What we learned when Leicester East election candidates debated housing, immigration, crime, and the NHS

Local Democracy Reporter Hannah Richardson chaired an online hustings for Leicester East on Monday, 1 July.

The six candidates in attendance: Shivani Raja, Mags Lewis, Zuffar Haw, Rajesh Agrawal, Keith Vaz and Claudia Webbe.
The Leicester East hustings was run by the Local Democracy Reporting Service. Graphic: Surasti Puri and Rhys Everquill / Great Central Gazette

The Local Democracy Reporting Service grilled six of the Leicester East general election candidates on key election issues in a lively hustings broadcast live on Facebook on Monday. Claudia Webbe, Keith Vaz, Rajesh Agrawal, Shivani Raja, Mags Lewis and Zuffar Haq set out what they stand for and why they believe they deserve to be your next MP.

The debate covered the NHS, immigration, the economy, crime, and housing. While we saw moments of harmony and agreement between candidates, viewers will also have witnessed tempers flare and many fiery responses.

You can watch the full recording below, or alternatively read the highlights further down the page.

Credit: Local Democracy Reporting Service / Leicestershire Live

What is the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS)?

The LDRS is an initiative funded by the BBC. The scheme pays for the employment of journalists by local news outlets, to improve the coverage of issues relating to local democracy. Its core purpose is “to provide impartial coverage of the regular business and workings of local authorities in the UK, and other relevant democratic institutions such as mayoralties, combined authority areas, police and crime commissioners, quangos, etc.”

As of the 2021 contracting round, local democracy reporters (LDRs) in Leicester and Leicestershire are employed by Leicestershire Live, otherwise known as the Leicester Mercury. As a partner in the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the Great Central Gazette can use stories written by local LDRs at no cost.
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.


All the candidates at the debate accepted that work needed to be done by the next government to fix the crisis in the NHS. Liberal Democrat candidate Zuffar Haq told the audience he had visited Leicester’s A&E department at the start of the year and “was appalled” to see “so many people” waiting for beds. He said some had been there for “10 or 11” hours.

Green candidate Mags Lewis spoke of a recent trip to the hospital with her mother. She said they were waiting outside Leicester Royal Infirmary in an ambulance, adding there were “30 ambulances all stacked up.”

So what do our candidates believe needs to be done to fix the crisis in our hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and dentistry? Labour candidate Rajesh Agrawal said the current state of the NHS is “absolutely heartbreaking.”

He said: “[Labour] will introduce neighbourhood health services, bringing GPs, nurses, physios, mental health, all of that under one roof.” The party also plans to have 700,000 more emergency dental appointments and 40,000 hospital appointment a week, as well as recruiting 8,500 more mental health staff.

Conservative candidate Shivani Raja believes the key is “boosting productivity” and “bettering resources.” She said: “Our party manifesto has committed to 100 new GP surgeries and modernising 150 more GP hubs and community diagnostic centres.” Regarding dentistry, she said the focus should be on preventative measure around hygiene education and reducing sugar intake in kids.

One Leicester candidate, Keith Vaz said the heart of the issue lay in the “inability of people to access services.” He referenced the Merlyn Vaz Centre in North Evington, saying it could be “ideal for dental services.”

He added the government needs a better relationship with NHS staff, saying: “They provide those services, and unless we work with them, we cannot make a difference.”

Independent candidate Claudia Webbe said the NHS “is not failing, it is being failed” by political parties. She said: “We must end NHS privatisation, pay NHS workers a proper wage, […] we must ensure that everyone who needs to see a GP or dentist is able to do so without having to pay for the privilege, and we need a national care service too.”

The Liberal Democrats will “invest an extra £9 billion, particularly for cancer services and for freeing up GP appointments,” Haq said. It will also rework the GP booking system, so appointments can be secured up to seven days in advance. Responding to rates of dental decay in Leicester, he said some families “cannot afford toothpaste” and this should be provided to them for free.

Lewis said: “The Green Party will inject key funds into social care, we will increase the wages of doctors and nurses, which will help with retention. We will fight needless privatisation of our services, as this leads to fragmentation and cherry-picking. And the other priority is to ensure rapid access to GP and dental services.”


Our six candidates clashed last night on how best to ensure immigration is safe and fair for all. Some said we need action to stop the boats and control numbers, while others believe we need to open our arms to new arrivals.

Webbe was vehement in her defence of immigrants, accusing the Conservatives and Labour of “competing to be the most heartless about refugees.” She said the country requires “an immigration system that provides safe routes for those fleeing war, persecution and torture, and climate disaster.”

Lewis said the “real scandal” is that the country has “so many languishing in hotels.” She described it as a “hopelessness that must stop.”

She added: “We must have fair and fast processing. We also need to have safe legal routes for asylum seekers so that people can get to safety when they need to.”

She also wants to reduce income requirements for arrival, so families can join them, and feels more money should be sent to poor countries to tackle climate change and reduce climate-related immigration.

The Conservative Party “is the only party that has a plan for illegal immigrants,” Raja said, echoing much-repeated party lines. She said, “the right immigration” is good for the country, but “out of control immigration” needs to “be addressed.” She described the Rwanda flights as “a deterrent” and said she “strongly supports” the Conservative’s plan for an annual migration cap.

