FIRST-TIME voters grilled Basildon and Billericay’s election candidates during the last Echo hustings event of the General Election campaign.

More than 100 sixth-form students were among the audience at Billericay School, who sat watching three potential MPs vying for their votes.

Conservative John Baron, Labour’s Gavin Callaghan and Ukip’s George Konstantinidis answered questions on topics including immigration, tuition fees and building homes on the green belt.

Liberal Democrat candidate Martin Thompson, whose registered address is near London’s Marylebone station, was not present at the meeting.

The hustings, which was jointly organised with Churches Together, was introduced by the Rev Paul Carr and chaired by Father Dominic Howarth.

Questions were submitted for the candidates in advance - submitted by both students and members of the public who attended the debate.

Fiona Smith, head of sixth form at Billericay School, said: “It is the first hustings we have held at the school.

“I just think it is so important young people are engaged in democracy and they have been so enthusiastic.”

The debate started in passionate fashion, as Ukip candidate Mr Konstantinidis was the first to give his opening two-minute pitch to the audience.

He appealed to the teens listening, saying he wanted the youth to have hope, while criticising the “hand to mouth” reality of the current economic situation.

Mr Callaghan, 26, who is a Basildon borough councillor, told the students he was inspired to get involved with politics due to the “unequal” Britain created by David Cameron’s Government.

Tory Mr Baron, who was first elected to Parliament in 2001, stressed the importance of an MP serving his constituents first, but also pointed to his party’s effective action to tackle unemployment, particularly among young people.

The debate moved to immigration and the European Union, and there was laughter among the audience as the Labour candidate responded to his Ukip opponent’s calls for a tougher points-based immigration system.

Referring to Greek-born Mr Konstantinidis, Mr Callaghan said: “I think immigration is a good thing. I like George - I think it's good he's here."

Both the Tory and Ukip candidates backed the idea of a referendum on EU membership, while Mr Callaghan said the country had bigger priorities and did not believe the estimated £100million cost of holding the vote was worthwhile.


James Tyrrell, 18, of Billericay, said: “I thought they helped us all understand who we want to vote for.
“It helped clear certain things up, because when I’ve watched the debates on TV there were certain things I didn’t understand.
“I now understand what each of them stand for.”

Aiysha Khan, 18, of Wickford, said: “This really helped me understand more about what all the candidates and parties really mean.
“It was good to learn what they all thought about issues like the European Union and student fees, because they are important to me.”

Sunaina Bhoghun, 18, of Basildon, said: “I am hoping to go to university so I was glad they discussed tuition fees during the debate.
“I have definitely got a clearer view than I had before as a result of listening to them all speaking here.”

Ajab Durrani, 18, of Billericay, said: “I came not knowing who to vote for, but they made their points really clearly.
“They all made their positions on immigration pretty clear, which was really useful for me.”