Leicester West candidates debate social care, warm homes and 'Mickey Mouse' degrees

The Gazette hosted a hustings with candidates from five political parties at the Church of the Martyrs in Westcotes.

Leicester West candidates take questions from the audience.
Leicester West candidates take questions from the audience. Photograph: Megan Lupton / Great Central Gazette

Candidates from the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, Reform UK, One Leicester and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) faced questions over adult social care, warm homes and 'Mickey Mouse' degrees in a lively debate on Monday, 17 June. They told voters what hope they would offer local people — should they be elected.

The Labour Party, who currently hold the seat, did not attend after multiple attempts to contact them. In Leicester West, their candidate and sitting MP is Liz Kendall, a veteran politician who was first elected to the seat in 2010.

Two empty chairs at the candidates table: one for Labour, one for the Conservatives.
In journalism, an 'empty chair' refers to a situation where a person is invited to participate in a debate or interview, but they decline or fail to appear. As a result, their chair remains empty, symbolising their absence. Photograph: Megan Lupton / Great Central Gazette

The Conservative Party claimed that The Gazette did not inform them that the debate was happening, which we have thoroughly rebuked on X, formerly Twitter. Their candidate is Max Chauhan, a doctor and former councillor for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London.

The debate was chaired by Alistair Jones, associate professor in politics at De Montfort University, whose job was to make sure all candidates were heard.

Around 50 people gathered at the Church of the Martyrs in Westcotes to hear what candidates had to say.

How will the candidates help or change social care?

Steve Score, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition:

“There's been cuts for years in real terms and there's insufficient staff. The money needs to go in to have enough social workers to actually be able to do the job. It's the same issue in the NHS and public services in general. That's why healthcare assistants have been on picket lines outside the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

“I've been fully supporting all of them because part of solving the crisis in social care, in the NHS and in other public services is to pay a decent wage. Then you'll get more people wanting to go into that sector.”

Benjamin Feist, Liberal Democrats:

“We've been very clear that we want free personal social care for all disabled and elderly adults so that they can get the care that they need at home.

“For paid carers, we want to introduce a new national minimum wage, which will be £2 an hour above minimum wage. We also want to make sure that we value unpaid carers, and we want to make sure that we have paid leave for unpaid workers.”

Rahoul Naik, One Leicester:

“There are massive recruitment issues with people coming from abroad. I'm sure my [Reform UK] colleague here will have an issue with people coming from abroad to fill those gaps. But we have to make it easier for people and also train those here in this country to make sure we can fill them too.”

Ian Hayes, Reform UK:

“Unfortunately, over many years, the consecutive governments have whittled away on our public services. Social care is valuable for our community. It helps those in need. My wife is registered disabled. She has mild learning difficulties. And she got the help she needed. Unfortunately, because of the cutbacks, she no longer gets that social care.

“We need a new government in place that will commit to getting all these services back on track and back into the public eye so we can cater for those in need.”

Aasiya Bora, Green Party:

“There's currently 150,000 staff vacancies in the care sector and nearly five million unpaid carers. So to address this crisis, the Green Party MPs will push for investment of £20 billion to introduce free personal care. This was successfully brought in by the Scottish Government. [We will] follow that model to ensure dignity in old age for disabled people and increased pay rates for social workers. We will also introduce a career structure for carers to rebuild the care workforce.”

Should schools teach children that there are more than two genders?

Rahoul Naik, One Leicester:

“If things are happening around your children, they need to understand what's going on. So, this idea of we must only teach the two genders because that's what we believe is not the way.

“My view is you have to teach children about the reality they're living in, not a dystopian one we wish they were.”

Aasiya Bora, Green Party:

“My sister's a science teacher, and she would say gender dysphoria exists without a shadow of a doubt. People need to understand this and deal with it with incredible sensitivity and with the care that they need. In my personal view, God created all of us in our own unique ways, so yes, there can be more than two genders. How you then teach about that is each teacher will do it sensitively and sensibly according to their own ethics and conscience. Green Party MPs will not be whipped to follow a particular line.”

Steve Score, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition:

“I’m opposed to all forms of discrimination and oppression. The Tories have used this as a political weapon. They have ramped up the whole issue to try to get votes. It's very damaging and it's very dangerous.

“I think in schools there should be the idea of tolerance taught that people who identify in a different way to you have a right to identify in that particular way.”

Ian Hayes, Reform UK:

“I was taught biology way back in the 60s and 70s, and I know for a fact there are only two genders, not 112.

“If teachers want to teach gender ideology in classrooms with drag queens, they are in breach of the duty of care to their students. This should be stopped. Any teacher wishing to carry that subject on should be sacked. There's just two genders, end of.”

Benjamin Feist, Liberal Democrats:

“We champion diversity, and Leicester is a fine example of how diversity brings us all together to make a better community. At the end of the day, we need to remember that each and every person is a human being that deserves love and respect, regardless of your background, regardless of who you are. As a liberal, we believe that people should have the freedom to live how they want to live as long as it doesn't impact another person.”

How will candidates solve the issue of violent crime?

Benjamin Feist, Liberal Democrats:

“Crime impacts everybody and that's a problem. What we want to do is we want to go back to a model of community policing so that you know who your police officer is, and they know who you are. We also need to look at reoffending because our criminal system isn't working if people leave prison and then they reoffend and some of that is because of inequality and issues with employment and housing and other things.

"We need to have a prison system that actually rehabilitates, so we need to look at other countries who have much lower reoffending rates than us, like Norway and Switzerland and places like that. So we can actually educate and improve the lives of offenders so that they don't come back out and reoffend.”

