a wide-ranging discussion with students from East Norfolk Sixth Form College.

The questioning took place on Monday in the college library and covered topics ranging from Afghanistan to student fees. Many of the audience were from the college's five politics classes, but the event was open to any others not stuck in exams.

Adam Robertson, an 18-year-old politics student, thought such debates were important because they allowed people like him to get beyond the “Punch and Judy” displays and find out about real policies.

He heard Mr Pickles say he thought the general election would go ahead on May 6 alongside local elections, before adding the students were lucky to be able to vote in a hotly contested area - Yarmouth is likely to be one of the key battleground constituencies.

But Mr Pickles warned his party couldn't take an election victory for granted. He added: “It's far from a certainty that there's going to be a Conservative government, and it will require an historic swing.”

Then the questions began.

After dismissing rumours that student loans would be set on commercial rates under a Tory government, he argued against proportional representation, calling it “evil”, and said there was “a great mismatch between current training and job vacancies” which needed to be addressed.

He then warned that the growth in power of government threatened moving power away from the people and into the hands of “third parties.”

When probed on Afghanistan, he asserted the Tories would set up a war cabinet as well as prepare a withdrawal strategy, while in response to being quizzed on the status of Lord Ashcroft, their controversial donor, he insisted all rules had been followed in receiving money.

It was after an hour, and a question about inheritance tax, that Mr Pickles and Mr Lewis, who contributed to the discussion throughout, left the college to mixed opinions.

Michael Niddrie-Webb, who wants to study PPE at UEA, asked a number of questions throughout and was impressed by Mr Pickles, saying: “I'm not a Conservative, but I thought that his responses were really good and there weren't any obvious dodges on his part.”

However, 17-year-old Bethan Chilvers was less impressed, and thought he had avoided answering some questions.

Away from the crowd, keen cook Mr Pickles tipped fellow enthusiast chefs on the key to his speciality - beouf bourguignon - by saying “don't be afraid of using garlic”, but said schools should decide themselves on whether cooking lessons should be obligatory.

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