Sixth Formers are a tough test

The hustings season began this week with two school “Question Time’ style events at Sir William Ramsay School and at Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School.

What was striking (and heartwarming) was the level to which these young people had thought about the issues in this election. Their questions were relevant and penetrating and gave us all on the panels a tough test.

There was a common theme at both schools where students were worried about the cost of further education. I know that my party is right to want to phase out university tuition fees. It cannot be right to saddle young people with £20,000 worth of debt before they even start to earn a living. It is well established that graduates will go on to earn more in their lifetime than the rest of us. This also means that they will pay more income tax and be less likely to become dependent on the state in the future. Investing in education is quite simply good value.

Young people also asked us about the how we can repay the massive amount of debt that the nation is now in, since we bailed out the banks. Let’s face it, the bank bailout has cost us an eyewatering amount of money. Young people leaving school this year are facing tough times ahead, of that there can be no doubt. There will have to be cuts, and I think all of the main parties recognise that. There are two challenges: what do we cut, and when. When is actually crucial. During the recession of the 1980s, the Tories under Margaret Thatcher cut too much, too soon. The result was spiralling unemployment, and a recession that was worse and went on for longer. The key is to monitor the heartbeat of the economy very closely and I know who I would trust to do that, our very own Vince Cable. On the subject of what we can cut, Vince has already identified a number of areas including Child Trust funds, ID cards and the replacement for Trident.

Young people also asked about the Cookham guest house incident, where a gay couple were turned away by the owners. Of course, I told them in no uncertain terms that I do not accept that turning them away was in any way a “Christian” act. I find it distinctly unChristian to make judgments about others in that way. I note with interest the reaction of Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, who appears not to fully support anti-discrimination law in this area.

Many young people stayed to talk to me after both events, and I found it very invigorating. They have views on all of these issues and more, and they have yet to become infected with the cynicism that infects us when we get older. I sincerely hope that those who are 18 by polling day exercise their newly granted right to have a say.