Ian Hayes, Reform UK:

“The reason we have such high crime in our country is because we're having loads of young single men coming into the country who we know nothing about. They're coming to this country, but we don't know what criminal records they've got.

“We must bring the police back to how they should be, with old-fashioned coppers to do the job. We need to get 40,000 officers back onto the streets.”

Rahoul Naik, One Leicester:

“More funding needs to be done on prevention instead of just trying to solve the crime that's happening on the street now. Knife crime is a massive issue in Leicester West. Just during this election period, we've seen that in places like New Parks, for example, but if you look at those areas you can see it isn't because people are waking up and choosing crime. It's because they're resorting to because they don't have other options.

“We have to give young people more opportunities as they're going through life and show them there are different routes of being able to succeed. We have to ensure that people have the food on their tables, and make sure that they have the money that they need through things."

Aasiya Bora, Green Party:

“We should have police men and women embedded in the community, like they have done in Devon and Cornwall. Evidence based policing where the police, where the embedded police, work with NHS, mental health services and social care so they work as a kind of cohesive system.”

Steve Score, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition:

“I think we need proper democratic community control over the police. The Police and Crime Commissioner is one person and doesn't really have control over the police in terms of operational dealings of the police. You need elected police committees to control the police that are directly accountable to their communities.”

What are the candidates' views on the devaluation of higher education, particularly 'Mickey Mouse' degrees?

Ian Hayes, Reform UK:

“With higher education, we must look at it so [students] get proper degrees, get properly trained so that when they come into working life, they can integrate into the community and be valued by the community and what they do.”

Steve Score, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition:

“Higher education is extremely valuable. I think it should be properly funded by the government. Education should be free. Tuition fees should be scrapped. The money should be put in that is actually needed. There should be more access to higher education for people of all ages as well.

“And there should be alternatives. There are other routes, like apprenticeships, but fund them both and fund them properly. That's what I would argue, free education for all.”

Benjamin Feist, Liberal Democrats:

“The biggest issue for getting people into university is to be able to actually maintain their time at university by supporting themselves whilst they're there. We need to reinstate maintenance grants so that people from underprivileged backgrounds don't have problems accessing university.

“We also want to look at lifelong skills grants of up to £10,000 for every adult because not everybody wants to go to university. But you could use it for going to university, or you can use it for other training and retraining when people change their careers.”

Rahoul Naik, One Leicester:

“This idea of Mickey Mouse degrees only comes from the fact that people devalue different types of work. Actually, we need people with all sorts of skills in the economy because we can't run without it. If we want an economy that's fuelled by people that are from here, rather than having to rely on immigrant labour, for example, you have to diversify your workforce.”

Aasiya Bora, Green Party:

“I'll keep it brief: Greens want the restoration and maintenance grants. They want to end tuition fees. They also want to invest heavily in sports, culture, and arts for all.”

What plans have you got to reduce carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty?

Rahoul Naik, One Leicester:

“We want to see a reintroduction of grants and discounts and make sure people can pay their bills. We need to make sure big oil and gas companies have a windfall tax because they're making way too much profit when many people are in poverty.”

Aasiya Bora, Green Party:

“Every single person deserves a warm, safe, affordable home to live in. So new homes should be built to very, very high standards. We also want to retrofit thousands of older homes across the country.”

Benjamin Feist, Liberal Democrats:

“I'm really glad that you brought up insulation because it's one of our key policies in order to meet net-zero, but also to bring down energy bills. We want to insulate all of Britain's homes with free retrofitting for the lowest income people and grants for others. We also want to roll out heat pumps to low-income families as well.

“So not only insulating, but also changing the way people get their energy as well, so that we can act on the climate emergency now."

Steve Score, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition:

“Yes, we need a mass programme of insulation of homes paid for by the government. We also need a mass council house building programme because one issue that hasn't been dealt with is the housing crisis that exists.

“You can focus on brownfield sites for that as well, and those new homes obviously should be built to high standards that include insulation and so on. Insulation alone doesn't solve it, and we also need, in my view, those big energy companies that make billions of pounds of with profits to be publicly owned.”

Ian Hayes, Reform UK:

“I have to agree with some of my colleagues in respect of renewable energy and insulating the homes. However, with regard to wind farms or solar farms, we cannot have them being built on farmland. We must retain our farmland so that we can have our own produce to feed our own people.”

Who came out on top?

50 people in the audience at the Leicester West hustings. Some are clapping.
There were moments when the room erupted in applause, but at other times, candidates failed to gain support for their policies. Photograph: Megan Lupton / Great Central Gazette

In a last-minute jab at his rival candidates, Feist asked, “how many candidates here actually live in Leicester West?” Only Feist and Score raised their hands. According to the official nominations papers, Bora lives in Leicester South, Hayes lives in Syston, and Naik lives in Leicester East. Kendall, who did not attend, lives in Leicester West, while Chauhan lives in Chelsea and Fulham.

Likely, Kendall will be reelected, but Leicester West is by no means a 'safe seat'. At the 2019 general election, Labour's majority was 4,212, which is low enough for the Conservatives to take the seat in this election. We can at least expect to see a reduced majority, with many Labour votes going towards smaller parties.

Regardless, the feeling in the room was that One Leicester, the Liberal Democrats and TUSC had a strong showing, whereas Reform UK and the Green Party fell short with answers that failed to rouse any applause.

Voters will head to the polls on Thursday, 4 July to decide which candidate and party should represent them in parliament.

  • Find your candidates, polling station, key dates, previous general election results, and more here.
  • Help fund our general election coverage in our new crowdfunder here.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Great Central Gazette.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.