PARLIAMENTARY candidates clashed over immigration, the NHS, the economy, and even Southend Pier as they spoke at the first Echo hustings event.

Five candidates vying to become the new MP for Rochford and Southend East met at All Saints Church, in Sutton Road, Southend, to answer questions put by members of the public.

Peter Gwizdala for the Liberal Democrats was joined by the Green Party’s Simon Cross, Floyd Waterworth for Ukip, Labour’s Ian Gilbert and Conservative James Duddridge.

Mr Duddridge, who is battling for a third term as MP, opened the night by saying: “Locally, I have been active in helping 20,428 constituents over the last ten years.”

Mr Cross, who got the only round of applause of the evening when his said his party would go after tax-dodging firms, set out his stall saying: “This is the most important election for a decade.

Right to Buy was a disaster. We need affordable homes.”

Some of the biggest clashes on the night were on the EU with Mr Waterworth arguing the case for leaving the union and Mr Duddridge saying Britain should re-negotiate a different treaty. The other three candidates pushed to stay in the EU.

One of the most popular issues raised by the audience of around 50 people was the NHS.

Mr Gilbert, also deputy leader of Southend Council, said: “The big issue is the future of the NHS. Our NHS can’t take another five years of Conservative government.”

Mr Gwizdala, only announced as a candidate last week, said: “For the best part of the last two or three decades I have been involved in the Army. The one thing that teaches you is fairness. That is what I will bring to this constituency.”

MY VIEW By IAN BURBIDGE - Event helped inform public

DESPITE the general election being a month away, and in a constituency regarded as a safe Conservative seat, people turned out to have their say.

That should tell you how important this election is shaping up to be.

A host of different topics were discussed, from the NHS, to welfare, to the economy.

A lot of those policies can be translated to local issues – the bedroom tax or clogged up roads – and people had a chance to ask the Lib Dems and Tories to justify those policies.

James Duddridge spoke about his second home and travel expenses in London – finding an unlikely ally in Ukip candidate Floyd Waterworth.

He also spoke honestly about his Government failing on immigration and his belief that we should come out of the EU before re-negotiating entry.

There was huge applause for all the candidates at the end and we hope it gave voters in Rochford and Southend East a clearer idea of what their candidates stand for and what they would do if elected.