Agrawal disagreed with Raja’s assertion that only the Conservatives have an immigration plan, saying Labour will ban companies “who are breaking employment law” from hiring overseas. He said: “We need to end workplace exploitation where migration is used as a way to undercut the terms and conditions of the workers here, and we need more support to integrate the arrivals and ensure that there are jobs training support.”

The Lib Dems plan to stop the gangs through more enforcement, Haq said. He added: “We also need to be training and making sure apprenticeships are available so that we have the right skill mix for the jobs that we require in the UK because, actually, immigration drives growth.”

Immigration, when it comes to illegal migration, is “completely out of control,” Vaz believes. A “proper relationship with the EU” is the way to stop the boats, he added. He also believes illegal immigrants already in the county should be “given amnesty” and be “legalised” so they are “able to contribute to our society and pay their taxes.”


Leicester families have been hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis, and our council is on the brink of bankruptcy. So what will our candidates do about this?

Raja said there was a “lack of growth” in Leicester East and blamed it on low employment rates. She also defended prime minister Rishi Sunak, saying inflation is back down to two per cent and the party has cut taxes for working people.

Labour will insulate homes to cut energy bills for residents, Agrawal said, and introduce a “genuine living wage” and ban “exploitative” zero hour contracts.

“I will demand a minimum wage of at least £15 per hour and a reversal of cruel benefit cuts,” Webbe said. She also said she supports a wealth tax.

Lewis said local priorities need to change from “vanity projects” such as the railway station revamp to “keeping key assets” such as the adventure playgrounds. She said the Greens would lift the two child benefit cap, which Webbe also raised as a priority.

We should not be spending taxpayers’ money on the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, Vaz believes, saying we “back countries we shouldn’t be backing” and it “costs the economy a great deal.” He also does not feel parliament can “wave a magic wand” and create more local jobs. Instead, he called on employers to make decisions based on “what’s in the interest of the city” rather than profits.

Regarding the Labour and Tory pledges to freeze and lower taxes respectively, he said: “There is a big black hole in the economy, and it has to be filled. There’s only two ways you can fill it, by raising taxes or borrowing.” Both Agrawal and Raja maintained their parties are being straight with residents when it comes to those pledges.

Haq agrees local jobs are important and said there needs to be “an industrial strategy.” He also agreed with ending the two child benefit cap, saying it would bring 500,000 kids out of poverty “in one foul [sic] swoop.”

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.


Knife crime is a plague in Leicester’s streets, and candidates all agreed something needs to be done to tackle it. Vaz suggested three possible steps for doing so: increasing penalties for those carrying, more education in schools and creating places for young people to meet.

“Young people need to be able to get together and do things without having to resort to this kind of violence,” he said. There also needs to be a greater police presence in our streets, he believes.

All of our candidates largely agreed with Vaz, with each raising investment in youth services and police presence as key means for tackling the issue. Webbe described knife crime as an issue “close to her heart,” having lost a cousin to it.

She added: “It is a life sentence when you face this, and for those families that have faced this trauma.”

“We need to be tough on crime,” Agrawal said, but also understand and deal with the causes. Labour will invest in neighbourhood policing and deliver a programme of youth support, he added.

Haq said many elderly people he speaks to will not go into the city centre because they do not feel safe. Councils need more funding for youth clubs, he believes.

It is not “as simple as just putting more police officers on our streets,” Raja said. She added: “When people have jobs, we have pride, and this reduces our reason to turn to crime facilities.

“When we have youth facilities and youth centres for our young people, we have opportunities for intervention and prevention education. When schools are at the best that they can be, people have a hope for the future.

“And when we have a social department and a police force that’s supported by local communities, there begins to be this natural intolerance to crime.”

In addition to the points raised by other candidates, Lewis called on the police to rebuild trust. She said they need “to do a lot of work with the community to show that they are working for them.”


With more than 6,000 people on the housing waiting list in Leicester, all candidates agreed this has to be a top priority if they are elected. Lewis said the Greens would focus on social housing, saying “building thousands of unaffordable houses isn’t going to help.” She said they need to look at Leicester “street by street” to see where new housing can go “so everyone can have a decent home.”

Vaz said developer contributions that accompany planning applications need to be used “more effectively to build more homes.” More guidance should be given to landlords as to “how to treat their tenants,” he added.

Haq added there are people in Leicester who are living two families to a house because it’s all they can afford. He said the only way to reduce prices is to increase supply. The Lib Dems are pledging 150,000 new social houses a year, he said.

Raja believes there needs to be greater cooperation between the local council and developers to deliver new homes.

She said: “We have the land, we have empty buildings, we have empty factories, and they have been sitting empty for years.”

We need more council housing, Webbe added. She also feels rent controls need to be introduced to make housing more affordable, saying 42 per cent of people’s income in Leicester East is being spent on rent.

Labour will build 1.5 million new homes over the next Parliament, Agrawal said, but that will require reforming the planning system. The party will “make it easier and quicker to build, and deliver will restore mandatory planning targets on local authorities,” he added.

Also running in Leicester East are three additional independent candidates Malihah Adam, Nags Agath and Khandu Patel, and Raj Solanki for Reform UK.

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.